Career

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

HowToStopComparing

They say “comparison is the thief of joy.” Understatement of the century.

The modern version should read something like “Looking at pics of your ex-bestie’s engagement ring while stress-eating a pizza will only make you feel worse about your existence.” (Though perhaps that’s not as concise).

It’s no surprise that the more miles our thumbs scroll on Instagram, the shittier we feel. And yet, the moment we feel stressed, bored, or inebriated, we reach for our phone. And thus begins the vicious cycle.

So why do we do it and how do we stop? Read on:

Cara* is a 31-year-old, female who first came to me when she felt “lost” in her career and relationship. From the outside, most people would think she has the perfect life. She has close friends, a growing career in marketing, and a long-term boyfriend with whom she lives. She’s in great health, has no debt, and has a (surprisingly) healthy relationship with her parents (say what?!). Cara, however, didn’t see it that way. She felt like nothing was ever enough.

When friends would get married, coworkers would move on, and her sister had a baby, Cara judged herself as a loser, upset she hadn’t “achieved” the same milestones. She imagined others to be living a happy life, free of the self-doubt she plagued herself with daily. As a result, she didn’t take consistent action toward her goals (her juicer is still in the box, her resume is unwritten, and her running shoes have accumulated more dust bunnies than miles).

In one session, I asked whether she’d ever shared these feelings with her friends, to which she responded “of course not! They would never understand.” And when I asked if she ever posted a less-than-flattering selfie, she had a similar response. I pointed out that if she’s only portraying an idealized version of herself, the same might be true for others. Not sharing the whole picture not only isolates her, but her friends as well. Maybe they, too, share similar self-doubts. That night, she opened up to a friend who had similar feelings of self-judgment when she saw fitness “influencers” on Instagram. Cara and I spoke the next week and she reported feeling closer to her friend and more hopeful about her future.

1. Facts are facts. Thoughts aren’t feelings. Our behaviors are irrational.

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Okay, that’s a lot to throw at you. Let’s break it down.

In my work with Cara, we addressed her need to compare herself to others with a 3-prong approach to address: 1) thoughts; 2) feelings; and 3) behaviors.

When something good happens to someone else, we have a difficult time separating facts from thoughts and thoughts from feelings. A fact doesn’t have the power to make us feel badly. It’s the conclusions we draw from them that have the potential to harm us. For example, a coworker getting a raise is a fact. “She doesn’t deserve a raise” or “I should have been promoted” is a thought, not a fact. “I’m a loser” is a feeling, not a fact. “I’m going to re-watch Gossip Girl tonight instead of looking for a job that excites me” is a (totally relatable) behavior.

While people often tell us to remember that there are others who are less fortunate or urge us to compare ourselves to those who we may perceive as “lesser” than us, this negative comparison doesn’t change our beliefs or behaviors. In fact, it’s equally as damaging, keeping us in the competitive mindset of constantly comparing ourselves to others.

Try it: When you notice you’re comparing yourself to others, identify the differences between facts, thoughts and feelings. Have a hard time noticing? Take stock when you use words like “I should…” (I should be married by now); “I wish…(I wish I were thinner); and words that end in –er (She is prettier than I am.) Separating your thoughts from your feelings will allow you to choose behaviors with more awareness, resulting in a better outcome, mood, and mindset.

2. Our outsides don’t always match our insides.

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For the past 1.5 years, I’ve been providing therapy to at-risk teenage girls. Needless to say, self-esteem is a recurring theme. One of my favorite tools came from an art therapist I worked with. Seeing its success, I decided to try it with Cara. In session, she decorated the outside of a shoebox with images and words that portray how others see her. She used words like “fierce” with images of adventure and Michelle Obama. On the inside of the box, she conveyed how she sees herself. The imagery was completely different. She depicted a small girl surrounded with the words “stuck” and “alone.” When she finished, we noted that her closest loved ones would be surprised to see the inside of the box, not recognizing this as the Cara they know. She acknowledged that when we compare ourselves to others, we only see the outside of their box. As a result, we base our comparisons and resulting beliefs on half-truths without the whole story.

