An air of comparison was very rife in our household when growing up. Younger siblings were compared with me, often elevating me to a higher status, and I was compared to my classmates and friends, encouraged to think I was the smartest, prettiest, best at everything. And when that was demonstrated not to be the case, because perfection doesn’t exist, there was great disappointment and recriminations. Often my classmates would be criticized by my mom (of course not to their face) for traits they couldn’t help, like crooked legs or large calves, and for being less of a quick study, anything it seemed, to make mom feel better about the kids she had. When however the classmates came ahead of me, it was a huge disappointment. No grade existed by itself. It was always: what did everyone else get? And if I got an A+, but even one other person got an A+ as well, the A+ did not count. Because I clearly wasn’t ‘the best’.
That’s how the mindset of scarcity and comparison can begin to form in our childhood. It’s punctuated by the outward focus, basing our values on what everyone else is doing. Then the real world, especially the western world infected with the Affluenza virus. The classroom competition and comparison continues into real life. Without inquiring into it’s origins and questioning it’s validity, the comparison mindset doesn’t let up and it is the most poisonous mindset you can unconsciously adopt. It leeches all joy, creativity, courage and passion out of your existence. Because instead of living a life for yourself and from your own principles, guided by your own purpose and standards, you are living it for some external authority’s approval based on your being better (by some arbitrary standard) than somebody else.
Friendships become tainted. Relationships become battlegrounds for competition, insecurity, jealousy and misery.
The story of exodus:
It was one of my relationships. It got so bad that I went into the deepest of depressions, which was punctuated by suicidal thoughts, feeling absolutely worthless and rotten, not good enough to be with the person I loved. And this is the crux of it, the most hideous agony, to keep thinking (mistakenly) that who you are is not good enough to be loved by someone you love more than anything. Of course it was an illusion. But just as the seemingly most beautiful and successful people out there can be walking around feeling like the ugliest losers, those thoughts seemed very real.
So, something had to give. In that instance, it was the relationship that gave out first.
And then I was left with something else. That relationship woke me up, even in its dying throes it kept delivering incisive relizations. Upon beginning to practice inquiry and meditation, I noticed that the comparison thinking didn’t leave. Relationship was the trigger (harking back to childhood memories of fighting tor parental love, of Affluenza that Russia got infected with in our formative years) but it wasn’t the cause. It was unsettling, so see the thoughts latch onto my life. I could see them, seeking out aspects of my life they can compare now, positively or negatively. Seeking the approval they can fight for. I saw that even in the absence of my lover, the mindset was still operating. There were other triggers. And because the ego response was less overwhelming than what it was in the love relationship, I could observe the thoughts, instead of ‘fighting for my life’. And through gradual exposure and observation, I started to untangle myself from those beliefs.
The thing is, when we are young and our ego is barely formed, it is using the tools available to it. Ego, even though it gets a bad rap in the West, is actually the only rational [art of our mind, according to Freud. But it operates only with the rationale that is available to it at it’s level of development. As a young child the ego perceived that in that particular environment, to be loved (and therefore protected and fed) by the comparison-ridden-yet-still-vitally-important-for-survival parent, it needed to compete and be the best. It did it’s best to help me survive. And I thank it for it’s hard work.
And then I educated it in the new rationale. That the one who will give it approval is myself (or my higher self, to differentiate it from the little ego). That the standards for its performance are dictated by me. That is is LOVED no matter what it does or doesn’t do.
So, what helps to change the mindset of comparison making, and allows to unleash creativity and authenticity?
- Adopt a Growth mindset. Check out ‘Mindset‘ book by Carol S. Dweck. This mindset is imperative for developing an ability to stop comparing.
- Inquiry into thoughts. You cannot go around it, thoughts need to be observed and heard. No matter how harsh and painful they might be. We might pay attention to them. Meditation helps to observe the thoughts, and Byron Katie’s The Work helps to inquire into them and demonstrate them to be false. Comparing with others normally comes from a set of false beliefs and repetitive thought patterns that, when the light of awareness is shone upon them, naturally dissolve without much struggle. The only effort is in making it a habit to regularly shine the light of awareness on stressful thoughts. They’re easy to recognize – feeling stressed. There’s always a thought behind stress, always.
