We all do it. “Their house is bigger than mine.” “He makes more money than I do, but I’m a better athlete.” “Her butt is better than mine, but I have nicer clothes.” Compare, compare, compare. None of this does us any good.
So why do we all compare so much? Because most of the 7.8 billion people on planet earth are insecure about who they are. They don’t feel rich enough, smart enough, successful enough, attractive enough…All of the above. Some of the above.
What can one do to cure oneself of this affliction? First, and most importantly, you need to conclude that comparing is bad for you. Most people don’t think about it one way or the other. They just do it. I’m telling you right now, comparing is bad and you’ll feel a ton better if you stop doing it.
The cure: be like a golfer
Well, if you’re not going to compare yourself to others, what should you do? A perfect sports analogy provides the answer: Live your life like a golfer. Why? Because in golf the whole contest is about you playing against the golf course, not other golfers. There might be 100 people in a golf tournament, but you have ZERO control over how they play that day. You might shoot a career round of 65 but some other guy shoots 64 and wins.
The moral of the story? Put 100% of your focus on doing YOUR best. That’s it. After you shoot that 65, head out to the driving range and work on correcting that slight slice you struggled with that day. Then chip and putt for half an hour. And don’t worry a lick about any other players, including the guy who shot 64.
Comparing at work
This is amply true in the workplace. My dad was a Fortune 500 CEO and always instilled in me this maxim: “Don’t worry about what anybody else is doing in the office. Just focus on doing your best and you’ll be fine.” So if you’re a car salesman and you sell 30 cars some month, but your colleague sells 33, great. More power to him. You did your best. Focus on improving your sales technique, etc., but don’t sit around feeling bad that he had a better month.
Okay, so you’ve decided that comparing is all bad, no good. The next thing you need to do is become aware when you’re doing it. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” So true.
Most people compare without even being conscious that they’re doing it. It’s involuntary. You pick your kid up at school and see that Emma’s mom drives a Mercedes. And this little pinprick jabs you inside and your mind says, “Emma’s mom, Mercedes. Me, Toyota Minivan. Her, winner. Me, loser.”
Again, none of this is at the forefront of your awareness, but it does make an impression. You drive off, feeling slightly less good about yourself. Multiply that by thousands of instances over many years and it adds up to a big fat pot of Insecurity Stew roiling around in your gut.
Relax, breathe, let go
Fine. So you become aware of a comparison episode, like seeing the Mercedes at school pick up. Right when you notice that you’re comparing, close your eyes and completely relax inside. Your head, neck, shoulders, chest. Then take one deep, conscious breath. Then let go of that feeling of inferiority. Just let it go. Then open your eyes and get on with things. This whole practice should take no more than 10–15 seconds.
By the way, you need to also do this when you have a comparison episode of superiority. If you’re Emma’s mom, see the minivan and start thinking you’re better because you’re in a Mercedes, YOU close your eyes, take a deep breath, relax, then let that feeling go.
You won’t slay the comparing dragon in a day. Or a month. You’ve probably been doing this your entire life so you’ll have to be patient in eliminating it. The key is to be vigilant in becoming aware when you’re doing it. And then practice letting go. You’ll get better at it over time.
Teaching my kids
I have three kids, ages 11, 9 and 3, and like any parent, I have myriad things I want to teach them about life. Most important is that they be decent, loving people with high integrity. But near the top of that list is teaching them that comparing is all bad, no good.
It’s nearly impossible for kids to conquer the comparing thing. Being young is virtually synonymous with being insecure. But I hope that if I hammer on it enough they will have a head start in eliminating it in adulthood.
I myself was hopelessly insecure as a kid. I always felt it was so important that I be better than other kids, especially in sports. That stayed with me for far too many decades, causing so much unnecessary angst in my work life.
The spiritual path
Diving into the spiritual ocean ten years ago has helped immensely with this. The deeper I go, the more I realize how unimportant money, material things, professional status, etc., are. I’m not a big comparer anymore and that in itself has virtually emptied my pot of Insecurity Stew. Needless to say, I feel like a fifty-pound sack has been taken off my shoulders.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this wise advice from chapter eight of my favorite book, The Tao Te Ching:
“When you are content to simply be yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”