How to Stop Choking Your Own Happiness
I am still chilling after returning from a weekends meditation retreat. It was an amazing experience that I look forward to sharing with you later this week.
In the meantime I am grateful to Eduard Ezeanu for supplying me with today’s guest post……
Show me a person who constantly compares themselves to others and concerns themselves with being better than others, and I’ll show you a person who isn’t enjoying life nearly as much as they could.
And, counter-intuitively, they’re probably not very successful in life either
Now, don’t get me wrong: comparison can sometimes be good. After all, we at times do compete with others for limited resources, and it’s useful to know where we stand in contrast.
The problem is that many of us compare ourselves to others in an excessive and faulty manner, which ends up taking much more value out of our life than it brings. This is why it’s important to get a grip on this mental process. I’d like to show you how.
How Comparison Goes Astray And Chokes Happiness
I have this theory, based on evolutionary psychology, which states that our minds are not hardwired to handle well the kind of interpersonal comparisons that we can make today. And this is what can make them a major source of frustration.
You see, for more than 95% of our existence, we human beings lived in small bands and tribes of anywhere between 20 and 150 people.
In such a context, if you contrasted, let’s say, your hunting skills to those of others and concluded there are 50 better hunters than you, it probably meant you were one of the worst hunters in the tribe.
Today, you could be one of the very best professionals in your field and still meet 50 professionals who are even better than you in your very city. But it doesn’t mean that much anymore. Because there are hundreds or thousands of them in your city and you’re still one of the best.
However, your mind processes this conclusion the same way it would have 50.000 years ago, it makes it seem like you are terrible at your job since there are so many others who are better than you, and thus it makes you feel alarmed.
There’s more. In a hunter-gather society, the differences in returns that your skills brought were not that big. The best hunter of the tribe would only bring home slightly more meat on average than a mediocre hunter.
Today, small differences in skills can create major differences in returns. You can be in the top 5% of the professionals in your filed, and earn 5 times more than the average professional, but the professionals in the top 1% may earn 5 times more than you.
Our minds aren’t very good at interpreting such a big difference and it sees it as reason for panic. Although in practice, you’re still in the top 5%, and you enjoy a very good life financially as a result.
Putting Your Thinking Straight
So, what does all of this mean for you?
It means that you need to consciously interpret the findings of comparing yourself to others in a rational and up to date manner, thus correcting the outdated way that your minds interprets them instinctively.
Plain and simple, if you want to be a lot happier, you need to stop making a big deal out of the fact that you’ll find many people who are better than you in some regard, and some people who are a lot better than you.
A coaching client was recently telling me that he saw the movie The Social Network, he realized how much Mark Zuckerberg achieved at such a young age in contrast to his own achievements, and started feeling depressed.
Doh! That’s what happens when you compare yourself to one of the co-founders of Facebook and expect yourself to match his performances.
But let’s face it: not all of us can be Mark Zuckerberg. Note all of us will build a multibillion dollar company in our 20’s. And that is fine. We don’t have to either.
Deliberately look at your strengths and achievements, flaws and failures in a reasonable way, get some perspective, and you’ll be much happier with yourself and your life. I believe that, no matter who you are, you have plenty of motives to be so.
Reducing Activities That Encourage Interpersonal Comparison
Besides thinking reasonably when you make interpersonal comparisons, it’s also very useful to cut down the amount of interpersonal comparisons you make. One of the best ways I know to do this is by cutting down on the activities that naturally trigger such assessments.
For instance, when you hang around people while they gossip, even if you don’t gossip with them, you just listen, your mind will impulsively compare you to the people you hear about in the process. That’s why it’s wise to avoid interactions with compulsive gossipers.
After all, have you ever met a compulsive gossiper who is content with themselves?
No? Now you know why.
Speaking of Facebook, spending big amounts of time on social media websites and learning about other people’s achievements, their relationships, the places they visit and so on frequently triggers the same comparison impulse. So, don’t do it!
Take a good look at the activities you do recurrently and identify the ones that stimulate you to compare yourself to others. Even if many times you come out on top when doing so, a lot of interpersonal comparison is toxic. Which is why it’s best to cut down on these activities once you’ve recognized them.
Another great approach regarding comparison is what I call becoming self-referenced.
This means you set your owns standards of performance in all areas of life, based on what seems right for you, and then you compare your results to your own standards instead of comparing them to the results of others around you.
I find this to be much more healthy, motivating and fulfilling. It gives you an internal compass instead of an external one, and this compass always points you in the right direction.
I’m a definite ectomorph. I’m skinny, I have long, thin bones and it’s very hard for me to put on weight (muscle mass included).
So when it comes to building and maintaining muscle mass, it doesn’t make sense for me to aim to be buff as a wrestler, just because some guys look like that. Given my genetics, for me it implies too much effort, and the benefits are simply not worth it. Thus, I set my own standards in this area and as long as I adhere to them, I am perfectly happy.
There is a lot of power in being self-referenced. Decide for yourself and establish your own standards. Then whenever you find yourself comparing yourself to others out of habit, stop it and shift to comparing yourself to your own standards.
Your impulses concerning interpersonal comparison do require some management. The good news is that as you practice the ideas I discussed, you build positive thinking and behavior habits, which steadily replace the negative ones.
As you do so, you become more relaxed, you feel right about the things you aim for and you stop wasting mental energy in making pointless assessments. You accomplish more and you become significantly happier with yourself and your life. This much I can promise you.
Eduard Ezeanu helps others gain confidence, leverage their strengths, be more social and get the most out of life using proven psychological tools. He posts daily tips and advice on Twitter and Facebook as @artofconfidence