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How to Stop Dwelling on the Life You Could Be Living

“If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” ~Oprah Winfrey

I’ve often compared myself to others and imagined that they have a better life than I do.

The youngest of eight children, I grew up with a mother who often said, “So and so must really be happy! Look at them! They know how to live life.”

Becoming a widower at the age of forty with eight children to raise was not easy on her, which is why she constantly wished her life were different. And somehow, those thoughts and words stuck with me.

I’ve frequently felt that I’m not enough, despite being a professor and researcher, having published books, and having presented at conferences in Brazil and abroad.

No matter how much I’ve done and accomplished in my life, I usually catch myself looking at other people´s lives and thinking they´re better off (despite all the webinars, self-development books, self-improvement mp3s, and meditations I have done).

I compare myself to people who somehow “seem” to lead a more fun life. In the beginning of my career, I thought that other researchers were always “producing” more than I was.

This type of thinking also manifests in the suspicion that I could be living another life.

Let me explain: We sometimes get stuck, thinking the past, or our “lost opportunities,” as we like to label them, are better than the present.

Our thinking might sound like this:

“If I had done such and such, I would be living my dreams.”

“I could be living this adventurous life in another city doing something else.”

“I´d be so happy if only I had…”

This is where the problem lies.

Lost opportunities happen when we are nowhere instead of now here.

We are nowhere when we live in the present lamenting the past, dreaming of a future that may never come if we are not mindful about our present, about the now here.

No one can be happy if not in the present.

When I stay in that mode, I feel miserable. I feel like a victim—like I´m not enough, or a failure. All lies.

These big lies come from our shadows, from our fears, from our egos. This happens because we identify with our thoughts about what we could have done or what we should be doing. Being mindful is the opposite of that.

I have realized that I need to know how to differentiate my ego from my love voice. What does it feel in my body when I experience each of these? These are my thoughts about it:

Ego voice:

It would be so much better if you were somewhere else. Life on the other side is much better. You could be living in another country and you would happy; instead, you are stuck here. You lost your opportunity to live this life. You failed.

These thoughts make me feel anxious, fearful, nervous, and jittery.

Love says:

Your life is wonderful and you have so many possibilities and opportunities, right here and right now. You are wonderful and you are loved. Open your eyes to the doors of opportunity near you, to the beauty that you already create right here and right now. All is well.

These thoughts bring peace and calm to my body and heart.

As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says, “The ego looks for what to criticize. This always involves comparing with the past. But love looks upon the world peacefully and accepts. The ego searches for short comings and weaknesses. Love watches for any sign of strength. It sees how far each one has come, and not how far he has to go.”

So, how can we get out of this rut? How can we live our lives and be more present to ourselves? I’ve developed this list for myself, and it just may help you too:

1. Breathe.

Breathing brings us to the present and it connects us with our higher selves. Whenever you see yourself comparing and going to the past, take a deep breath and bring your awareness to the present moment.

2. Listen to music.

Nietzsche said, “Life without music would be a mistake.” When you start getting down on yourself, turn up the volume of your favorite song. Soon you’ll be singing along, getting in the zone, and feeling good in the now, since music is the language of love.

3. Say a mantra.

I have learned that mantras can be incredibly powerful tools for mindfulness and empowerment. The one I like most is: “I am the Light. The Light is in me.”

4. Say affirmations.

I have made my own and have copied others that appeal to me, and I repeat them every morning before I get up.

If you find yourself dwelling on the past, affirm to yourself, “I accept all that is. All is well. I trust the divine order. I cherish all that I have and all that I am.”

Claim these words and really feel it as you say them.

5. Do some yoga poses.

Whenever you feel stuck, get your energy flowing with some yoga poses, such as the child posture, downward dog, or the tree pose. If yoga is new to you, you may want to start with some basic stretches, syncing your breath with the movements.

6. Marvel at nature.

Nature is here to nurture us. If you feel empty or lost in your negative thoughts about yourself and your life, step back and look at the world around you. I like to look at birds that come to eat in the backyard in my house. I see how free they are, and it reminds me I can be free, as well, if I choose to be.

7. Be thankful for all you have and are.

Gratitude is powerful because it helps us recognize all the good things around us, instead of dwelling on all the good things we think other people have. In fact, a good mantra is: “Thank you for everything. I have no complaints.”

8. Read inspiring spiritual messages and blogs.

One good blog is Tiny Buddha! It always uplifts me and puts me in a Zen state.

9. Do one tiny thing to create the life you want now (instead of dwelling on the life you could have had).

Ask yourself: what can I do right now to actively create the future I visualize?

10. Enjoy the present!

Being present means noticing the thousands of things around us that make life interesting. It also means making time for fun. It can be listening to your favorite song and singing along, or going out for a walk, writing in your journal, or savoring your favorite food.