Try it: While I get that crafting out your feelings might not be for everyone, I highly recommend trying this for yourself. Play some calming music, grab a few old magazines and use this self-care activity to create more connection with yourself and others. Not for you? Challenge yourself by sharing an “in the box” memory or feeling with someone close to you. Remember, vulnerability creates connection.

3. Fill your life with purpose and passion.

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As vomitous and pinteresty as that statement may be, it’s true. When you’re doing things you love, you stop noticing what everyone else is doing. And because you’re focused on yourself, when you do notice, you care less.

Try it: Take a class. Try a new hobby. Get back in touch with the things you did before social media existed (assuming you’re as old as I am!) Personally, I started using Goodreads and am back to reading for pleasure. I’m also finishing a course in trauma-informed yoga. Bonus: It’s amazing how much sleep you get when you’re not reading the entire Internet before bed each night!

The Takeaway:

So instead of comparing your body, bank account, or boyfriend, focus on changing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Recognize that comparisons aren’t based on the whole picture. And lastly, go out and live your life. It doesn’t have to be Instagramable to be worthy of your time and energy.

Speaking of which…while you’re at it, maybe cool it on the social media for a while :)

*Name and identifying information has been changed

Can't Focus? The 5 Stupid-Simple Tricks To Deal With Distractions

DealWithDistractions

Since I get various forms of this question emailed to me each week, I thought I’d share (with permission, of course)

Dear Amita,

Help! I want to be productive, but I keep getting distracted. I check my email and suddenly an hour’s passed and all I have to show for it is a million open browser tabs (with articles I’ll probably never read), screenshots of memes, and a half-written email. What can I do to stay focused and actually get shit done?

-Cara, Florida*

Cara, you're not alone.

The black hole of the Internet has sucked the life (and hours) out of all of us. While you can’t make the World Wide Web disappear, you can take a few precautionary steps to stop getting caught in it. Let’s break down your question:

1. Define Productivity

When you say you want to be “productive,” what does that really mean? Most people sit at their desk thinking “it's time to do work” without any real action plan for what they’ll get done. It’s easy to distract ourselves or avoid starting an unknown, undefined, or unwanted task. Simply put, No plan = No work.  

2. Limit your Email

Checking email isn’t the same as working. Sure, it feels like work, but it doesn’t equate to productivity. The click-bait headlines tempting us to waste time/money is only half the battle. The bigger challenge is the false sense of direction our inbox provides. We see an unread message and think we need to take action, forcing us to sacrifice our priorities. Inadvertently, we address the urgent rather than the important. To combat this, only check your email after you’ve created your plan. Then, close/silence your email and adjust your plan only if absolutely necessary.

3. Shut it Down

Open tabs are distracting and overwhelming. Instead, bookmark them or copy the link to a document/virtual post it. Then, close down all tabs you aren't ACTIVELY using.

4. Live a Little

Memes are hilarious and oddly empathetic to the human experience. Make time for breaks. You’re a human, not a robot.

5. Break it Up

One of the many reasons we feel overwhelmed is because we add things to our To-Do list rather than taking immediate action.  This was a major pitfall for me until I began using the 2-minute rule: If a task (or email, in your case) takes less than 2 minutes, don’t push it off. Act now! If it takes longer or feels intimidating, break it down into bite-sized, actionable items. Not only will it be easier to start tasks and take consistent action, you’ll feel less stressed and more motivated.

If you spend more time on distractions than you do on work, check out these psychology-backed tweaks to jumpstart your focus and productivity. 

(I post this cheat sheet above my desk…just in case!)

How To Be Consistently Consistent: My Weird, Unconventional Trick to Kick Ass Across the Board

My goal is to put myself out of business.

As an entrepreneur, that’s idiotic.

As a coach/soon-to-be-therapist, that makes me effective.

When I work with clients, the last thing I want is for them to become dependent on me. Instead, we solve a problem together and go over the exact steps that led to their success. That way, they can replicate it on their own the next time they feel stuck. 

