I hate to admit it, but there is a comparison gremlin that lives inside my brain, and once again, he has reared his ugly head.
Here I am at Fielding Graduate University moving in between sessions, colleagues, and an atmosphere of learning that I've come to love. Then, out of nowhere, the comparison gremlin strikes.
I approach a nearby table where one of my colleagues is featuring her newly released book, and suddenly I’m paralyzed by this internal voice that says, “You don’t have your book completed yet. She is more disciplined than you are. She has better subject matter. People are obviously more interested in her work than yours.”
In one moment I’m innocently munching on one of Fielding’s famous chocolate chip cookies, happy as can be. In the next, I’m tripping over my own sense of failure.
If you've ever had this experience, you know it’s a conversation of scarcity at the deepest level. These types of negative thoughts can rise up out of nowhere, and they are unhealthy and destructive.
However, they can also catapult you to a higher level of performance. As is true for most aspects of life, it all depends on your perception. Either the comparison gremlin has you or you have it. It’s strictly a matter of choice.
I've learned not to let that comparison gremlin paralyze me, but it takes some concentrated effort. As the saying goes, I’m an over achiever, so in order to take control of this thing inside me that desperately wants to compare my work or myself to another, I have to be intentional.
What I've learned is that most people can overcome such tendencies by adopting three very specific practices:
1. Self-Witness the Triggers
What I just described to you was my being fully aware of when and where the comparison gremlin shows up. Being aware of this aspect of self means that I have learned to notice when I fall into unhealthy thought processes—almost at the very moment they occur.
With intentionality, you can actually learn to watch yourself slip into this place of self-doubt or negativity. This process of self-witnessing takes time and a high level of self-awareness, but once you learn to observe yourself absent all judgment, you are now positioned to move beyond the comparison gremlin’s whispers.
Additionally, you not only have to learn to observe the whispers, you have to learn to observe the triggers. What are the scenarios that push your buttons?
Here’s what I know about triggers. They will show up in pretty consistent ways, and they always have some level of negative emotion attached to them whether it be envy, anger, sadness, or frustration.
Practice identifying the situations or the people that push your buttons and note the emotions that accompany them. For instance, in the scenario I've just shared, the trigger is anyone who has a book written and published. The accompanying emotions for me are envy and frustration because I haven’t completed that component of my latest work yet.
Naming the triggers, and being able to do so in the moment they occur, empowers me to move past them immediately.
Awareness alone, however, is meaningless unless it’s accompanied by positive action.
2. Map Out Your Plan
Awareness is great, but unless you have a plan to move past that place of negative emotion, the comparison gremlin will keep you from achieving results.
If you’re slipping into the comparison game, it’s typically a sign of something you want but haven’t yet achieved. Rather than continuing to feel bad about someone having or doing something you want, best to make a plan on how to get there yourself.
The quickest way to quiet the comparison gremlin is to take action. Map out your plan. If it’s a book, what’s your writing schedule? Have you identified your topic? Are you working on your book proposal?
It doesn't matter what the trigger or source of your comparison is. What matters is that you develop a plan to create that which you want and desire.
Get on with it. Just do it. One step at a time. Before you know it, you, too will have whatever it is you are hoping to accomplish.
My husband has a great saying: Don’t worry about the other guy. Let the other guy worry about you.
All this really means is that if you’re worrying about what someone else is doing, you’re probably wasting precious energy that could be used to produce your own purposeful outcomes. This is true whether we’re talking about fitness, family, finances, work, relationships, or opportunity in general.
This is hard stuff for all of us. Name the trigger and vow to conquer that voice in your head that is essentially telling you that you’re not enough. Then, develop a step-by-step action plan on who you need to be and what you need to do to make it all happen.
3. Celebrate Success of Self and Others
Finally, focus on celebrating the success of self and of others. The amazing thing about the mind is that it doesn't always distinguish from what is real and what is perceived. I can choose to listen to that internal comparison gremlin, or I can quiet that negative inner voice by changing my mind and changing my story.
In the above scenario, I immediately shifted my thoughts from envy to thoughts of celebration. The power of being able to self-witness in the moment is that once I experienced myself in that negative place, I interrupted that thought with one of authentic celebration for this woman who had worked so hard to complete her book.
I approached her table. Inquired about her work. I looked her in the eye and truly experienced her pride at having accomplished this horrendous task. And, I bought her book. Not because I needed to quiet my own internal comparative dialogue, but because I genuinely shifted to a place of celebration for her. In making a shift toward celebration, I felt an immediate sense of peace, joy, and belief in the value of her work.
What started out as an act of comparison ended up as an act of compassion and gratitude. All this, and I still hadn't finished my chocolate chip cookie.
I can’t wait to read Dr. Konvisser’s book and share her work with people I know who would be interested in what she has to offer.
My final words to the author of Living Beyond Terrorism were, “You inspire me!”
And, with these words, the comparison gremlin is banished. At least for now. I know this internal voice will surface again. It always does. But for now, I’m free.
This need to compare is not a part of myself that I’m particularly proud of, yet, at the same time, I know that it’s how I’m wired. It is, after all, what has energized me to achieve a great many things in my life including a PhD.
Bottom line: Comparison doesn't work if it’s keeping you in bondage to envy, jealousy, or any negative emotion. But, if you can harness any tendency toward comparison to inspire and energize you to higher levels of performance and a more meaningful life, I encourage you to use that negative aspect of self to accomplish goodness.
The trick is in knowing when comparison is healthy and when it’s detrimental. Whatever you do, don’t forget to balance any potential for comparison with a healthy celebration of your own accomplishments.
Theological wisdom offers the following: “Rather let each one examine his own work. Then he will have pride in himself alone and not in comparison to anyone else.” Galatians 6:4
Easier said than done. I’ll hold on to that thought until the next time the comparison gremlin strikes. In the meantime, I’ll keep working to get that book published.
Q: What practice do you have to overcome a tendency to compare yourself to others?