Note: I am reposting some writings that have recently been included in my newest book, Everything Is Included. Links to purchase the book or ebook are here.
Q: My mind loves to constantly compare myself to others, often in a negative way. I find that this mindset stalls my creativity and makes me feel downright sad. I also feel that if this keeps up, it will hurt my career, my life trajectory, and most importantly, my happiness. I have tried meditation, prayer, and seeking stillness in nature, but nothing makes this tendency go away. I know this is but one thought of millions and that all thoughts come and go. I know that I am worthy and that I am unique and like no other. Yet knowing all of this doesn't prevent the autopilot comparison mind from wreaking havoc inside me with all the negative emotions that come from this stuck pattern.
A: Our minds are designed to work in habitual patterns. This is a good thing much of the time, since that allows many of our actions to be unconscious. For example, we can drive a car without having to think about it. But when a habit is not actually serving us, then it is time for a new habit. I like how you refer to the autopilot nature of the mind. The mind is mostly a creature of habit, and once a habit gets going, it can have a lot of momentum. Most mental habits form because they were useful or seemed useful at the time. The problem is when a mental habit is no longer useful or not useful, like your habit of comparing yourself negatively to others.
The best way to deal with a habit that doesn’t serve is to create a new habit to take its place. Trying to get rid of an old habit without replacing it with something else is like trying to not think of a pink elephant. The thought or habit is still the focus, and so it gets reinforced even by trying to get rid of it. Instead, I would suggest you focus on what you want to do instead with your mind and attention. Create some new habit and put your attention on it. A powerful question to consider is: "What do I want to do instead of comparing myself to others?"
There are three different levels from which this question can be answered. The first level is the level of the content of your thoughts. You can practice thinking about something else. You could even create some new comparing type thoughts, since that is what the mind does best. Just like you give a dog a bone so it won’t chew on your shoes and furniture, you can give the mind a thought to chew on.
Often, a much more useful comparison is to compare yourself to yourself in the past. If you are considering your performance at your job, what happens when you compare how you are doing now with how well you did the first week at that job? Or how about when you compare your abilities now to your abilities when you first got out of high school? Or what about comparing your abilities now to when you were a child? These are more useful comparisons, since they illuminate the progress you have made. This is comparing apples to apples, while comparing yourself to others is more like comparing apples to oranges.
Another fun way to substitute a comparison is to make up ridiculous comparisons. What happens when you compare yourself to a cartoon character? Or to a mouse? Or to an inanimate object? By exaggerating how little use there is in comparing yourself to something else, it might become clearer that comparing yourself to other people is also pretty useless. (continue reading)