Are you Caught in Comparison?

Updated: Jun 22, 2019

{This article has been re-written and revised, and published in Elephant Journal. Heart it here!}

A little while ago, I was taking a yoga class as a student, a rare treat in that I'm usually the one on the other end, teaching the class. The class was great, the teacher was energetic and had lots of good things to say ; she was really connecting to her students. I was having fun and really enjoying myself. Then, it struck. The little comparison monster. It did steal my joy. It began saying things in my head like "you're not as good of a teacher as her", "she connects with students better than you", "her playlist is better than yours," "she's cuter and younger than you", and on and on.

So let's analyze this, break it down. The first thing that's happening is that I recognize myself in the other person. There is a similarity between us. You could say that my soul recognizes a similar soul of another.

I mean, I've never caught myself comparing myself to a major league baseball player or a CEO of a large company. When I see successful people in a different field than me, I don't compare. If anything, I either have no feelings at all or I feel happy for their success.

In the yoga class, I recognized that the teacher had many gifts -- her presence, her tone of voice, her pace, her ability to cue breath, her sense of humor, and how she read the energy of the room. When I look honestly at myself, these are the exact same strengths that I like to believe that I possess in my teaching.

So what is happening to trigger the negative thought response in my head?

Partly, it's an abundance/ scarcity mindset. When I come from a scarcity mindset, I get defensive about my gifts, as if I'm the only one who can have them. When I see someone else with them I actually feel threatened like somehow mine aren't real any more. Kind of like in first grade when there was only one line leader, one winner of the spelling bee, and only one best artist.

But the truth is the world is abundant. There are 9 billion people on the planet and there will be people who share the same strengths and gifts as you. Some who even do it better than you. But it doesn't make you any less special or unique. It doesn't take away my gifts, in fact, it adds to their quality.

So the first thing to remember is that comparison only happens when you recognize yourself in another.

The second thing that happened is that I was feeling really great right before the negative thoughts hit. Remember? I was having fun in class, really enjoying myself, than boom - grumpy shorts rolls in spoiling the party.

There is a famous Teddy Roosevelt quote, "Comparison is the thief of joy."

Is that true?

In the book, "The Big Leap" by Gay Hendricks, one of my favorite books of all time, he talks about something called the Upper Limit Problem. We each have an invisible capacity for feeling joy and when we feel we have surpassed it, we subconsciously knock ourselves back down with negative thinking in order to go back to a more comfortable state of unhappiness.

Brené Brown talks about this in her book "Braving the Wilderness" (another fave). How we talk all the time about wanting happiness, but when it comes we often spoil it with our own inner worry because happiness actually makes us feel vulnerable and fearful. When happiness comes, we immediately think someone is going to steal it away. We wait for the other shoe to drop.

So what do we do when comparison strikes?

I'll tell you what I did in that yoga class.

First, I was aware that it was happening.

Secondly, I sent love to the teacher. In my head, I thanked her for the great class and for her gifts that she was sharing with the world. I named 5 things that I liked about her teaching.

Lastly, and most importantly, I sent love to myself. I told myself that I was enough. I thanked myself for caring about teaching yoga so much and for being brave enough to share my own gifts with my students when I teach. I named 5 things I loved about my teaching.

And, you know what? They were different than the 5 things I was admiring about the other teacher! Different expressions of a similar quality.

If scarcity is a feeling drawn from fear, then abundance is rooted in love. Whenever you feel fearful that you are not enough, that you are not as good, successful, beautiful, in love, happy, or free as someone else, that is coming from a scarcity mindset. You are comparing yourself to that person because you share the same qualities as them, perhaps in different quantities or different form.

You actually already have what they have, you just have to recognize it. Realize that there is more than enough room for all of the success, strengths, and happiness to co-exist together in this big wide world.

The antidote is love.

Send the person you are comparing yourself to even more love. Most importantly, send yourself love. Thank yourself for all that you contribute and share with the world.

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