Have you felt it before? It’s that sinking feeling of annoyance and “why not me” when you see “#blessed” in a friend’s picture from her first-class flight or hear about a new job your former playdate-mom-friend recently landed, or see your neighbors renovating their already enviable home and wonder why you can’t seem to keep up.
I’ve been there more times than I’d like to remember. I even got so wrapped up in comparing myself to the circumstance of others that for a time, I lost the clear view of my own life’s blessings and gifts.
It’s the robber of joy, an effort in futility, a recipe for disaster, and a pack of lies wrapped up in a pretty bow; it’s the fallacy of comparison that can spiral into jealousy. Stronger-willed women (and men) have navigated through this emotional storm and emerged wiser on the other side, but my journey of comparison took me through the eye of the storm where I had to come to terms with wanting what I had, being thankful for my circumstances, and no longer stacking myself up against the façade of others.
“When we count other people’s blessings instead of our own, we’re bound to make accounting errors.” -Scott Wilhite
I’m terrible at math. So bad, in fact, that my husband and I have a running joke about the system of mathematics accepted by the rest of the developed world and the cobbled understanding of numbers that I operate on. Never have I gotten a calculation so wrong, however, as when I started comparing my life circumstances to the apparent realities of those around me. It seemed harmless, but in reality I was picking and choosing the strengths of others and stacking them against points of weakness in my own life. As a result, falling short shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me. I was drawing an unfair conclusion based on an incomplete picture and coming up a loser in my own mind, time and time again.
You may have an understanding of what this feels like and if so, then you dread when the green-eyed monster of jealousy comes creeping in. Perhaps it fills your mind, as it did mine one day while scrolling through social media. Before my eyes, I saw beautiful photos of (what seemed like) every person I knew jaunting off for a child-free vacation while grandparents stayed home to provide endless hours of free babysitting, allowing for these glorious getaways. Meanwhile my husband and I had yet to spend a night away together from our daughter in the 14 months of her life. But who’s really counting anyway? I was, apparently.
As a parent, there are an infinite number of categories in which I can compare myself, and an almost infinite number of people to compare myself to. From children and marriages to jobs and vacations, if I don’t keep it in check, the comparison of life circumstance can become a dizzying merry-go-round of trying to keep up while searching for the elusive satisfaction of having it all.
Breaking The Habit
How do you stop yourself from making comparisons once that train is rolling down the track? Here are some tips and tricks I have found to be effective:
Be Alert & Aware
Comparison is a natural human tendency, and often we may not even notice when we’re doing it. Becoming aware of these thoughts and being on the lookout for when they creep in is the first step in reclaiming your joy. Once you are aware of when your mind wanders to these comparisons, it then becomes possible to harness them.
Stop the Cycle
Once you can identify when you’re headed toward judging yourself based on others, stop those thoughts in their tracks. When the comparisons come up, take a moment, stop the thought process and allow yourself to breathe. Then, once you’ve captured that thought, find a new topic to focus on and don’t look back.
Remind yourself that appearances are not always reality and that comparing yourself to someone’s perceived advantage is really just a myth.
Be Grateful for Your Blessings
It may sound cliché, but counting your blessings and identifying your strengths really does help reframe your focus. Actively thinking through a list of your life’s major positives and feeling grateful for the gifts of family, friends and abilities can provide an instant boost to your mindset and halt the negative self-talk before it spirals out of control.
Document Your Positives
I keep a blessing book, and it helps me remember the times in my life when I thought I was down for the count or an opportunity was passing me by, only to then turn itself around. There are dozens of fond memories filling the pages of this small journal, and I enjoy flipping through it once in a while to see how fortunate I truly have been. It’s a fantastic encouragement for those times when you feel as though everyone’s life is on the upswing but yours. It’s always a good motivator to keep striving for goals and dreams that you feel may be out of reach.
Give To Others
Being grateful isn’t just a self-centered thought process, but an opportunity to pour out your gratitude on others through the practice of generosity. Often the pieces of our lives where we feel most blessed can be the best starting point for us to give back to others. If you feel grateful for the friends you have, consider volunteering for an organization that serves those who are isolated or homebound. If your cupboards are overflowing, and you’re grateful for the groceries that fill your shelves, donating to a food shelter or serving at a soup kitchen might be a wonderful way to pass along the blessings you enjoy. Generosity is a proven way to feel better, connect genuinely with others, and it may even lead to a longer, healthier life!
Beating the cycle of comparison is an ongoing practice in self-control and one that takes a lifetime of learning. The best news is that by taming your thoughts and refocusing on the wonderful aspects of your life, you not only shutdown the negative self-talk, but you gain a deeper and more sincere appreciation for the gifts you already have!
This journey to emotional freedom isn’t easy, but the return on time and energy invested is priceless for your future happiness.