Lesson 4.2 - Comparison: what it is and how it works
We’re onto the second video lesson in this fourth module all about comparison. In this lesson we’re going to start with the reasons why we feel the need to compare ourselves to others. And then, we’re going to go over why comparison is so toxic, how the comparison trap works, why there’s no such thing as being behind, and a framework of choosing alignment over achievement.
Here’s the truth about comparison. It makes us feel incompetent and insignificant.
We go from thinking “Oh, I’d like to do that too!” or “She’s doing great things!” to “She has it all figured out. I’m just a hot mess. I’ll never get to where she is.” or “It’s not fair! Why is it so hard for me to get traction?”
And before we know it, we get trapped compare and despair mode.
It turbo-charges our negative self-talk and leaves us feeling like we have certain fundamental flaws that are preventing us from being successful. Instead of focusing on our journey and what we need to do to reach our goals, we concentrate on other people’s journeys and successes, which leads to procrastination, self-doubt, and finally quitting.
Now, I’m willing to bet that everyone has had a bout of the comparison bug at one point or another. It’s part of being human. We are, after all, social creatures who rely on comparisons to make decisions and judgments that enable us to find our places in society.
Reasons why we feel the need to compare ourselves to others
To start off this lesson, I think it’s important to realize exactly why we feel the need to compare ourselves to others. These are a few common reasons.
1. We have a very narrow idea of what success looks like
Since we were little, we were taught a very narrow idea of what success is and what it takes to get there: going to school, getting a degree, getting a job, getting married, buying a home, having kids, etc.
But what if that’s not your version of success?
The good news is that we get to define our own definition of success. The not so good news is that a lot of us struggle to do so, due to a lack of self-worth and confidence.
But once you stop comparing your journey to others, you’ll start to realize that there was never anything wrong with your idea of success or the journey you’re on to begin with.
You’re exactly where you need to be, and you’re doing such a great job at it. Remember to give yourself a little more credit.
2. We don’t feel confident in ourselves and the path we’ve chosen
When we don’t feel confident in ourselves, we have a tendency to want to compare ourselves to others.
But have you ever truly asked yourself what you want? What it is that you need?
And I don’t mean the things that others have told you that you should want, but what YOU want.
It’s time to start feeling more confident in yourself and believing in the path you’ve chosen, because until you do, you’re going to continue feeling like there’s something missing or something else you should be doing and that someone else has the answer.
Remember: you're not the best, you're not the worst, but you're there, you're present, and that's freeing.
3. We lack perspective and haven’t taken time to look at the whole picture
It can be easy to get lost in the day to day. But every time I remember to take a step back to look at the bigger picture, I feel confident that things are coming together because I see things as a whole.
We very often feel like we’re behind and that others know something we don’t. So when something doesn’t happen as fast as we thought it would, instead of giving ourselves more time, we decide right away that things aren’t working out. That maybe the problem is us.
Comparing yourself to others isn’t going to make time go faster or get you to your goals quicker. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
You need to both work hard and show up everyday AND be patient with yourself on the overall goal and vision, because the truth is that it’s going to take time.
4. We only think in extremes, not in nuances
Comparison is dramatic. When we compare our circumstances to those of someone else, we typically come to one of two conclusions:
that we are awesome and on top of the world, or;
that we are not doing enough and that we’re the absolute worst.
Usually, it’s the latter of the two.
Comparison doesn’t allow for a nuanced interpretation of how your life is going. It’s either better than someone else’s or worse than someone else’s – there is no in between.
But by removing these kinds of thoughts from your mindset and focusing on what’s in front of you, you might find that not everything fits into neat boxes. Instead, your experiences fall somewhere on a spectrum.
Let me tell you, in dealing with comparison nuance and context are your new BFF’s.
5. We’re unfocused and don’t have a clear vision
When you’re thinking about perfection, you’re not living in reality. It’s easier to daydream about other people’s perfect picture and compare yourself to that picture than to show up for yourself and take action on your vision.
Phew, #realtalk happening here. Let’s unpack and clarify these statements…
You’re inviting comparison into your life when you look at what other creatives are doing and think they have it all figured out. Let me tell you: they don’t. Take off your perfectionism goggles and you’ll see that no one has it all figured out. Perfection is a myth. Perfection isn’t real.