- Self acceptance, love of learing and curiosity – it is important that during the process of shining the light of awareness there is no judgement. This part was the toughest for me, because I’m actually insanely judgmental towards myself, when I don’t watch it. However I am also insanely curious and I like to learn. That was my salvation. The way I now think of it is this (this example isn’t mine, Byron Katie gives it in one of her books): imagine you have a child and the child, in their childish naivete, is thinking that there is a monster under their bed. The kid is certain and scared. You won’t judge the child for being stupid, would you? You also wouldn’t ignore it, because it won’t go away. It is a child, this is what they do, it’s part of their growth process and they need adults to help them grow, they need to imagine monsters, because they haven’t experienced enough of reality yet, to know better. That’s where you come in. So you gently ask the child about the monster, and then you grab a flashlight and get under the bed, and check. And you might have to do that many times while the child is young. And none of the times you would blame the child. The beautiful thing is that eventually the child itself will grab the flashlight and check whenever they are scared and fantasizing about the monster. They won’t need you. The process will become automatic, your mind (which the child is the metaphor for, by the way) will question it’s own thoughts. It is very capable, because that’s what the mind does best, it inquires and finds things out. And then eventually the child will realize there is no monster, and most likely move onto another thing (if they are a teenager by then it might be that they’re the ugliest thing on earth) and you will have the chance to help them see reality there too. It’s learning at its best. So, acceptance and curiosity are hugely important. Without them, you will be running away and dissociating from your own thoughts. And as we know, what you resist, persists.
- Be willing to be uncomfortable. As JP Sears says in his YouTube videos and Brene Brown says in her books, learning to be ok with being uncomfortable is one of the most important skills you can ever practice. As I say in my first blog post on The Cost of Truth, it is being uncomfortable and experiencing feelings that you wouldn’t normally choose to have, such as sadness, disappointment, shame, grief, disgust, insecurity etc. They are like a purifying fire you need to walk through, the price you need to pay, for growth and deeper realization.
- Know that it will never end. This is like showering, brushing teeth and exercise. You don’t just do it once, or for awhile, and then stop. It does get easier, but inquiry into thoughts and meditation must never stop. It is the nature of the mind that it needs to be observed, attended to and questioned to function at its best. Just like the body works best when we exercise it regularly, consistently and lovingly (not just doing it once in awhile, via a month-long punishing and horrendous Lose-10-pounds-in-4-weeks-or-die-puking bootcamp setting), the mind works best when we do the same.
- Progression. Those things are better addressed bit by bit. Not all at once. And better to start small. I don’t know whether I would have been able to face those huge demons if I stayed in the relationship. Granted there were other things that contributed to it ending, but constantly battling a ton of monsters, after a lifetime of blissful ignorance was not a good environment, either for me or my partner. I am glad I spared the ex any further drama. Because without the triggers of the worst kind (at the time it was facing the thoughts of being discarded by the love of my life), I could address the smaller issues first, and with those small victories under my belt (check out Jordan Petersen’s talk on slaying dragons) I could tackle bigger and badder beliefs. I am a strong supporter of progression and baby steps. Of course life throws us curve balls and we have to just suck it up and ‘shine’ as my ex used to say. But any long term, sustainable change only happens through progression, consistency and self acceptance.
- You are full of shit. And it’s okay. As JP sears teaches in his Awaken course, in the very first lesson, it is very important to know that you are imperfect, will always be imperfect and that is exactly what makes you a human and a complex evolving being. All the other people you know are ALSO full of shit. And that’s okay as well. So, stop taking yourself and others so seriously and fantasizing that you – or they – are somehow going to ever achieve prefection, because that won’t happen. Start loving yourself for the weirdo that you are NOW and will always be.
- And my favorite part, something that helps me every day, something taught by one of the meditation and yoga teachers, Sanghuru from India. And it is this: I am mortal and I am going to die. You are mortal. Keep that in mind, remind yourself every morning and every night, that you will die and see how much less of a fuck you will start giving to comparisons, other people’s opinions and seriousness, and how much more focused and open you will become to the present. When you know that this life is all you got, you start to spend much less time comparing your trip to someone else’s and just enjoy and make the most of your own journey.
If you have your own ways of working with comparison mindset, I would love to know. Let’s acknowledge that we are all full of shit, but we all can learn from each other too.
If you are still reading, that’s amazing, and thank you for sticking through this post with me 🙂