3 Dangers of Comparisons and How to Defeat Them

I have a bad habit. That’s not really honest, is it? Truly, I have many bad habits, but I have a specific one I’d like to tackle today. Comparisons. This is as cliche’ as you can get, but it’s true; they’re a double-edged sword.

As I walk through my world, I’ve made a concerted effort to improve myself and my life by aiming for adventure in all aspects of it. In doing so, I find I typically encounter two different “places” in my mind. First, there’s the vision or the dream of what I can be. Next, there’s the self-evaluation of exactly where I am on the path to that dream.

The inevitable collision of these two spaces of the mind can be dramatic. The space in my head where these two spaces meet is like a battery in an electrical circuit–one side negative and the other positive. When I’m feeling relatively emotionally “healthy” the positive wins out. Clearly, the negative is exactly the opposite.

Both of these spaces are vital to building an ambitious Life of Adventure, and the management of their interaction is just as important. Why is that?

Think of a time you had a dream of something you wanted to accomplish. This is the easy part, isn’t it? Sitting back, visualizing the end of a great success, a confident feeling of accomplishment courses through you and you’re ready to take on the world to make it real. This is greatness. You know you can get there.

Trouble comes when you open your eyes and see where you’re currently at. Not instantly, not when you evaluate your current position on your personal path to greatness. Self-awareness isn’t a bad thing, the trap is in making a comparison between your current situation and your dream. Letting your mind focus on the gap between the two instead of the progress you’ve made toward the goal is dangerous.

Admittedly, we’re talking about a very, very fine line here. You don’t want to ignore the difference between where you are and where you want to be, or else you’ll be lost. You’ve got to anchor your progress against something. The difference in your mindset will establish how effectively, or not, you use the comparisons you make. It’s simply the difference between positive and negative thinking, abundance or scarcity, building up or tearing down; whatever you want to call it.

As I’ve tackled these collisions in my own head, I’ve identified three distinct areas of vital importance when I’m evaluating my own Adventures. You may face some different challenges personally, but I believe that these three are universal. Here’s each one, plus a strategy for where to take your thoughts instead.

Don’t fall prey to “could’a, should’a, would’a” thinking. Never compare your current adventure in light of what you could be, where you should be, or would have been “if only…” This puts all the focus unnecessarily on the gap between your current position and where you want to go. An awareness of this gap may be essential, but keep it at that level; an awareness. Just like when you’re driving, you’re aware of the barrier along the side of the road, but you don’t focus on it. If you do focus on the barrier, you’re likely to drift right into it. Focusing on your gap will only suck you into focusing on the negative; what you don’t have and what you haven’t done.

To keep your thinking productive and keep moving toward your goal, compare your current position to where you were last week, last month, last year. Every step, every inch is significant, positive progress. Ladders and stairs exist for a reason! There are limitations to what we can do immediately, but the impact always adds up to deliver you to a higher place. It may still be a long way to the top, that’s okay. Don’t forget that your life’s Adventure doesn’t just reside in the fleeting moments of goal accomplishment. The Adventure is truly found in the journey towards that accomplishment.

Don’t give in to jealousy. You’ll be prone to gaze around during your journey and see others on a similar path as yours. I’ll admit to looking upon others’ Adventures through the taint of jealousy because they seem to be “ahead” of me. There’s not a single valuable thing you can do with this line of thinking in this form.

You might think it’s a good idea to put on your blinders to help prevent this from happening, but that’s not the right way to defeat jealousy. Take a look around, identify those who are farther along a similar Adventure as you are. The positive outlook here is simple; view their progress as proof that you too can make it that far. When things get tough, we all need inspiration. Sometimes we find it within and sometimes externally. Looking ahead of us to see that others have made it through what we’re doing is a great thing. Just make sure you look close enough at them. The surface is probably impressive, but if you examine their Adventure, they probably have the same bruises and scars you’re getting right now, theirs have just healed.

One of my favorite quotes and visuals ever is from cartoonist Hugh Macleod; “Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.” (See the amazing cartoon HERE) Feel free to forget the hundreds of words I just used explaining this and remember the 8 that Hugh used. You’ll be happier if you do.

“Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.”

Hugh MacLeod – Gapingvoid

Don’t compare the apparent “magnitude” of your adventure to someone else’s. This can really be the most insidious of all three comparisons. You may not be jealous of anyone and you’ve got a healthy self-awareness of your own Adventure. Maybe you just learned a new programming language, mastered a new card trick, or built your first piece of furniture with your own two hands–who knows, it could be any Adventure. However, maybe you look over to the next cubicle and see that Bill just hung a new picture of the orphanage he built in Central America this summer. By himself. On a mountain. With malaria. Dammit Bill, can’t you just be normal like the rest of us?

Whoa! We’ve got to understand that others’ Adventures and ours are mutually exclusive of each other. Bill’s angelic existence casts no shadow on the great work you did on your own journey. Don’t be afraid to recognize another’s journey as a great one, just realize that doesn’t diminish your journey one bit. If you want even more value out of that recognition, compliment someone. Tell them that they did a great job and that they inspire you. Chances are, someone’s looking at you in exactly the same way.

Remember, comparisons are going to happen. They’re a useful tool, but like many tools, they must be respected and handled appropriately. Learn to use comparisons to your advantage and your Adventures will benefit.

Scott Parman

Adventure Camel Herder

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