I can truthfully say that since the idea came for this project – and even more so since I’ve actually put it into action – I have seen a huge change in my life. As I choose to do the things that make my life and my mindset more positive, there haven’t been any major, life changing events. What has changed, however, is my attitude. My outlook. The circumstances of my life are the same, but I feel happier, less stressed and more at peace.
But let’s be honest. Sometimes the fact that those circumstances haven’t changed is frustrating. Amongst the greater amount of happiness and peace that I have felt, I still feel moments of despair. Of sadness. Of frustration. Of wondering if I will ever reach certain goals and accomplishments.
If I think about it, I realize that most of these negative moments come when I allow myself to compare my life to others or to what it seems like it “should” be. Where I should be romantically. Financially. Career-ally. What I should own or be doing. I see what others have and I see what I have not. And it starts to bother me.
It’s like a poison. And if I don’t get it out of my system quickly, it can be fatal.
I read somewhere once that with the creation of Facebook and other social media, the negative effects of comparison have been on the rise. We see the snapshots of the glorious moments in people’s lives – the day they buy their house, get engaged, have a child, get a new job of promotion, cook the perfect meal – and it starts to gnaw at us that we also have not done that thing. And we start to wonder why and worry that there is something wrong. And yet, it is just a snapshot. We are not seeing their bad days or moments, or the times when things don’t go as planned (well, some people share these moments as well), so instead we are bombarded with what seems to be perfect lives and amazing accomplishments, and our own lives never seem to measure up.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to share your good news with your friends and family. We should live in a world where we celebrate the great moments in the lives of our loved ones. I am saying that celebration is where it needs to end. I need to be happy for my friend who has achieved something different than I have and not let her accomplishment taint the current status of my own life.
That’s sometimes much easier said than done.
In the past few days, this poison has been trying to infiltrate my system. There are so many possible entry points. And it’s a fast-acting poison. Once it takes root in your mind, it’s incredibly hard to dig it out. So I’ve been trying to think of and apply some antidotes. So far, this is what I have come up with:
Antidote #1: Recognizing without judgment
The poison becomes even stronger when we start to berate ourselves for having comparative thoughts. Instead, I have found it to be extremely helpful to acknowledge out loud, to myself, that I am drinking the poison of comparison. I also acknowledge that the situation is hard and that it doesn’t make me feel good. However, instead of beating myself up for being weak enough to experience these emotions, I simply recognize that they exist.
Antidote #2: Resist the urge to hash and re-hash it out
Being a girl, when I have a problem, my instinct is to reach out to someone and talk about it. I want to get it off my chest, feel validated, and get some possible ideas for solutions. Seeking advice from a trusted loved one is good. Spending hours venting and complaining about everything that is wrong is not. I don’t want to spread the poison deeper into my blood or, even worse, bring down a friend with me. I find that the poison gets out quicker if I refuse to dwell on it.
Which leads me to…
Antidote #3: Distract yourself
Instead of sitting in wallowing – or, even better, eating ice cream and moping – I find that the poison of comparison can be counteracted by getting up and doing something. Not only does it take your mind off of what you don’t have, it creates positive memories in its stead. How can I really complain about my life when I am actively engaged in an activity that I love?
Antidote #4: Make a plan
There are some things that are simply out of your control. Those are things that I need to learn to let go. However, for the things over which I do have control, it helps to make a plan of action. If I am unhappy with my social life, then I need to call some friends and invite them to do something. Or I need to join a club or group that is full of people with similar interests. I’m never going to change my situation sitting around, binge-watching my latest Netflix series.
Antidote #5: Create reminders
If nothing else, the poison of comparison is a great reminder of the power of visual indicators. Instead of filling my mind with the accomplishments of others, I need to fill it with my own. Pictures of favorite vacations, framing my degree, or hanging a chart that show my progress towards a current goal. When I constantly remind myself about the awesome things that I am doing, it is easier to remember that though my life may be different from those around me, it is its own kind of amazing.
The poison of comparison will continue to exist. And I”m sure that there will be many moments when I find myself opening my mouth to its deadly content. Yet by actively working to counteract it – to take the antidotes – I am finding that I am able to lesson it’s impact. Which leaves my mind and my emotions open for a whole lot of positive.