The truth about comparing

Ever since I read the late Stephen Covey’s book, the 7 habits of highly effective people, I haven’t been a big fan of comparing. In his book, Dr. Covey calls it ‘an emotional cancer’. There’s 5, of which comparing is one. Now, I don’t know much, but I definitely know that an emotional cancer sounds like something which I should try and avoid. So, I mean, it’s easy right, just stop comparing. Wrong!

The first thing I noticed about comparing is that the times when I felt good about myself and I felt accomplished and healthy and content, I didn’t really practice the comparing habit so much. It’s like I didn’t need to. I was focused on my own goals and achievements and how to grow personally. Unfortunately, I don’t spend my whole life feeling this way and in this beautiful state of mind. I really hope that you do, but I don’t. 

Almost 2 years ago (In April 2018) we moved from South-Africa to the Netherlands. Now, if you even want your comfortzone to be shattered into a million pieces, move to another country, that should really do it. Not that this was my expectation, of course. During our preparations to move, I dreamed dreams of speaking fluent Dutch in 3 months, finishing my studies in the same amount of time, building a new career and coaching practice and creating something brand new and awesome! I wasn’t scared of that, the only thing I was afraid of was being without my family, but I had my hubby and we are great together, so I would be totally fine, I have a plan, right? Wrong.

After leaving South-Africa and really coming head on with the reality of living in another country, without my social support structure, different language and culture, no career, being a housewife and being very alone every day my husband spends at work, I wasn’t so happy with me anymore. In fact, I didn’t even know who I was (disclaimer: I am still not totally sure of or comfortable with my new identity). So as soon as I wasn’t this accomplished, stable, driven person I was back in South-Africa anymore, I started comparing myself. At first, I didn’t know anyone, so the only person I could compare myself to was my husband (smart choice). I drove myself crazy, I even compared our bodies and how he was able to eat cake without guilt and with every bite I could see my thighs grow bigger, literally (the mind is an amazing thing). I compared our lives, how he is able to go out and work and I just stay at home, trying to find work or trying to make something of my coaching career. I compared how he processed everything we left behind and how I wasn’t able to do it without a lot of tears. You would think this would make me so miserable that I would notice and stop, I mean, I am a mindful person you know! But it didn’t stop, the cancer spread. I started comparing myself to other expats, people who were, seemingly, able to settle in and have a flourishing career in less than a year. People who learned the language quicker than I did, seemingly, with half the effort that I put in. I just saw it all around me, people were better than me in every, single area of their lives. There was only one conclusion to make, I am a miserable failure. After 21 months of living in the Netherlands, I haven’t reached any of the wonderful goals I set out to achieve. And one thing I can assure you is that comparing myself to others, just slowed my progression, nearly to a halt.

But there’s also another side of comparing, a good side. You must be thinking: “What? Are you crazy? Did you not just write the complete opposite?”. Bear with me. There is also the type of comparing where you compare yourself to people, seemingly, even MORE of a failure than you are. For instance, I love exercise, it’s like food to me. I have to do it or I go nuts (which I almost did). So I am extremely disciplined in that area. I might not do extreme things anymore, but I am consistent. So whenever I felt bad about myself for not exercising as often as I set out to do, even though I had more time now, I would compare myself to other people who don’t exercise at all and then I would feel better. Or, if I maybe ate something that doesn’t belong in my Paleo eating plan (which by the way have also gone WAY out the window since moving), I would compare myself to people who eat junk food or drink Coke, yuck! And then, I would feel better. You see where I am going? Comparing then in this sense, can be a good thing, right? Wrong!

You see, the problem with comparing is this: No matter how you do it, you are always going to end up either in the pit or on a pedestal. Being in a pit really sucks man and it slows you down to process everything you need to, to come out on top during hard times. Being on a pedestal on the other hand, just means you’ve created for yourself the potential for a massive fall and at the same time you’ve put someone else in the same pit which you are trying to avoid. Now, does that sound healthy? NO! So, what are we to do? What was I to do? I was just feeding my cancer, it became such a habit, the thought of not doing it didn’t even come up anymore. But wait…

AHA! That word! HABIT! I know how to deal with a bad habit! I know the insides of a habit, how it works in your brain and how those pathways forms and even without you realizing it, you are taking the road most traveled in the brain for a specific situation. I was teaching my brain, with every comparison, that this is the way you deal with feeling bad, COMPARE! Oh my! No, no, no, I couldn’t have that and neither should you! 

So here are my 5 steps to breaking a habit (All this happens in like 10 seconds): 

[li]Notice: This is a tough one, because we sometimes do it automatically, but the first step is to notice when you do it. At first, it might be once every 10 times, but later it might be 9 out of 10 times. Be committed. As soon as you notice, move to step 2.[/li]
[li]Choose: Make a choice in that moment not to compare. As soon as you catch yourself, just stop. Yes you can, in the moment, you can choose to not compare. Talk to yourself, say: “No, i am not putting myself or anyone else in a pit or on a pedestal any longer, I will not compare.” Or whatever phrase rings true for you. You might even just think: “CAKE!”. [/li]
[li]Replace: Before you start to try an break a habit, choose something you will replace this habit with. Your brain needs a new path. If you don’t teach it what to do instead of comparing, it has no path. I chose to use COMPASSION. Yes, today this is almost a dirty word. Compassion are for weaklings right? Wrong! There is great research by Kristen Neff (PhD) about, specifically, self compassion. I strongly urge you to give it a try. For instance, after step 2, you’ve stopped comparing in the moment, now turn the comparing thoughts into compassionate thoughts. “It’s okay that I haven’t finished my studies yet. My accomplishments doesn’t define who I am. It’s wonderful that so-and-so have accomplished this-or-that, but I am okay and totally acceptable without accomplishing this-or-that. I am worth something, just because I am.”  So one tip here: FAKE IT ‘TILL YOU MAKE IT! It will feel fake and like an untruth in the beginning, but stick with it, it does get better.[/li]
[li]Notice Again: Now stop and notice your feelings, how do you feel now after practicing compassion instead of comparing? Relieved, weird, fake, awesome, better, okay…what’s the feeling? There is no right or wrong, just notice it.[/li]
[li]Repeat: Now that you have your method, repeat as often as possible. And YES, it IS OKAY if you “fail” at this! It is okay to have to try again and again and again and again until you get it and you WILL get it. Just don’t quit. [/li]

Commit to break the habit of comparing, it’s so worth it. You are worth so much more than constantly trying to be someone else. Free that energy spent on comparing and feeling bad for it and spend it on nourishing yourself by practicing compassion. 

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