Whether it's finding a career that's motivating, a partner that's loving, or a system to stop procrastinating, most of us are great at figuring out what isn't working, but we fail to notice what's working well.

Why does that matter?

No, I'm not going to go on a tirade about awareness and gratitude (though those are both valid and on the docket for future posts). This is about figuring out your recipe for success. And that brings me to todays' topic:

How to reverse-engineer what's working so you Get Consistent Results:  

Good News, Bad News, Better News.

Let’s start with the good news: When you figure out how to outsmart yourself, you won’t have the same problem again.

Bad news: Once you solve your problem, you'll probably make new mistakes or have new problems. (I know, sucks to be human!)

Better news: The same system to solve that first problem can be used across the board. In all areas. No matter what.

All you need to get started is to ignore your problem.

What now? How’s that possible?

One of the (many) differences between “traditional” therapy and the work I do is that I focus on what’s working. Sounds counter-intuitive, but the key to fixing what isn’t working is to start with what's working well and reverse-engineer it.

To be honest,  I’m not the coach for everyone. If you want to spend your time bitching about what’s not working, why life sucks, and why everyone else is to blame, we're not a good fit. Partly because that’s a downer and I don’t want to hear it, but more than that, it’s because that isn’t going to fix shit.

While this approach is highly effective, it’s also surprisingly difficult for most people. (I get it, if we could see our blind spots, they wouldn’t be “blind” spots.)

Here’s How It Typically Goes:

Amita: What are the things in your life that don’t require excess amounts of motivation or “self-discipline?” In other words, what comes naturally without pushing yourself?

Client: I procrastinate on most things, but I usually manage to exercise consistently without needing reminders. But that’s completely different, it doesn’t really count.

Amita: Why doesn’t it count?

Client: That isn’t “productive.” I just do it because it makes me feel good and I like being in shape. That’s not as important as my career though, that's where I need help.

Amita: Well a lot of things feel good. Like warm baths, new socks, or mind-blowing sex. But those things don’t really require the same amount of innate motivation that helps you to work out. So, what makes this different?

Client: It’s important to me. But so is my writing career. (Dramatic Sigh)

Amita: Since exercise is something you value, you’re willing to invest time and energy into it. So how does working out look different in your life than the actions you’re taking in your writing career? What does your workout habit actually look like?

Client: Well, I know when I get home from work that I'll go to the gym with my friend. And I’m motivated because I see results so I keep doing it. But who cares if that’s going well?! My career is way more important and I’m not getting anywhere!

Amita: Well, let’s look at your process. Your recipe for success at the gym is 1) Scheduling it in as a predictable part of your routine 2) Accountability 3) A social component that helps you feel connected 4) Results that motivate you to continue. Does that sound right?

Client: Yes, I didn't realize I do all that!

Amita: Most of us don't notice or question the things that work well in our lives. We put our energy into focusing on what's wrong, not what's right. Let’s draw from that and make your writing routine mirror your exercise routine.

The conversation continued with only a small amount of teeth-pulling to include that he would:

  • Add in 20 minutes of writing each morning before going to work (even if all he wrote was that he was pissed at me for making him do it!)
  • Check in once per week with his action partner on any new steps or new content he created. 
  • Meet weekly with a friend in a similar field to write and bounce ideas off each other.
  • Start submitting his articles to websites to see new results to encourage momentum.

I should note that my clients aren’t as whiny or irritating as this conversation came off.  They are inspiring, motivating, and above all else, they are committed to creating real change.

Figure Out Your Strategy For Success:

When you’re at your best, what are the processes that make you successful? Drill down on the answers by reflecting on the moments when you’re motivated to accomplish your goals:

  1. What are you doing differently?
  2. What are you focusing on?
  3. What actions are you taking?

In other words, what’s your recipe for success? Is it knowing when to take action? Is it going to a specific place? Is it having an accountability partner? Is it having a compelling or motivating reason? Whatever it is…

Decode it. Translate it. Do it.