Are you tired of constantly having to “measure up”? Compared to what? Do you often see others as “better” than you? How can you break out of that thinking?
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Have you ever sat in a meeting and watched someone you aspired to “being as good as”? How can that make you feel? Inspired or frustrated? Encouraged or depressed? It’s a bit like the “glass half empty, glass half full” question, isn’t it? In today’s article I’d like to address this seemingly incessant comparison with others that some of my clients often seem to have.
Performance – compared to what?
We do live in a competitive business world where we are constantly measured via KPI’s and what I outlined in my performance management trilogy etc, right? We have discussed this in many different ways so far. However, today I’d like to explore this “measuring up” in a more personal context.
I have noticed that this also often appears with very competitive people where they are usually driven to either “be the best” or “be better” than someone or something else. Perhaps you can relate?
Starting with our siblings and our childhood friends, how competitive could that be? This often manifests in our backyard in a game like cricket, or perhaps around the dinner table, right? This is often where we learned to “pit ourselves” against older or “sharper” siblings or friends.
The more aggressive, confident and more naturally leadership oriented personalities (like the highly “Dominants” or cholerics in last week’s Personality Plus… article) usually sought to “win”, often at all costs. The more sensitive personalities were perhaps less obvious in necessarily chasing that “win”.
And how often are we subject to one or both parents “wanting the best for us” and like some teachers also placing massive expectations on us? All of this forms part of our conditioning, where we form our picture of how we see ourselves and the beliefs we carry about ourselves.
Let’s go back to the original question in that meeting.
Putting ourselves down
Would you agree with me that noticing a strength or weakness in someone else can result in our left brain mind chatter testing whether we have that strength or weakness and starting a comparison? Some of my clients smile at that question and suggest that: “it happens all the time”.
And so if this is true, then there will be situations where we feel we are “better” than the other person (in that strength or weakness) or we think we “come off second best”, correct? I have learned that some clients then allow themselves to forget the comparison just with that strength or weakness and broaden its context to making it applicable to their whole person, not just that observed attribute.
Apart from these thoughts interfering with the content and purpose of the meeting or conversation and that we stop listening, they can result in our “putting ourselves down” in comparison to the other, can’t they?
Comparisons are futile
Can you see the futility of such comparisons?
I like to explore this phenomenon via the two classical x and y axes.
In the above “putting ourselves down” example we are placing ourselves in a comparison with that other person or behaviour or situation on the vertical ‘y’ axis, usually placing them “higher than us” in the comparison. There is a judgement in play, even if it is of our own making.
When I notice this happening in a coaching conversation and challenge it, I get the client to lay that scenario down on the ‘x’ axis and look at it from the horizontal perspective instead. That way both points are on the same level, suggesting that there is no higher or lower, implying that there isn’t any better or worse or good or bad, right?
And so the horizontal perspective can help remove the value judgement from it. Then all that remains is that they are different. And at that point it is usually much easier to explore and recognize why they might be different and what we can learn from that. Make sense?
Think about it – are you not better than others at certain strengths and skills that you have? Of course you are. And are there others with skills or strengths you don’t have? Yep. So what? Would they necessarily share the same strengths and skills you have? Nope. Hence comparison really is futile, isn’t it?
Compared to what?
I remember whenever my son would find himself in such comparative situations and lament how he saw himself at that point compared to the others, I used to remind him that he could climb trees better than most. His eyes would usually light up as he remembered how good he indeed was at climbing trees and how much he loved that. (He is a passionate rock climber today) and the comparison was momentarily forgotten and replaced.
So whenever you find yourself in such “mind chatter” where you find yourself in “put down” thinking perhaps you can ask yourself “compared to what?”
You see, I have learned that we are our own harshest critics that often set ourselves impossible standards or expectations. And so the comparison to our standards is one area of potential “put down” and if we then expand that to comparing ourselves to others, it only exacerbates the matter, agree?
I can see and hear and feel some of you already cringing as I say: “You are already magnificent – just the way that you are!” Everyone is. No two people can ever have the same magnificence. When are you going to accept your own magnificence and forget about that of others, particularly in areas you believe you haven’t attained magnificence in yet? Life is a journey of “work in progress”, hopefully always moving towards our own increased magnificence.
Most of my clients learn of a relativity example of a chap that beat himself up because he “only” got a matriculation score of 99.3% instead of the 99.9% he had set himself as a goal. Wow – 99.3% put him in the top one percent of the nation! And in beating himself up, he forgot completely to focus on the 99% he did get and ignore the 0.6% he didn’t.
In case some of you are thinking that this is directly in conflict with what I have been constantly evangelizing about goals, please do a quick checkpoint here. It is only the unrealistic and unachievable or overly ambitious goals that set us up for failure. That doesn’t mean goals are bad. Think about it – because you experienced one bad car mechanic, does that make every car mechanic bad?
So which of the above positions do you find yourself taking most? It is an indication of your “glass half empty, glass half full” attitude, isn’t it? If you find yourself often lapsing into comparisons, can you see yourself perhaps Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself and in that pause ask yourself: “compared to what?” and consider removing any judgement from the comparison? And being happy (with Gratitude) with who you already are? And getting inspired by who you can and want to be?
How much of a difference do you think that could have on how you see yourself and maintain a more positive view of your self-worth? What if you did and what if it helped?
What if you could?
Robert Rob says
Thank you for the thought provoking article…
My “mind chatter” went along the lines of:
• How does this relate to me?
• Have I observed others display similar behaviours?
• Have I behaved this way myself – consciously or subconsciously?
• How can anyone aspire to new heights without a relative point of comparison.
This was followed by a rationalisation that seems to work for me, perhaps you may also find it interesting.
• There are individuals who play team sport, some for the transient glory of winning as a team… others who only see an opportunity to further their personal careers (sometimes at the expense of the team).
• There are those whose measure of success is embedded in their passion for the achievement… and those whose measure is driven by financial or other personal gain (often at the expense of others).
• Then there are those individuals whose personal measure is not relative to others or the record books, but to their own personal best. They know their level of competence and strive for small improvements.
Some people do this with tenacity, perseverance, integrity and strength of character… while others resort to cheating. (illicit substances, bribing officials, etc.)
I think that it’s natural and unavoidable to compare ourselves to others. We do so to assess risk; establish a “pecking order”; set goals; decide whether to lead or follow or to respond with fight or flight.
Our self-worth therefore is a product of our ability to reflect and learn from each experience and continuously adjust our understanding of our own competencies and depth of character.