In a very subtle way, a large portion of our ego-based lives are based on a subtle competitions with others. Whether it’s about our weight, our income, our romantic status etc.; we tend to describe where we are ‘at,’ by using comparisons regarding where we think we would be if we were better people.
Despite most of us being taught those habits by seeing our parents do it, a much more reliable recipe for success is to lower our standards. It’s easy to do. A ‘standard’ is nothing more than some thought-created expectation that we have constructed around the status of someone else.
If we’re going to make the mistake of comparing ourselves to others at all, then we’re better to compare ourselves to people struggling more than us, than to compare ourselves to ones who appear to be struggling less because we are only looking at some small aspect of their total life.
It is also important to remember that we are only one person, but we can compare ourselves to many others. So it’s likely we can find at least one example of someone who is better than us at almost anything.
The reason that sort of comparison has no value is because it could also be done by the people we’ve compared ourselves to. That would leave us all as losers in a world full of losers. That’s too much like where we already live when there is so much better available.
Of course, while lives can have smaller competitions within them, life itself is not a competition. It is simply a collection of experiences. Any comparisons or competitions happen only in our thinking, before or after the experience happens.
What’s dangerous about this system of thought is that we not only apply it to ourselves, but we apply it to the rest of our lives too. This means we can innocently develop near-impossible standards that leave us living a life of perpetual disappointment.
If anything less than ideal, we can mentally inflate those issues into something so big that it dominates our thoughts, which thereby forms our perspective. That means we can come to know our homes, jobs and family by what they are missing rather than what they offer.
This is a critical distinction, because what ‘we’ or ‘they’ or ‘it’ offer to our lives is something that happens within our lives as an experience. Yet what ‘we’ or ‘they’ or ‘it’ is missing only exists in our thoughts.
As an example, using this ‘assumption of ideals,’ we can spend our lives thinking painful thoughts as we beat ourselves up for failing to go to the gym 75% of the time. Meanwhile, we still are healthier thanks to the 25% of time we did go. Since we ended up healthier thanks to that 25% success rate, why berate ourselves for what we think we should have done versus giving ourselves credit for what we actually did?
If we give ourselves credit, we’ll feel good about our success and that will make it a lot easier to move ourselves up from 25% to 30% and beyond. If we attack ourselves, we ‘become’ that missing 75% and that is a disappointing identity to live our lives as.
Ironically, what this all means is that we generally improve more when we relax and are generous with ourselves, which many people find counter-intuitive due to how they were brought up. By noting how much we live our achievements, versus how much we only think about our expectations, we can begin to see reality more clearly. And it’s that clarity that helps us to create both more joy and more life-momentum. So maybe start today by giving yourself some credit.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.