A pattern of thought that goes hand in hand with disordered eating, depression, anxiety and pretty much any other harmful coping strategy is that precious little gem I call the comparison game.
The comparison game is a harmful, thought level coping strategy that undermines your overall self-esteem and your ability to lead a peaceful life. How do you play? Well, simply put, you compare yourself to others and you either find things that you think are better about you than the other person or you compare and find yourself lacking. Either way you lose!
What’s that you say? How can I lose if I find myself coming out on top some of the time? Well for starters, the sheer act of comparing yourself to someone else in any regard whatsoever sends yourself a strong message that you believe you are lacking in some way and that you need to find reassurance through proving that you’re better than someone else. In other words, you tell yourself that you will feel better through finding flaws in others. Not such a great strategy. What if that person grows and those flaws disappear? Now you are less than they are. What if you misinterpreted that person and they really didn’t have those flaws in the first place – how do you feel then, having built your self-esteem on your perception of them as weak in some area? I could go on but hopefully you get the picture; building your “self-esteem” on the pretense that someone else is lacking in some way is really like building a house in a swamp – you’re doomed from the start. In fact you’ll be worse off in time because each time you try and make yourself feel better by hanging on to the story of what’s better about you than someone else, you diminish your self-esteem and you put the power for your positive self-regard firmly in the hands of that person that you’re telling yourself you’ve got one up on. Not such a bright idea really.
Now, the other side of the game – where you compare and come out on the bottom. The girl at the next table in the restaurant is slender and attractive AND happily eating chocolate cake! Arg! Or someone else in the clothing store you happen to be shopping in looks great in a dress that you couldn’t get over your thighs! Double Arg! Or that girl you work with who has the amazing figure and the great boyfriend just got the job you wanted! How bad can it get?! Well, as long as you’re telling yourself that anyone’s successes or “failures” impact you in any way it can get pretty bad.
We begin to be quite small and petty and our insecurity grows exponentially when we play the comparison game and try to build ourselves up by finding flaws in others. Try this experiment with me for a moment. Imagine that scene in the restaurant where that beautiful woman is devouring the cake and clearly savouring every last bite. Now you have two options as I see it. One, you play the comparison game and start to notice your own body in relation to hers; your perceived attractiveness in relations to hers; and what you’re eating vs. what she’s eating. You then take a tally and decide whether you’re “better” than she is, or “worse”. Regardless of your outcome, how do you feel? Are you peaceful, relaxed, grounded? Are you focused on your dinner companion and enjoying your meal fully? Are you comfortable in your body and happy with your life? If you’re playing the comparison game the answer will be no. It’s the only reason you’re playing it in the first place. Somehow, from somewhere, you got the notion that in order for you to be the best you can be, other people have to be less than you; others have to be less beautiful, less healthy, less successful etc. That’s what I call the scarcity mentality – ie. there’s only so much beauty, health, love, success etc. to go around and if she’s got it, somehow that means you can’t have it. Bologne.
Now, go back to the restaurant and imagine this scenario: You see the beauty with her chocolate cake and you grin from ear to ear. You revel in her happiness and you celebrate her happiness with her body and her comfort with food. You feel joy that the universe has given you a mirror in which to see the beauty and health and passion that lives in you and that only waits to be released. Your heart warms and you return your focus to your dinner companion, happier, more full of life and love and maybe even saving some room for that tasty looking chocolate cake. How do you feel when you imagine that scene being your reality?
Feels pretty good doesn’t it? Yeah! Celebrating happiness and beauty always makes us feel happier and more beautiful ourselves, every single time, no exceptions. Our self-esteem grows every single time we invite ourselves to feel happy for someone else’s happiness.
The comparison game makes you small. It only reinforces that old poopy belief that you’re not good enough and that something about you needs to change in order for you to be acceptable. The story goes that until that magical something (which you probably think is your body and your connection with food) changes you’re vulnerable to the beauty and passion and success of others. Actually, the truth is, that it’s the belief that makes you vulnerable because that old story, which isn’t true now, and never has been, is what makes you think that you are somehow lacking and are therefore vulnerable to rejection, ostracism and judgement.
Ask yourself this question if you’re still not fully convinced of what feels best and where you’d prefer to put your focus: If, in order for you to feel better about yourself, that woman in the restaurant had to be overweight and unhappy, would you wish that upon her? Truly? What about the colleague at work with the guy, the bod and the new job? If in order for you to feel good about yourself she had to gain weight, be dumped and lose the job due to ineptitude would you want that? Would you really want your self-esteem to be contingent on someone else’s demise? I know that deep down inside, you wouldn’t want anyone to suffer in order for you to be the best that you can be.
Well then, be real with yourself. Every single time you play the comparison game in any way you’re doing exactly what you say you wouldn’t do. You’re saying that in order for you to feel better about yourself someone else has to be less than the best that they can be: The folks you’re “better than” have to stay where they are and the folks who are “better than” you have to come down a notch or two and then you’ll be fine.
That’s a very closed and harmful perspective on the world. Instead of carrying that old, worn out story that has never served you in any way, how about exchanging it for a new one? How about a new story that goes something like this:
“I would not want anyone to be anything less than the best that they can be in order for me to feel confident in myself. In fact, when I see something in someone that I admire or appreciate, I smile and send them my happiness for their success. If what I am celebrating in them is something I’d like for myself I ask myself honestly: “What am I currently doing to create that for myself?” and ensure that I am taking healthy, honoring steps to achieve that goal. If not I get concrete on the steps I will take and when. I will then say an extra ‘thank you very much” in my heart to that person for reminding me of what was important to me and for challenging me to be the best that I can be. I will also appreciate that seeing their success has proven that my goal is a very real, attainable goal because they have done it and therefore, so can I!”
Free from Comparison and Build Your Self-Esteem
Wahooo! How’s that for a great, life enhancing, honoring, passion filled way of being in the world. Suddenly you’re walking around looking for things you find beautiful and successful in others because you appreciate how incredibly inspiring it is to see people who are self-actualized and loving life. When I started doing this instead of feeling jealous and resentful of others I practically began bouncing off the walls I was so happy! I haven’t stopped bouncing actually, I’m just more accustomed to it! And I am filled with gratitude for the joy I get from celebrating others.
So, take advantage of those twinges of jealousy that might come up for you right now. They are indicators of old bogus stories of how you are lacking and each time you get that old twinge you are being given an opportunity to examine your old story of lack and to openly challenge its validity. And if you do find that you aren’t as fit, or as successful or as happy as you perceive the other person to be and, most significantly, as you’d like to be, ask yourself what you can do to begin to change that. Immediately turn your focus from what that person has, to what you can do to be the best that you can be in that area. Let go of needing to look or be exactly like that person and instead focus on doing your best, on living with integrity – where your words (to yourself and to others) are in direct alignment with your actions.
That’s how you create self-esteem. That’s how you live a life filled with passion and love and happiness and peace and beauty: By focusing not on what others have or don’t have in comparison to you, but by focusing on what you desire and setting concrete and clear goals for how you are going to attain that.
Have fun celebrating all the beauty you see this week.