Hard work, taking action, discipline, dedication, consistency; that IS real.
When you focus on and get clear about what YOU find important, you no longer need to look to others for a sense of direction. You’ve formulated your own destination. And hard work, discipline, and consistency will take you to your destination.
6. We don’t have any clarity on what our values are
Another reason why we turn to comparison is that we’re not being clear on what our values are.
We tend to compare ourselves to people that project an image of importance. They have a six-figure business, they have the cutest children, their work is published in some major media outlets, their design work is flawless, they sell their work like crazy on Etsy, they take the best flat lay photos on Instagram.
(I could go on forever, because, you know, I’ve been there...)
But here’s the thing: maybe having a six-figure business isn’t that important to YOU. Maybe YOU value connecting with a small but loyal community on your blog over getting published on a bigger but impersonal website like The Huffington Post.
You’re comparing and measuring yourself to someone else’s measuring stick. It’s like entering a rat race and finding out that their finish line isn’t YOUR idea of a finish line.
Once you get clear on what your values are, you’re less likely to get distracted by other people’s shiny trophy cups. It renders comparison futile. That person you’re comparing yourself or your work to has different values, different ideals, motivations, and goals.
7. We lack appreciation and don’t focus on gratitude
If we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, it’s hard to feel grateful because we always feel like we need more.
But what if what you have right now is enough? What if who you are right now is enough? Because you are enough and you already have enough.
You can work for what you want while being grateful for what you already have. You don’t need to be more like everyone else. You just need to be more of yourself.
Why is comparison so toxic?
You’ve probably figured out from personal experience that comparison is truly toxic.
Have you ever noticed that comparison starts with someone else's appearance of perfection and it ends with you feeling like you’re not good enough?
This is how the comparison trap works:
You make up a definition of what it means to be perfect.
You apply that expectation on yourself.
When you don’t meet that expectation - which you never will, because you’ve made up an unrealistic and unattainable expectation for yourself - you begin to doubt your abilities.
If you see someone who you think is meeting that expectation, you become obsessed with learning every little thing there’s to know about that person and you start to critique every little thing that you are doing wrong.
The final step in the comparison trap: You start feeling like you’re not good enough. You feel like a failure, sometimes before you’ve even started.
Comparison is a trap, but it isn’t all bad.
Let me repeat that: comparison isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a teacher. And it can be an excellent teacher.
Stepping away from the comparison trap isn’t about turning comparison OFF. It’s about TURNING AWARENESS ON.
And the way to do that, whether comparison shows up in your work of life, is to get clarity about your vision and your values and then to let your vision and values guide you.
In the worksheet that accompanies this lesson I’ve laid out a few helpful questions to help you get to the truth of your vision, your version of success, and your values.
There’s no such thing as being behind
Next, I want to take some time to truly pay attention to this feeling of being behind.
I don’t know about you but I’ve never been part of any group of people doing anything where there wasn’t at least one person who felt behind.
They hadn’t completed all the reading.
They hadn’t yet gotten their period.
They hadn’t been kissed. Or asked out. Or asked to dance.
bought a house
had a baby
landed their dream job
been to Paris
read Anna Karenina
learned how to cook
paid off their debt
started their business
lost the weight
taken up the guitar
made their first million
A lot of us feel like that we should be further ahead, at least in one area of our lives. We feel behind in our careers. We feel behind in our relationship status or in motherhood. We feel behind when it comes to our personal growth.
But, here’s my question:
Where are we supposed to be anyway, if not where we are?
Feeling behind inevitably comes from having some idealized picture of what our lives should look like based on our age, experience, gender, position, or any other category we’ve put ourselves in and then finding that our actual life falls short.
I think we can all agree that there’s no ‘right’ way to do life. So, therefore, there’s no place we should be other than where we are.
There’s no such thing as an ideal life. There’s just the life you live.
Could we have made different choices that would have landed us further “ahead” of where we are now? I guess, but I think it would be more accurate to say we could have made different choices that would have landed us in a different place than where we are now. Not ahead or behind. Just different.
There’s nothing wrong with some healthy dissatisfaction and a desire to change some things up in your life.
But we can choose, moment by moment, to stop beating ourselves up for being behind.
If there’s no ideal way to do anything, there’s no way to be ahead or behind.
