Dear Hospitable Alien,
Been feeling very hollow today. Have been full of self loathing. I should be so much further ahead in my life right now. Especially when I see all my friends doing so well. Help!
Sounds like you have a bad case of comparisonitis.
Comparisonitis (noun): The compulsion to compare one’s accomplishments to another’s to determine relative importance.
Comparisonitis is a soul sucker; a spirit killer. It is a tasteless, odorless poison. It creeps up on us and strips us of any joy and confidence and spontaneity.
It does not play by the rules. Worse, it sets the rules and then changes them just as we’re reaching the finish line. Then it gaslights us into believing we had it wrong all along. It laughs obnoxiously, pointing at us so all heads in the room turn and stare.
It fills us with self-doubt about our choices and it lies, making us believe we are responsible for how it all turned out.
We think: “How could I have been so stupid? And now, look at all the time I’ve lost,” which inevitably leads us to another bottomless pit: “What was it all for?”
Try not to blame yourself. We all get it periodically. It’s so universal, there’s even a proverb for it: “The grass is always greener on the other side.”
Our brains are wired for comparison and competition. Our brain undertakes 11 million unconscious processes per second. (It’s true. I looked it up.) And comparing is just one. It happens without us even realizing it. But the result is we feel shitty.
We are pack animals and comparing is how we gage how well we’re doing. Those in the middle of the herd don’t get picked off when the wolves come hunting. The outliers are either admired or reviled. Admiration guarantees your place in the herd. Being reviled, well…
And here’s the kicker – most of us, the aliens, the creatives, the misfits – we are outliers by nature. We work hard every day to contribute yet stay true to our souls. We work hard to keep our heads above the waters of our passions, our fears, our struggles.
So if we do it anyway (compare and compete), how do we inoculate against comparisonitis?
- Stop focusing on what others are doing. It’s tricky because we need others; we learn from others and well – we’re pack animals. But we can, instead, learn to focus on ourselves, our own self-growth, our own achievements, our own aspirations.
- Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides. The truth is that everyone puts their best foot forward (especially on social media). On the outside, they look happy, healthy, fulfilled. And maybe they are. But they may also be angry, full of self-doubt, pain and fear – on the inside. We all have good times and bad times. We tend to show others our good side most – if not all – of the time.
- Stay off social media. Everyone is saying it but studies bear this out. Pick a platform that feeds your muse without setting you up for comparing yourself. Or keep off of it completely.
- Speaking of Social Media, learn to ignore ads that promise to rocket you to the moon. These ads set up expectations that are impossible to fulfill and you will feel worse about yourself for having tried. Which ones are those?
- Anything that promises to make you more than you are right now – richer, fitter, more attractive… The implication is that you are not enough just as you are. That is a lie: You are enough. You are strong enough. You are creative enough. You are beautiful enough. You are loved.
- The success of their business model feeds on your self-contempt. Instead, support business models that feed you, feed others, feed the planet.
- Find a North Star – an aspirational goal. The North Star doesn’t move in the sky. When sailors crossed vast oceans and there was nothing around them but endless water, they looked up and set their course by the one star that stayed fixed in the sky. Start small but set a goal that does not orbit around other humans.
- Practice self-compassion. We all feel lost, overwhelmed, under pressure to perform, to succeed (whatever that means). We all wonder if one day, we will be found out and kicked out of the herd. We learn to speak lovingly to ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness. Because ultimately, we all wipe our asses after we shit in the woods.
Kristin Neff is a great teacher of Self-Compassion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4
Photo credit: Erich Weingartner