Enjoy being here now and experiencing this beautiful world. Most importantly, enjoy the person who you are right now, exactly as you are!

I still have moments when I wish I lived a different life, but I see them as opportunities to practice being in the present and cherishing all that is happening now. I am learning to see these moments as tiny reminders of living in the moment.

How can you embrace and enjoy your life as it is today?

Photo by jk+too

Avatar of Ana Barcelos

About Ana Barcelos

Ana Barcelos is an English teacher and a wanna-be blogger. Find her first time posts at http://higherselfnotes.blogspot.com/.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Porvu

    thank you! this post came just the right time for me

  • Teresa

    I have the same problem with not being happy with what I have but often times comparing myself to others, “he or she makes lots of money they must be happy, he or she buys everything they like, life must be easy”
    and you’re right, when you’re comparing yourself to others you lose sight of what you have and can be grateful for. Also I have regrets that I tend to look back at and say, “If only I had finished… If only I could go back and do it again…”
    but mindfulness and blog posts such as yours, and tibybuddha have helped me create a new awareness and appreciate the little things.

  • Kyxxit

    I really needed this just now. Somehow I have fallen into a rut of complaining and wishing things were different.  It only began recently when I got married. It can be a challenging adjustment.  Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration.

  • http://www.lifeprobabilities.com/ Ani

    nice post :)

  • http://alidavies.com/ Ali Davies

    The first part of your post about comparing ourselves to others is so important to raise. I believe that comparison can be the killer of creativity. It can breed all sorts of negative feelings that then just keep us stuck. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and just focus on defining and designing our own lives in the present. 

  • Ana

     I am so glad to hear that it helped you. We all help each other in a community like this as Tiny Budha – daily inspirations and reminders to us of who we really are. We are not (only) our pasts. We are who we are right now with all the decisions we have made and which made us who we are right now. Learning to accept us as we are is one of the greatest lesson we are here to learn. Thanks for your message. Ana Barcelos

  • Ana

     Teresa, you are right. And it is so easy to fall into this trap of comparing ourselves to others and comparing ourselves to being able to predict the future, isn´t it? The decisions we have made in the past were made with the best we had and knew at that time. I have a good friend who keeps repeating this mantra: “whatever happens is interesting”. I think it is a good mantra and a reminder to us that all is in Divine Order.Love and Peace.

  • Ana

     Thank you! I am glad to hear that! Love and Peace!

  • http://www.sweetandsage.com Sage

    I needed this today. I’m getting caught up in how great my life could be without this one thing, but I need to focus on being happy right now even though it’s not a perfect situation. Thank you!

  • Bluebuddha1961

    This is such a good article. I really got a lot out of it!

  • greener grass

    Beautiful post. My therapist ALWAYS says you cannot compare your insides to someone else’s out outsides. I too often bring “the grass is always greener” stories into my sessions. This mantra has helped me through so many “comparing” episodes in my life. She also is quick to say that the “couple that has it all, or the woman that juggles it all perfectly”, could quite possibly be miserable. Nothing is what it seems. I figure she would know given her profession. Love your insights too!

  • GalFromAway

    This is definitely much appreciated today. I’ve been struggling in finding balance in my life (schoolwork + work + home improvements + household chores + husband + ‘me’ time) and I keep wishing that I could do this or that, or that something would be different so that I’d feel more grounded, or better connected with my life, or whatever. It’s not often I do this, but lately the wishes have been strong…

    I’ll be printing this one off and putting it on my wall.

    Thank you.

  • katcrowder

    How do you balance accepting who you are with deciding who you are to be? Mindfulness seems to set you up for deferring to conflict, or avoiding it by accepting someone else’s decision as “just the way things are,” and there doesn’t seem to be a place for standing your ground for something you want or believe in. I welcome anyone’s thoughts on this.

  • Karen

    When I feel that someone else might have a better life than me, I try to think about their ‘whole’ life – so the lady who lives in a big lovely house may be a widow; the successful author may be estranged from her family – and suddenly I find that I’m very happy with the life I have.  I have a wonderful husband, beautiful daughters, my health and the good fortune to have time to follow my hobby of birdwatching.  I don’t work so I don’t have much money, but if I did work, I’d have all the worries that go along with that.  I love my life and am (usually) grateful for all that I have!

  • Jennifer Redmond

    This is the One Big Thing I have major problems overcoming.  Thank you for this — I’m printing it out as a reminder for those low days!

  • Jay

    Amazing post. I’ve spent far too much time looking at others, wishing that I had their life. I fell into the trap of ‘lost opportunities’ it ruled me, my mind constantly racing towards the conclusion that I had missed my opportunity to ‘make it’. 

