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I begin this post reflecting on my recent travel to Bali. As I met fellow travellers or overheard tales of exotic journeys, lavish accommodations, and tales of endless exciting locations to explore, I found myself attempting to match (or go one better) their stories with my own, since I didn’t want to feel insignificant or be left out.
I was comparing myself to others.
Now, as I adjust to life back in Australia, I notice that this doesn’t just apply to travel. I observe many others, and find myself on the odd occasion, falling into the trap of the destructive tendency to compare with others. It seems I’m not alone in this observation, as I recently received an email update from Leo Babauta with his post on comparison.
Yes, comparison is a conundrum that affects the best of us.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the old saying “it’s like comparing apples with oranges”. Think about it. You can’t. They’re two totally different fruits. It just doesn’t work, so how can we compare ourselves to other, totally different, and wonderfully unique people?
You can’t. Logically, we all know that. Let the apple and the orange be a prime example of this.
Why do we continue to compare to others, and why is it a good habit to learn the art of inner contentment?
Why we dare to compare
Comparison is a useful tool. We use it in our daily lives to assist in assessment of our options, and with great affect. After all, how do we know if we’re getting the best deal on peanut butter unless we have something else to compare to?
Peanut butter references aside, comparison is a tool used daily by each and every one of us – in both a positive and a negative sense.
Used to evaluate material objects (such as peanut butter), comparison can be of benefit and enable us to make a decision and move forward, rather than procrastinate and become stuck.
It’s when comparison is used on an emotional level that things can go pear-shaped, and it’s this form of comparison which I shall cover more in this post.
In the past, I have found myself using comparison in the following ways:
- Social status/ranking – In the instance of travel, it’s easy to listen to other tales of exciting travels and become jealous, envious, and resentful towards the other person. I have experienced this first hand many times. The person storytelling has done nothing wrong, yet I found myself breeding resentment and negativity which was fuelled by jealousy of their tales! I would hence feel obliged to intercept their tale and begin my own story, attempting to gain admiration and respect of others in the group and the person with whom my conversation was centred. Those of you who’ve read How to Win Friends and Influence People will know that behaviour such as this is no way to go about it. Rather than curing myself of my discontentment, my rude interruption and generation of competition will likely create resentment, anger, disinterest, and a loss of respect from the person I’m conversing with. Comparison is a conversation killer – everyone appreciates a listening ear, and nobody likes being interrupted. Talking over others and stealing conversation isn’t polite. That’s a universal fact.
- Feeling of importance – Similar to obtaining a higher status in a social circle, comparison can easily be used to generate an air of importance about yourself when, in truth, there’s nothing (and nobody) you are able to compare to. Sill, we try, fail, and try again – it’s what we’re trained to do by pop culture and media. Images of beautiful models, ripped abdominals, and fast, luxurious cars – these are all enticing us to want more, to dream more, and to compare with what we don’t have. Yes, it’s important to dream big and reach for the stars, as it’s how we grow. However, it’s also wise to recognize that your dreams are not the dreams of others. Build dreams around you and what you desire and what you aspire to. There’s no need to aspire to be the next Brad Pitt. Your journey will generate negativity and resentment of yourself if you do, since you will struggle to model this ideal picture of yourself (which by the way is not real, but rather a an image portrayed by the media).
- Make ourselves feel better – Sometimes, there is no better reason to compare to others, other than to make us feel better. Ever get bullied when you were younger? Chances are the bully was trying to prove something. He (or she) was trying to make you feel insignificant by making a comparison of your (over-animated) situation to either themselves or another popular, significant figure at the time (e.g. the popular student). This can be used in the most peculiar ways. For instance, I remember being bullied when I was young for being ‘rich’, because I received a motorcycle for Christmas. This was upsetting for me, as my family was nothing of the sort, and I didn’t think highly of the label ‘rich’ at the time. The bully was getting the upper hand by using a comparison fuelled by jealousy. Did he feel better for doing so? Unlikely, especially in the long term.
In all situations, there’s no advantage in making comparison to others. It’s a dangerous game – one that will see you lose more than you ever thought you could gain.
Stand tall – how to avoid comparison cutting you short
Comparison is everywhere. It’s both useful and harmful to our being, depending on how you use it.
How can you step aside and control the urge to compare?
- Practice active listening – Stop, appreciate, and recognize it’s not yet your turn. Got constructive feedback? Mid conversation isn’t the right time. Practice the habit of waiting until the speaker has finished. This will give you time to think over your well-scripted response to the person whom your attention is devoted, and will allow the complete transmittal of facts that you otherwise would have interrupted. I’m guilty for finishing the sentences of those I listen to, as I assume I know the answer to the topic which is spoken. Quite often, I’m proven wrong. It’s annoying to be interrupted, and the same goes for instances of comparison to others in conversation. Whether it be a direct interruption or a change of direction in the conversation, the result is the same. Learn to sit and listen to the whole story before telling yours.
- Get curious – Recognize and note the wisdom you’re blessed to be hearing! If jealousy or resentment begin to rear their ugly heads, take a breath and remember to appreciate the time this person is taking to provide you with valuable knowledge you didn’t know before. Open your mind to the possibility that your attention to this person may lead to a higher understanding, new knowledge, and new friendships that excel your journey forward on new and exciting paths. There’s growth to be found in the journeys of others, not in the comparison with your own. Use the knowledge and apply it if it fits.
- Recognise you’re on another journey – Everywhere you look, it’s possible to encounter something bigger, something better, something more. Your best friend buys your dream car. Your younger sibling marries and has children before you do. Your Facebook feed is rich with vagabonding travellers’ tales. The instances to make comparison are endless, and it’s easy to find yourself wanting the join the journey of others. If that’s the case, step back and ask yourself if it’s really what you want, or is it what you’re expected to want. It’s easy to become wrapped up in pressures society has constructed – you know, the whole get educated, get a job, get married, have kids, buy a house…. – and lose track of who you are and what you value most. Put these feelings of lust aside and remind yourself of the unique and wonderfully you journey that you’ve created for yourself.
Above all, it’s best to appreciate and be thankful for the exposure to the new and interesting ideas which have graced your awareness, and which you may use to shape your own future. Acknowledge, store the useful stuff, dispel lingering thoughts, then focus on the here and now. Dwelling on instantaneous emotions and future desires fuelled by comparison is counterproductive to your being, so take note and move on swiftly.
There’s bigger fish to fry.
I write here about comparison since it has affected, and continues to affect my life (much less nowadays thankfully) on a regular basis. As I pursue a path less travelled with my passion by writing to you here, it’s easy to be ridiculed by others close to you, and yearn for a stable career with an income to support a comfortable life. After realizing my values and working more on my passion, I now know it’s not what I want, so mu strength to fight against comparison is much stronger.
Have you been affected by comparison? How have you tackled it? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading my work. I apologize it has been so long between posts. My recovery from travel and some unforeseen personal matters created a slight bum in my progress, but I’m getting back on track now!
Remember, if you like what you read here, please share with your friends on social media. The more people I can inspire, the happier I’ll be.
Until next time, be mindful…
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