“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” ~Zen Shen
Wow, you’re a bit of a loser compared to this guy, aren’t you, Will?
He’s winning at life—great job, great house, obviously making better money than you.
I sigh deeply and continue scrolling.
He takes care of himself, no Buddha belly, unlike you.
It’s true. I begin to feel like a useless lump. I keep scrolling.
No yellow and crooked teeth, either.
“His teeth are pretty straight,” I think to myself, staring at the guy’s mouth on the screen.
Damn right, they’re straight, like tic-tacs coming out of his gums. Perfect and white, not like yours.
I sigh once again and continue to scroll on Facebook.
Above is a typical dialogue between what I refer to as my Gremlin and me.
Does this voice sound familiar to you?
I’m talking about the troublesome terror that pops up like an unwelcome guest at the front door.
This nasty voice that loves to commentate and condemn—the voice that leaves us feeling unworthy and inferior, if we listen long enough. This, my friends, is the Gremlin of Self-Comparison.
I Imagine how different an exchange would unfold if it were another person (outside of my head) giving me the bashing.
If, for example, I was sitting on a park bench and a complete stranger walked up to me and said, ”Hey loser,” before pointing out how those around were superior to me. I imagine I’d walk off confused and leave this stranger alone after his unprovoked attack.
”Who is he to talk about me like that? He doesn’t even know me!” I would say to myself as I walk off.
I’d tell myself he must be deeply unhappy to treat other people this way, and I certainly wouldn’t take his comments to heart.
Most of us wouldn’t. We’d either ignore such criticism or defend ourselves.
So, here is the million-dollar question: Why do we accept talking to ourselves like this?
My belief is this: because it feels real, and we believe we are the voice. The truth is, however, we’re the listener, not the speaker.
But the voice of the Gremlin seems like a credible source. I mean, the voice comes from inside of us, why wouldn’t we trust it?
It helps to understand why we compare in the first place.
We are programmed that way. Comparing ourselves to others is a natural and inherent instinct. In prehistoric times this innate ability allowed us to swiftly analyze others and identify possible threats, yet in today’s society these quick critiques could be causing harm rather than preventing it.
Let’s face it: Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds are perfect catalysts for those episodes of self-pity and dissatisfaction, when we’re staring at our phone screens alone late at night, admiring how well everyone else seems to be doing.
We have to wonder, who are the newsfeeds feeding?
Could it be our Gremlins? Our insecurities? Our ego?
It dawned on me a while ago that I will never win playing the game of self-comparison.
No matter how much money I make, there will always be someone richer.
Even if I get in better shape, there will always be someone fitter and stronger.
But just knowing these things doesn’t mean I am able to stop comparing myself to others. I’ve had to accept my Gremlin is here to stay.
So what’s the alternative to trying to win against the Self-Comparison Gremlin?
I do my best to live by the following three mantras, as they serve me well in living with my Gremlin. Not “beating” or “silencing” my Gremlin. Living with him.
1. If I’m going to compare, I will compare who I am today with who I was in the past.
We’re forever growing, learning, and achieving. However, we fail to recognize and celebrate this when we’re listening to the Gremlin and concentrating on other people’s lives. Compared to who I was in the past, today I’m happier, wiser, and stronger. I’ve overcome anxiety, debt, disappointments, and heartbreak, and you know what? I’m still here.
We’ve all had challenges and we’re all still here. When we rate ourselves by the accomplishments of others, we overlook our own successes.
There’s one risk in comparing our current selves to our past selves: When revisiting the past, I may recognize that some areas of my life were better previously than they are now. I then have a choice. If I want to improve this area, I’ll set a goal. If right now I don’t wish to change, I’ll accept where I am. But what I won’t do is focus on everyone else’s progress and feel bad about myself as a result.
2. The people I’m comparing myself to are not flawless.
No matter how infallible and perfect others may seem, I’ll bet good money they have their Gremlins too. We are all equal in life. I’m no better than anybody else but I’m certainly not any worse. It’s important to remember that social media is only a highlight reel.
We all know real life is far more messy, raw, and flawed.
This is the beauty of being human.
3. I love and accept myself as I am right now (including my Gremlin).
Our Gremlins mean us well. Really, they’re trying to protect us by identifying areas where we may be “falling behind.” They’re only cruel because they’re scared—that we’ll somehow miss out if we don’t keep up with other people.
I named mine Colin. What I find helpful about naming the voice is I’m able to check in and ask, “Okay, who is talking up there? Is this my trail of thought or is Colin going off on one?” The more I learn to love Colin and appreciate his good intentions, the less he pops up. When he does, I thank him and send him a little love for being a part of me. I let him know I hear him, although I may not choose to listen.
I do my best to accept myself as I am, with my Buddha belly and less than perfect teeth. Because our imperfections make us who we are. My new favorite word currently is flawsome—meaning we are all awesome despite our flaws. Cool, right?
Wouldn’t life be boring if we were all exactly the same? Plus, if we were all exactly the same, perhaps there wouldn’t be any more Gremlins, and to be honest, I kind of like mine now.
About Will Aylward
Will helps people around the world to feel more confident, calm, and fulfilled, without them having to fake it. He is the author of Becoming Unstuck: Your Step by Step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Life. Learn more at willaylward.com