You can only be where you are. And the best way to be there is to be there. Fully. And not leak any more of your precious life force into feeling behind.
You’re not behind. You’re where you are. And that’s the only place you can be. So be there.
Now, check out the worksheet which will help you work through identifying the areas in your work and life where you feel behind and change your mindset around that.
The way out of comparison is through alignment
At the heart of all comparison lies this question we ask ourselves:
“Is there even SPACE for me here?”
That’s a question I know I’ve asked myself in one way or another so many times.
Is there even space for one more personal growth blog?
Is there even space for one more online business in a sea of so many?
Is there even space for my feelings and my needs in this relationship?
Is there even space for my opinion in a world where everyone is shouting their opinion from the rooftops?
Is there even space for me taking on project XYZ when there’s others out there doing it better?
Have you asked yourself a version of this too?
My guess is you have because this is a cunning way for our fear to stop us from ever trying or pursuing the things that call to us.
"There's already so many [fill in the blank] out there, why should I even bother?"
This type of comparison leaves anyone feeling discouraged.
So, let’s try to really understand what’s going on here.
First, the question of “is there even space?” is rooted in this mindset of scarcity. This idea that we only have a limited amount of choices and chances and possibilities. Scarcity is also the idea that there are only a limited amount of ways for us to succeed, that the space for us to blossom is limited. Which is kind of BS, right?
Second, it inadvertently defines success based on achievement rather than alignment.
At the root of achievement-based success is external validation and comparison. It's a recipe for dissatisfaction, because there’s always a next level. Something more to achieve, someone out there doing it better. You’re never quite ‘there’.
On the flip-side, alignment-based success is rooted in your core values and in internal validation. You won’t feel the need to compare, because every action you take comes from some sort of inner calling. Other people can certainly inspire you, but they can not change your course.
When you use this framework to make the shift from achievement back to alignment, you can ask the question again, this time with a clarifying addition:
“Is there space for me to be the person I have a deep longing to be?”
“Is there space for me to do the work my heart is calling me to do?”
“Is there space for me to go after XYZ because that’s what I truly value?”
When you frame it that way, you will see that the answer is always YES.
Yes, there is ALWAYS room in this world for people doing the work their hearts call them to do.
Remember that YOUR goal is not to succeed “in comparison” to anyone else, but instead your goal is to rest your head every night knowing that you did everything you could to release the gifts you have inside you.
The world could use more of that. The world could use more of you.
So, how do I know when I’m out of alignment and what do I need to do to get back into alignment?
These are two fail-safe ways for me to know when I’m out of alignment.
I’m feeling disconnected from myself, my core values, and my bigger picture. It feels almost like a vague sense of dissatisfaction. Nothing inspires me or gets me excited.
The other way is when I’m feeling low in mood and energy. This is also when I feel completely overwhelmed and I have all these negative thoughts and fears going crazy in my head.
The first thing to do is to take some time to reflect, focus on journalling, or ask yourself questions that help to center you.
These questions might help:
What are core values in my work and my life?
What am I aching for in this season of my life?
What does an aligned (and comparison-free) life look and feel like for me?
What are my priorities and intentions in this season of my life?
And then, it’s also important to focus on doing things that lift your mood and give you energy.
Some ideas for what this could look like:
Spending quality time with loved ones
Listening to podcasts or audio books
Listening to a favorite album or song
Going for a walk or a day adventure
Re-watching a favorite TV show
Getting a good night's sleep each night
Taking time to rest and recharge each day
Taking time to travel and go on adventures
Spending time with positive people who inspire you
Carving out time for personal creative projects
Exercise and getting your body moving
Using tarot cards, crystals, or essential oils
This list is by no means exhaustive. Experiment with things and activities that work for you.
I’ve created a checklist with these questions and ideas, so make sure you download that. When you find yourself stuck in the comparison trap, it will help you get back on track and back into alignment.
Hopefully I’ve given you lots of things to think about when it comes to dealing with comparison. These tips are meant to make it easy for you to really change your mindset when it comes to comparison and how comparing yourself to others affects you. If you haven’t already, use the worksheet and work through the exercises and questions. And then, I’ll see you in the next video with many more practical tips for when you’re in compare and despair mode and you’re stuck in that moment.