Who Are You Comparing Yourself To?
'Child,' said the Lion, 'I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.'
Aslan in The Horse and His Boy
Recently I was fortunate to share a stage with someone a lot better than me - funnier, more comfortable on stage, insightful and great at selling too!
What was interesting was my own reaction.
At first I was a bit jealous and then began to get a bit demoralised along the lines of "I’ll never be as good as that".
Later that week I got a phone from someone in exactly this dilemma - he was on the edge of starting a big change but had been comparing himself to everyone else doing it already and then had started to get demoralised and begun to give up.
One of the things that stops us taking action in our lives is the comparisons we make between others and ourselves.
You know the ones…
Those people in the media or real life who are thinner, cleverer, richer and more successful than we are. We look at them, compare our own efforts and get demoralised. As a result we don’t take massive action and so our results become a self fulfilling prophecy.
At best this habit of comparing ourselves is unhelpful because the truth is that there will ALWAYS be someone who is thinner, cleverer, richer or more successful than you.
Yet we have a natural tendency to make comparisons because it is by noticing differences that we often find the motivation to make changes.
So, can we use this natural tendency to help rather than hinder ourselves?
Yes we can. And the way to do it is to compare yourself to yourself.
Let me explain.
Instead of going external to make your comparisons, have a go at going internal and notice what happens.
Pick a time say 5yrs ago, 2yrs ago or 6 months ago and notice how you are different - this is your chance to notice the positive progress that you have made in any area of your life.
In other words make the comparison between yourself now and your older self.
Doing this regularly will do several things for you.
Teach you how to encourage, not demoralise yourself. Encouragement tends to lead to more action whereas losing morale tends to lead to inertia!
Create a positive self image that can’t be dented by seeing pictures of richer, thinner, more creative and talented people.
Help you to realise just what you are capable of. The more you notice your progress, the more you will make progress. And in this way you will actually become unrecognisable to your older self.
Create massive permission for yourself to succeed - “If I've made this much progress in the last (2yrs) then imagine what I can do in the next (2yrs).”
When I make an internal comparison, instead of an external one, I notice that years ago I was terrified of speaking up in meetings or talking to a group. Now it’s as natural as breathing. If I can make that big a shift in the recent past, just think what’s going to happen in the next few years.
Here’s another example…
Standing in a motorway service station I noticed a pedometer for sale. I bought it and when I opened the packet it had a little booklet on how to walk your way to fitness.
The idea was that if you can take 10,000 steps a day, every day, then you will walk your way to a fitter, healthier life.
So, attaching it to my person, I began to measure…
[Notice what has happened here - I've fallen for an external target set by someone else. When I compare my actual performance to the target I could choose to be motivated by the gap but it’s more likely that I’ll choose to be fed up and see the gap as impossible to bridge. The only action I'm likely to take then is to stop wearing the pedometer!]
…and as you might expect, with a project that involves a lot of driving or sitting in one place the results were pretty poor (compared to the target).
Instead of throwing it away though, I decided to wear it for three weeks and only compare my performance with my previous performance - in other words to make an internal, not an external comparison.
[How often do we create for ourselves an external target that is more or less a fantasy but continue to criticise ourselves for not meeting it? How often do we do hold others to a similar target?]
…and surprisingly, the results are slowly getting better. Still way off target but then it’s not my target. When I compare my previous performance with current performance there is a slow but steady improvement and that is enough for now.
You can use this approach with others too.
Help people to notice their own progress, instead of comparing themselves to others and they will thank you for it. One way of doing this is to make it part of your feedback "You used to…and now I notice that you…".
Enjoy comparing your older and current selves this week!
TA-tutor.com has a number of useful hand outs on creating a strong self-image. Take a look at the lovely statement of self esteem put together by Virginia Satir. Here is the link: My Declaration Of Self Esteem. Look in the index under Ideas About Life.