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To Compare Is To Despair- You vs. You- Our Only Competition

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

sober fun, sober, recovery, nomadicaddictt, nomadicaddict, surfing, medewi, bali, indonesia, motivation
Allow the greatness of others to inspire and encourage you to find the greatness within yourself

I've often found myself questioning why I, at times, feel uncomfortable, unsettled, or even frustrated by others' success around me.

Did they do anything to me?


Is their success hurting me in any way?


Then why the uncomfortable feeling?

Could it be the dreaded ego taking a hit?

The idea that others exist that are taller, stronger, tanner, faster (insert another comparative adjective here)... than me is well understood and accepted.

Or is it...

Have you ever found yourself comparing your body type to another?

Ever sucked your belly in just for an extra second to see what it "could" look like if it was just a tad flatter or you skipped one of those pizzas?

Ever been in a 5k, marathon, or race of some sort and felt good and proud of yourself at the moment, only to then watch a peer pass you by?

Well, if you're anything like me there's a good chance you have experienced something to this effect and likely didn't enjoy it.

But why though?

I love to ask myself these questions when emotional responses arise. After all "feelings aren't facts" as they say.

OK, so feelings are arising, they are uncomfortable, but they are teaching me something. Our greatest teachers in life are those that can and do elicit strong emotional responses from us.

After all, anyone can feel good when life is going well. Being the smartest, strongest, most attractive person in the room sounds great in theory, but what does that actually do for us?

Isn't "Iron forged in fire"?

"Iron sharpens iron"?

These quotes would imply we need a little 'heat' to sharpen us.

So why then the desire to compare ourselves with another human being? Male or female?

The easy, and socially acceptable basic answer is "ego".

Of course, Zac, what an easy answer, we already know this.

Well, wait a minute. What is ego? Why does it matter? And how and why can it have such a strong impact on me, especially in a moment of enjoyment with my friends, until I begin to see them perhaps doing a task or playing a sport better than me?

Or a fellow traveler promoting their journey, "better" than me.

Or.... (insert your comparative experience here).....

So why is that my friends?

The ego is actually largely considered to be a protective mechanism to keep us alive and surviving. Isn't that then a good thing?

Encyclopedia Brittanica states that the ego is:

"...the portion of the human personality which is experienced as the “self” or “I” and is said to be the part that remembers, evaluates, plans, and in other ways is responsive to and acts in the surrounding physical and social world."

You may be thinking, ok, well I didn't come here to get a psychology lesson and or Freudian lecture.

Cool, let's keep it simple then. The ego is adaptive and it is learned. It is a degree of the subconscious, however, don't allow that to trick you into thinking you can't control it or have no power over it.

Every single one of those thoughts, concerns, worries, or beliefs mentioned above is something that you can have some degree of control over.

Good news, right?

I think so!

Let's explore more without it getting too heavy or overwhelming because the goal is to identify when we feel uncomfortable and ways to work past that. We want to move into a solution for ourselves, and for our fellows who we ultimately want to support and see succeed also.

Why wouldn't we? Life is abundant and limitless. The more success for everyone, the happier we all will be!

In theory anyway...

The strength of the ego is based on how we learn to identify with ourselves, how we view ourselves, and how confident we are in ourselves.

I'm not talking puffy chest power pose walking into a room confident, although there's an element to that. I'm talking about a true core belief that you, yes YOU, are good enough.

You are strong enough. You are brave enough. You are attractive enough.

You. Are. Enough.

Bet you $10 you're rolling your eyes at me right now and/or choosing to not believe what you're reading/identify it as true.

Why not?

*By the way not really going to bet, but congrats if you won, high five!

The point is to get in tune with our core values, beliefs, and understandings of ourselves.

Why do we believe we are who we are?

Why do you believe you are not... enough?

Getting too philosophical for you? Ok, let's get right into tangible action. My favorite.

Into Action!

If you can't tell, a lot of my positivity is fueled by filling my mind with motivational speakers. If we're going to move into action, why not take some advice from those who have had success and blazed the trail ahead of us?

After all, the old saying goes, work smarter, not harder, and there's nothing new under the sun - so let's roll with what is out there already and take cues from those ahead of us.

*Interesting point here, notice how that statement alone was an opportunity to want to have all the answers, but instead choosing to rely on those who have already had success to help guide us. How about that...we're making progress already!

And so, Control- Alt- Delete yourself for a minute.

Wait... What?