    This post was insightful, I’m on a long journey but I’m confident that there is light ahead. 

  • http://www.qwitr.org/ Tony Fuentes

    Great post! Thank you! I’ve
    noticed that people compare themselves to others a lot, especially when speaking
    with someone face to face. The subconscious goes crazy with analytics and
    comparisons. I’ve found step 1, which is to breathe, very helpful during those
    situations. Breathing grounds you in the moment and allows you to enjoy the
    conversation instead of beating your self-esteem into a pulp with comparisons. :)

  • Miranda

    Hi Sage,

     I was feeling the same way today and this article uplifted me as well. I am realizing that others feel this way too and that I am not alone. Hang in there Sage- things will get better!

  • Ana

     Thanks for this Karen. I will add this to the list: Count our blessings! It´s good to see this in your post and it is a great reminder to us all to be grateful to what we have, to the blessings in our lives. Thanks!

  • Ana

     Hi  Ali, couldn´t agree more with you! Comparing ourselves kills our creativity and spurs negative feelings. To get un-stuck we can try to accept our lives and our selves as we are: perfectly imperfect! Thanks for your comment!

  • Ana

     Hi Tony, thanks for your comment! You are right. We do go crazy comparing ourselves face to face (or even just in our imagination!). Yes, breathing does help us. We need to remind us constantly to be mindful and focus on our breath. Thanks for this!

  • Ana

     Thanks Ani! :-)

  • Ana

     Dear Jay, yes, There IS light ahead! indeed. It may not seem so sometimes, but the light may be just above, or beside us, or actually, inside :-). We just have to turn on the switch of acceptance and kindness towards ourselves. We are all one.
    And every day is a new day, full of possibilities! Thanks for this! Love and Light!

  • Ana

     Jennifer, thanks!! The post is also a way I found to remind myself of it and be accountable and walk the talk!! Let us all remind ourselves of that! Thanks for commenting! Love, Light and Kindness!

  • Ana

     Thanks for this. Indeed, I myself got up today running over and over my “to do” list in my mind. But I prayed and I started taking deep breaths and started to feel calm. We all get caught up in these moments. Hope that some of the suggestions work for you as well. Thanks for your comment! Love and Light!

  • Ana

     Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your insights! Loved your therapist’s advice! Will add that to my list :-) Love and Light!

  • Ana

     Thank you!!

  • Ana

     Thank you Sage! Like I said, we go through moments like these. Being happy right now with what is helps us to feel calm. In feeling calm and more self-forgiving we can create some wonderful energy shift and then bring more of what we want in our lives.

  • Ana

     This is a very good question and tough one. Accepting what is at the moment and being mindful does not mean avoiding conflict or not doing anything to change. Being thankful, accepting things as they are means surrending to the certainty that “whatever happens is interesting”. It is a shift in perspective that puts you into a peaceful, forgiving and accepting mood that helps you create more of what you want. The ego likes comparing and making you feel miserable. And it is hard to create anything  you want in your life in that mindset. As Neale Donald Walsch says: “what you resist persists. What you look at disappears”. The idea is to look at your comparison, but choose acceptance. Don´t know  if i was able to express myself clearly. This is all new to me and I also struggle with these a bit. Thanks for the question!

  • sukha

     I love that you point out right here that the light may actually be inside of us. I think that’s often the case but too easy to forget. We (or I, at least) frequently fall into the trap of seeking satisfaction, praise, acceptance, fill in the blank, from other people or external circumstances, when in reality it exists within. One of the mantras I like to repeat at the beginning of the day (and during, when I remember..) is “May I walk through this day in the warm loving glow of the light that shines within and through me… May my light not be diminished by difficult people or uncomfortable situations… May my light shine brightly in good times as well as bad…” etc. This helps me to remember that no matter what is going on around me, no matter what someone else might say or do, I always have the power to be whoever I want to be, and that that person is enough :)

  • sukha

     “Whatever happens is interesting.” I love that. I’ll definitely be using it a lot.

    I’ve run across my share of potholes in life, but I like to think that while it hasn’t all been pleasant, whatever has happened has brought me to where I am today and I wouldn’t be the same person without it. And I’m not sure that’s something I want to give up :)

  • Kirrikir

    I just llllooooovvvvveeee to be inspired by Tiny Buddha’s posts!!! Yep, I feel better now that I’ve read this one xx Thnks!!

  • http://www.smiffbib.com/2012/03/21/this-was-our-moment/ Kerry :)

    I feel like I am finally here… Like its none of my business what other people think… and I do what I feel like I was made to do…

  • Ana

     Dear Sukha
    Thanks for this! So powerful!!! Love your mantra! And love this one too: ” I always have the power to be whoever I want to be, and this person is enough” :-)
    Thanks for sharing !

