You are strolling down the street, the sun beaming down on you. There’s the right amount of sun – balmy and engulfing everything in a cheerful mood. You happen to see a couple drive past you in an expensive convertible – and you go, “God! I wish I had that!”. The gentleman driving the BMW stops at a red-light and you happen to cross over. Unbeknownst to you, the gentleman is looking at you through his expensive shades telling himself, “Gosh! If only I had a body like that!”. Pretty much sums up what most of us would go through countless times in a single day.
Comparing, evaluating, judging, scrambling, aping. Do this small exercise – hark back onto the earliest memory when this feeling of comparison made it’s way to your psyche. You will have a similar version of one of these situations – when you looked at that one friend who had the latest toy, or a friend who took expensive vacations with his parents, or the boy in school who repeatedly excelled at academics, or the girl who was the prettiest, etc.
Comparison has its roots entrenched deeply – it serves as the logical guide when you need to compare and decide from a multitude of options. Without comparison we would be making errors on seemingly simple tasks – whether to drive cautiously on a snow covered road or push the gas pedal. It is the quintessential tool that we have used to survive and evolve. Comparison helps us solve problems. Similes and metaphors make language beautiful – comparison helps here too. But, comparison is a two faced coin. One side has logic and construct emblazoned on it, and the other side is singed with the unreasonable and destructive.
Why is comparison so deeply rooted in us?
Because this is a habit we have developed over the years. It has been deployed for such a long time in our life that it is almost second nature to us. We almost live and breathe comparison. It is so familiar to our psychology that we do not even realise its existence and operation. Comparison in an invisible force, but, as we come to realise, an exhaustive one.
On one extreme is the child who cries for the want of a toy. The child is miserable seeing another kid flashing the latest toy and compares what he/ she does not have with the other child. Comparison doesn’t seem harmful at this level. On the other extreme consider the adult tyrant who issues battle cries to purge out an entire race. Adolf Hitler firmly believed in the supremacy of the Aryan Race among all others. History has been witness to the clarion call of Adolf Hitler to purge the world of other races. This belief was rooted in his faith that the Aryan race was to be the torch bearer of human progress and everyone else was beneath the Aryan Man. The evil of comparison slinks in slowly during childhood and anchors itself firmly in the psyche of an individual and wreaks havoc in its adulthood.
When you compare yourself with someone on any characteristic – material, physical, or genetic you are letting them rule over your thoughts and your life. You handover control to something external to you. In most cases, instead of being positive, this ends up having a negative effect on you. You compare yourself to numerous others and beat yourself up without realising that you cannot be everyone at the same time, you can only be one person. Also you cannot have the best of everyone in you all the time.
“Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain
How to overcome this obsession?
For starters, every time you find yourself wandering down this path, remind yourself that the life you are living is yours alone. Stop using others lives as a barometer to measure yours. This will evaporate unnecessary anguish and your world starts to look better again. When you lose this anchor weighing you down, you can set sail on an exciting journey to never-seen-before lands that are amazing.
Second, the best reference point to compare yourself is you. Every night before going to bed ask yourself this, “What did I learn today?”. That way from the next day on you will actively seek to learn something new. Every day you would be putting minuscule effort to improve yourself and in a short while you will see significant progress on this front. To help you measure progress, you could even maintain a journal as an evidence of this progress. After all tiny snowflakes make up a snowball and tiny droplets of water make up the ocean. Tiny lessons you learn everyday will make you an unstoppable engine of progress.
Warren Buffet calls this the inner scorecard – “The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard. I always pose it this way. I say: Lookit. Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?”
Life has so much to offer when you celebrate life not in its commonality, but in its individuality.