I have been a teacher for 16 years now, and being that I am a teacher I have an unquenchable thirst for learning. I yearn for learning about new topics, about myself, about those around me, and about the world that is open to me. In doing so, I also yearn to teach others what I know. I like to make others feel included in sharing my knowledge so that they can own it for themselves too. In an ideal scenario, these others would then share what they have learned with others close to them and the ripple effect would begin.
In this vein of acquiring knowledge, I am acutely aware that some of the knowledge that we obtain over our lifetime is not knowledge that we have searched for, but rather a knowledge that we have been conditioned to accept. This knowledge is known as learned responses. These learned responses are acquired over the course of our lives because of the interactions that we have with people, places, and/or events.
Some learned responses are good ones, such as the safety we instantly feel when we are with someone who cares and loves us or pulling back our hand when something is near it that is hot. But there are some learned responses that are bad, such as eating when we are unhappy or stressed or not being able to accept a compliment when it is given to us but rather laughing it off or making an excuse to deflect the attention. These latter examples are responses that we have learned because we have recognized those responses as ones that are socially acceptable. We tend to get nervous or confused when we hear or see responses that are outside of our normal learned response catalog. It’s as if our minds can’t compute what we are seeing or hearing and they are frantically trying to make sense out of it. This throws us off and we chuck it up to being just something that other person does or says but it’s not able to be included in our catalog for us.
The learned response of self comparisons is one that is deeply rooted in many of us. Male or female, regardless of socio-economic status, geographic location, marital status, occupation…we have been conditioned to self compare. Self comparing is the idea that we compare our current self, who we are now, to our self of the past and to our self that we hope to be in the future. Not only do we do this with our actual physical self, but we do this with the relationships that we are in, our living environments, our careers, our children, our social statues…everything.
In terms of comparisons involving our physical selves, did you know that 90% of women overestimate their body size? Did you know that 4 out of 5 women in the US are dissatisfied with their appearance? Did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness? I didn’t. I have an inkling that things were somewhere in the spectrum of not good to awful, but I never expected the data to be that startling to me. What that data says to me is that women in the US are ashamed of their bodies and are so ashamed that a staggering number of them develop eating disorders. Why is this?
The answers goes towards this idea of self comparison. We are either comparing ourselves to what we used to be when we were younger (insert age(s) here), or what we will be in the future when things for us are better…what it will be like when we finally loose the weight or are able to afford nicer clothes or finally able to exercise on a regular basis. And if that’s not bad enough, we are at the same time comparing ourselves to all of those around us, particularly the lives projected on social media. This constant comparing is then manifesting into a warped understanding about our bodies. The crazy thing is that the comparing doesn’t stop there.
We use this idea of self comparison to mess with how we view our lives, our living environments, our relationships, how our children are developing, and our place amongst friends and family members. We are literally comparing every aspect of our lives. We are comparing ourselves so often that not only are we not able to reflect on the positives in our lives, but we are unable to be fully present in our lives. Am I exactly who I would like to be yet? No, but I am who I am because of what I’ve done. I am built of some muscle, some fat, and a ton of experience. My body has gotten me to this point, and I am proud of it. It allows me to get up every morning. It allowed me to grow my children and give them life. It allows me to help others each day. It allows me to take care of my family. It allows me to follow my dreams. How can I be disappointed with that? I can’t! I cherish that! I’ proud of that! I am thankful for that!
If I spent my days comparing myself to other people, especially those who I see on social media, I wouldn’t get out of bed! I am not in the same place as those other people. I don’t have the same life experiences and life scenarios as those other people. So, how and why would I want to compare myself to them? Can I be happy for them? Yes! Can I allow them to inspire me? Yes! Can I allow them to motivate me towards a new goal? Yes, but I have to remember that my work towards that goal or a similar goal will not match theirs. We are all different. That’s what makes the world and life so amazing!
So how can we arm ourselves to combat self comparisons?
Be true to who you are and to what is going on right now in your life. The more present you are in your daily interactions, the more authentic they will be. You will be able to take full advantage of what is happening in real time in your life and the benefits of that are priceless.
Give more compliments
So often we see other women’s success in a particular area as a threat. Instead, pay that woman a compliment. Acknowledge the hard work that was done to get to that point and let her know that her hard work is being noticed. Not only will it make her feel good about herself, but it will make you appreciate the work that you are doing for yourself.
Be happy for others
Being happy for someone else does not take anything away from your own happiness. In fact, it might just make you more available to more happiness coming your way. Everyone is not in the same place and none of us are experiencing life in the same way. Taking pleasure in seeing someone else being happy allows us to think outside of ourselves and remember that we are not the only ones inhabiting the planet.
Let go of the judgements
We are not responsible for what others think about us. That responsibility lies with them and it is not up to us to change their mind. If we are doing our best and helping the world in some way, then that’s all that matters. Someone else’s opinions of us are none of our business. When we are able to accept this way of thinking there is a freeness and clarity that comes over us. There is a weight that lifts off of us and it is almost magical.
Use differences as your motivation
We cannot all be measured using the same ruler. We are not the same and the sooner we accept that the better. Instead of using the achievements of others as proof of how you are not measuring up, use them as new goals to be set for your future. If they did it, you can too. In fact, you may be able to do it even better.
Take a break from social media
Sometimes a clean break from social media for a while is all it takes to reset our minds and get things straightened out for ourselves. If seeing images on social media makes you a victim of self comparisons or comparing in general, take a break from taking it in. You are in charge of how and what is coming into your space, so choose to not let it in for a while. It’s also good to remember that what we see on social media is what people want us to see. It’s the highlight reel of their lives. It isn’t real life. Real life is messy, sometimes chaotic, and unpredictable. Taking a break from social media allows you to reset your expectations back to reality.
Perfection doesn’t exist
The sooner we all accept that no one is perfect, the sooner we will all be able to breathe out a gigantic sigh of relief. If you are anything like me, a typical A type personality, perfection isn’t just a choice it’s a necessity. When we are able to accept that sometimes it’s okay if things are “good enough”, we are able to give ourselves permission to take a step back and know that’s it’s okay to try again if we’d like at a later time or leave things just as they are and move on. Trying to make everything perfect all of the time is not only exhausting, but it automatically sets us up for failure. We are perfectly imperfect and that’s absolutely okay.
Make a gratitude list
Starting or ending each day by making a gratitude list is a nice way to remind ourselves of all that we do have in our lives. The things listed can range from small to large, the important thing is that by doing the exercise each day we actually start to look at the world around us with grateful eyes instead of hungry eyes. Looking through grateful eyes allows us to appreciate every aspect of our lives and this in turn leads us to be happier and more fulfilled.
There is no one way to live in this world, but we’ve only got one shot at this life so if the choice is to spend it comparing all that I am not and all that I don’t have, or to spend it grateful for all that I do have and living into every possible experience, I will always choose the latter. Always.
Data source for this posting: http://tocqueville.richmond.edu/digitalamerica/?p=3139