Cedric Centre for Counselling Inc.


Archive for February, 2008

Stepping Free of the Comparison Game

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.

Love Michelle

Posted in: Relationship with Others

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Tips for Natural Eating: II

Last week we talked about simply stopping to “check in,” before we ate, to determine if we were physically hungry, or if it was an emotional need we were seeking to fill.

If you did that exercise you gained great insight into any resistance you might have to being honest with yourself; how strong your belief is that you need to use food to cope; how often you eat when you’re not hungry; and perhaps even some situations that will trigger you to use food to cope that you hadn’t previously seen as triggering.

Tips for Eating All Natural

This is all great information as there is something you can do for all of those potential scenarios that will take away your need to use food to cope when they arise. It’s simply a matter of being open to seeking new ways of thinking and behaving.

Often the thing that will shut you down faster than anything else to the concept of checking in is what I call “all or nothing thinking.”

All or nothing (aon) thinking is a character trait of the Drill Sgt. (that critical voice in your head that tries to motivate you through criticism). All or nothing thinking leads you to buy in to a bogus, fear based story of what will happen if you are conscious in your use of food, that shuts you down before you even know you’ve had that undermining thought.

For example, you might be about to eat something and think to yourself, “Hey, Michelle says I should ask if I’m really hungry or not.” This thought is immediately followed by another thought, far more subtle, that goes something like this: “But wait, if I check in about that then I won’t get to eat this thing and I really need/want it right now. I’d better not check in!”

That thought triggers you to feel fearful of being conscious because you’ve just told yourself that the only possible outcome from checking in to see if you’re truly hungry is that you’ll still want the food but not be allowed to have it.

Is that true? No. You could check in and realize that you’re not at all hungry and that in fact, something else was upsetting you and you were going to eat instead of deal with it. Or you could check in and discover that you’re not hungry and still allow yourself to have that food while you check in about why you’re wanting it (ie. what triggered you to want food to cope). Or you could find that you are in fact a bit hungry and that the thing you were about to eat was not a choice you’d like to make and so you have something that feels more honoring and triggers less criticism from the Drill Sgt. Or….you could find that you’re hungry and you’re truly fine and peaceful with what you were going to choose and that now, after checking in, you can really consciously enjoy that food.

All of these possibilities are more likely than the original one – in fact the original fear based thought can only exist if you don’t bring it fully into your consciousness and ask yourself if it is true. As soon as you do that, it disintegrates because it is an aon thought and all aon thoughts dissolve when brought out to the light of day. More on this next week.

For this week, I want to encourage you to identify 3 or 4 food items that you would enjoy eating, that are relatively non-perishable (ie. can last in your bag or car for a few days at least) that you will begin to carry with you at all times.

Doing this means that you have foods you enjoy and feel comfortable eating (ie. don’t trigger the Drill Sgt.) with you any time you might begin to feel hungry.

This benefits you in three key ways. First, you are exhibiting self-care by thinking ahead and this act alone increases your self- esteem which makes you less likely to harm yourself with food. Second, you are less likely to grab for foods that don’t feel like honoring choices when you’re out and about and you get hungry. And third, you are far lesslikely to binge when you next get around food if you’ve allowed yourself to take the edge off your hunger by having a snack rather than coming home, ravenous and tired because you haven’t eaten for so long and then bingeing because you’re so hungry.

When you set yourself up to have honoring choices around you at all times you are doing your best to make it easy for you to choose foods you enjoy when you’re hungry and this decreases the likelihood of binging later and of choosing foods that make you feel tired, bloated or depressed (ie. anything processed or made with white sugar).

Foods that I carry with me at all times are things like almonds, apples, perhaps a granola bar/protein bar, some good quality dark chocolate. The high, healthy fat content in good quality dark chocolate gives our bodies a great sense of satisfaction and also slows the release of the sugar into the blood stream – thus preventing an insulin rush and the emotional high then low, that typically comes with it. Just a few squares of good quality dark chocolate – preferably organic – will give you a great boost and tide you over if you’re almost home and don’t want to have much to eat because you’re truly eating in the next half hour or less. A few squares of dark chocolate are also great after a meal if you’re wanting something a little sweet and desserty but don’t really have room.

So identify your 3 or 4 things, carry them with you in your bag, in your car, get used to having them around all the time – in your desk etc. – and to offering yourself the choice of having one of those things rather than the doughnuts in the coffee room or the muffin at the coffee shop. This is a great approach to reducing the amount you eat when you get home at the end of the day too, because, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll be less ravenous and that means you’ll have the time and energy to cook something healthy and you won’t feel the need to overeat it; that is, unless you’re using food to cope….more on that next week.