  • Sari

    I really needed to read this today… It gives me so much strength to see that I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Thank you!!!

  • http://theviewfromherebycraig.com/ Craig Ruvere

    Ana, this was a wonderful piece and so very timely for me. I recently lost my job and am now replaying every choice in my life trying to figure out where I went wrong and how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. It really can be daunting to think about and at times it can consume you. But every decision we make and road not traveled has lead us somewhere else. I always say that if even one decision in my life went a different way I would not have met my wife – the most important person in my life. Learning to be happy with where you are now and who you are now is never easy. But remembering that everything in life happens for a reason offers some comfort. Thank you again for the post. All the best…

  • AlwaysComparing

    This came at the right time. I have a tendency to compare myself with others ALL THE TIME and it ruins the moments. There is always a prettier, luckier, more intersting person and my life would always be better if something was different and thinking this way ruins my mood and stops me from enjoying the present moment and all the other great things about my life. This article was a great reminder to stop doing that.  Thank you!

  • http://www.sweetoniontart.com/ Lucy

    Thank you for this lovely post! I slip into the trap of comparing myself to others from time to time. I often don’t even realize I’m doing it until the bad, anxious feelings creep up and I have to remind myself to be grateful and happy with who I am and what I have.

  • http://twitter.com/neerja2009 Neerja Sharma

    This is a great post. A keeper! Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/neerja2009 Neerja Sharma

    I love this video that came to me today. I find it synchronistic to this blog. Universe is having some fun with me today. My take away from the video is – we have what we need, already! Our NOW is exactly what we need. So hard at times to see that. (in fact, most of the time).
    http://www.flickspire.com/m/IAAW/AcresOfDiamonds

  • http://www.offthemat.co.uk/ Rebecca

    The words typed on this page could so easily have flowed from my own fingers.

    I’ve never known anything but how to compare my life with the lives of others. I buried my head in stories as a child, wondering what life would be like if I was someone else. I would walk around, imagining that I was some alter ego. I would picture every little detail of that alter ego, from what my name was to what I was wearing, to whose hand I was holding (there was always a cute boy involved in my imagined lives!).

    OK, I understand that I sound pretty crazy. I had a very vivid imagination! But, even as I got older and stopped pretending to be someone else, I would still compare myself to others.

    I would wish I was as pretty, as happy, as rich, as well-travelled, as [insert any other flattering adjective here] as the people around me. I could never just be content with my life and myself. It’s only as a grown woman in her mid-20s that I’m learning, slowly but surely, how to do that.

    Yoga has been a huge influence for me too, as well as positive affirmations and blogs like this. Thank you for sharing some other tips, as well as your own story.

  • Erin

    Thank you so much for sharing, what a great post! I often find myself doing the same things. I think what if that job actually had worked out, what if I was in that relationship now instead of the one I’m in, what if I hadn’t moved… It’s so true that we are not happy living in the present, always comparing our lives to others, always thinking that others have and achieve what we can not. I like the tips that you give to cope with this. I find that taking a walk or going to the beach clears my head almost immediately. We have to be thankful for what we have and that which we have accomplished because we can create our ideal futures. Only I am in charge of my own happiness. 

  • Anne

    Everyone is so connected these days with social media, there are endless opportunities to compare how you are living with how others are living. It used to just be driving down a street and seeing a bigger house, but now we have Facebook and an endless barrage of vacation and happy photos. It’s helpful for me to remember the following” Never compare someone’s highlight reel to your behind the scenes film”. Most of us would not wish another person to be doing worse just to make ourselves feel better. However, comparison to others is truly damaging and skews your view of yourself and others.

  • Rachel

    WOW thank you! Many blessings to you, this article touched my soul.

  • Steve

    Hi Ana I have talked to before, well, in the past, I am trying to pick myself up from some horrible decisions,that I made while having anxiety and PTSD from divorce I am taking trade classes,Please God help me to find a job so I don’t end up in the street,

  • Bill Boteler

    This sounds like what one usually reads on this subject, not that new. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to dismiss such thoughts. They may be true. You are given this gift of life and you want to do good with it. But it is easy not to do so, especially when you are young and inexperienced. The world can be quite unforgiving. It takes some very bright people years to see how they are getting in their own way. Then, it is gone. How about guiding the young a bit more than we do???

  • Rob

    I internet searched “i feel like i should have done more with my life” and was contemplating suicide just to stop feeling the way i have for a while now.

    Reading this helped. I think i’m going to go out and lay in the grass for a while.

  • Depressa

    This pisses me off, if we could “just do” all those things, we would already be happier.. :’(