Posted in: Relationship with Self

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Kindness and Compassion

This Quote comes from the Dalai Lama and a preface he wrote for the wonderful book “The Power of Kindness” by Piero Ferrucci.

“On a simple, practical level, kindness creates a sense of warmth and openness that allows us to communicate much more easily with other people. We discover that all human beings are just like us, so we are able to relate to them more easily. That generates a spirit of friendship in which there is less need to hide what we feel or what we are doing. As a result, feelings of fear, self-doubt, and insecurity are automatically dispelled, while at the same time other people find it easier to trust us, too. What is more, there is increasing evidence that cultivating positive mental states like kindness and compassion definitely leads to better psychological health and happiness.”

I love this quote because it speaks so clearly to the concept of physical and emotional security being the underpinnings of self-esteem. You know I love Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs and this just reinforces the truth that if we are in relationships that don’t feel safe emotionally or physically because the other person is not consistently acting in a kind or compassionate way, we will naturally feel self-dout, fear and insecurity – ie. our needs for physical and emotional security won’t be met. This will directly undermine our self-esteem and our ability to realize our full potential in the world.

However, if we engage only in relationships where we feel safe and loved and accepted as we are then we have the resources to love and accept others fully and to offer the same great love, and kindness and compassion to ourselves, thus solidly planting us in positive self- esteem and allowing us to make manifest our gift to the world.

So, perhaps you could take advantage of this insight to stop and ask yourself if there are any people or situations in your life presently that undermine your sense of security:

ie. You feel judged, belittled, ostracized, “not good enough”. Or you receive feedback in a tone that carries a message of contempt or shaming. Or you might have someone in your life who frequently brings up painful topics (ie. your weight!) as a means of “motivating through criticism” or of establishing their superiority.

These would all be examples of situations where your emotional security needs wouldn’t be met, thus undermining your ability to feel safe and secure and also, often leading you to use harmful coping strategies like food or negative self-talk to take the focus of the painful situation with that person.

So, make a list of those situations or people that trigger feelings of fear or doubt and begin to explore the possibility of either spending less time with those people or of having courageous conversations and asking for what you need in order to feel safe.

You will be pleasantly surprised how often people will gladly meet your need when you tell them how to do so. Often the people in our lives are undermining our sense of security emotionally simply out of ignorance. They just don’t understand how their behaviour impacts us or is interpreted by us and, more often than not, simply clarifying that for them and letting them know what we would like, is enough to change that harmful pattern of relating.

The world needs you to be the best you can be; to bring your kindest, most compassionate self to the table. You can’t do that if you have harmful relationships that undermine your self-esteem because you won’t have the emotional or physical resources to bring your best self to others.

So consider it your duty to create the healthiest relationships you can with all the people in your life. You will benefit in so many ways, not the least of which is that you’ll stop using food to cope!


Posted in: Relationship with Self

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Tips for Natural Eating: I

Tips for natural eating – One of the most significant things you can do to make the change from the diet mentality to natural eating is to allow yourself for one day to just ask yourself before you eat anything: “Am I physically hungry right now?”

If the answer is no, you’re emotionally eating and there is an underlying need for physical or emotional security that you are seeking to meet in having that particular food at that time.

If the answer is “I can’t tell if I’m truly hungry or not.” You’re not.

Encourage yourself to wait until you’re certain that you are physically hungry. There is no uncertainty about that. You’ll feel empty physically; you’ll have a growly tummy; if you’ve left it quite a long time before eating you’ll likely also feel cranky, tired and a bit shaky – a.k.a. hypoglycemia: low blood sugar.

It is important as you begin to experiment with inviting yourself to wait to eat until you truly feel phsyical hunger that you have with you at all times snacks that you enjoy and that you can eat as soon as you start to feel true physical hunger.

This exercise alone will reveal to you the true extent of your disordered relationship with food. It will show you immediately how often you use food to cope; how unconscious that pattern has become; and it will even reveal to you the relationships or situations that are likely to trigger you to feel unsafe or insecure.

This is incredibly powerful information to be able to gather in just one day. It sets the stage for you to safely and forever change your use of food to cope and to begin to have a life that is truly peaceful and completely free of food and body image issues.

Next week we’ll look at some strategies for setting yourself up to make honoring choices.

Have a great week! M

Posted in: Tips for Natural Eating

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