"Control yourself, alter your thinking, delete negativity". - Brian Tracey

Where focus goes energy flows- Tony Robbins

If I want to move into action to respond better, and be less challenged or threatened by others, consciously or subconsciously, I must pay attention to my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. I must focus on the things I wish to bring into my life, and in turn, the energy given to them will be given back.

Sounding very much like The Secret here? There must be a reason that book/movie did so well!

However, these are all linked to one another and this is actually the basis of a style of therapy known as CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is evidenced based and has been well-proven for years.

Our thoughts influence our actions, and our actions influence our behaviors and habits for the future.

Interestingly, the opposite of this is also true. Our habits and behaviors influence our thoughts as well.

I'll offer a quick example. Say I do not want to go to the gym to work out. Weights are heavy, running is hard, and the bed is comfortable. Ok, this is not a foreign scenario for most of us. So in the scenario where thoughts influence our actions, if I attach to these thoughts, I likely will turn off my alarm, roll over, and go back to sleep with the idea that "I'll do it tomorrow" or another thought pattern that allows me to not get out of bed to go to the gym (or insert another area of discipline for you, new work project etc).

Now, let us explore the opposite of that scenario, actions influence our thoughts. If I disregard that thought, get out of bed anyway, and proceed to the gym where I meet a friend and/or simply get motivated and moving, the endorphins released from this movement will have a positive impact on my thoughts. These new positive thoughts regarding the gym in the morning now take the place of the former thoughts that prompted me to stay in bed.

That's not to say that the next day, you won't run into the same challenge. However, you now have the knowledge, understanding, and memory from the last workout that can be drawn upon to help you the next time you encounter this.

If you draw on that strength and continue to take the new action of getting out of bed, then your behaviors will change, your physique will change (for the better most likely from the increased gym activity), and your subsequent positive thought patterns will increase. This will likely drive you to continue going to the gym without ignoring the alarm, prompting a positive feedback loop to be created. Eventually, this new pattern will almost completely remove the original thoughts and instead establish a behavior/habit that fuels and motivates you.

The interesting thing is that all you did was get out of bed and ignore what your brain was trying to say to you.

You took an action beyond the thought.

There's a saying I learned in recovery that says we're not responsible for our first thought, we are responsible for our first action.

Let's apply this back to our competitive mindset related to comparing and our associated negative beliefs that likely arise from that, which can in turn prompt more negative behaviors and/or attitudes.

If we see someone who is seemingly threatening to us, with regard to a form of competition (perhaps they are fitter, leaner, prettier...insert whatever you want here), then it may prompt a series of negative thoughts in our minds.

Thoughts like:

"I'm never going to be as attractive as they are"

"What's the point in trying" or even something as strong as,

"God must hate me look at....(*insert negative thing about yourself)".

These thoughts likely won't motivate anyone to go to the gym and engage in any sort of self-help action to shift and change that.

Instead, they are more likely to have the opposite effect, perhaps leading to eating junk food or indulging in a nice sugar rush to release some dopamine in hopes of making you feel better temporarily.

For some, you may even take that dopamine reward a step further and gravitate towards drinking and/or drugs, prescribed or otherwise, to feel better.

We all know a hangover is not a great way to be inspired to get to the gym, and likely ends up in a day lost as well while recovering. This feeds into the negative feedback loop, which in turn fuels more negative self-talk. Onward the cycle goes....

Unfortunately, as we all know, these types of self-soothing techniques are not long-term solutions. In most cases, they're hardly a solution at all.

So what do we do?

Do you have to be sober and in recovery to be happy then Zac?

No, not exactly. There are plenty of miserable people in recovery who don't use alcohol or drugs, and there are plenty of happy people who do.

The simplicity of this boils down to our thoughts, attitudes, actions, and core belief systems - for ourselves and for others.

Ask yourself:

What is your true character?

What are you doing when people aren't looking?

Are your thoughts kind and loving towards yourself?

How do you treat service industry workers?

These are all common questions we can ask ourselves as a measurement of our current state. This state likely will impact the way we see the world as a whole.

Affirmations, and positive self-talk exist for a reason.

They're designed to help us get ourselves back on track. Whether you believe in them or not, they do work, I promise you!

Perhaps you feel like you're tricking yourself into believing something that isn't true, or you try it but don't believe what you're saying to yourself anyway, and thus stop because you feel like it isn't working.

Welp fake it 'til you make it!

Whatever works is what I say and the more you practice, the more believable it will be. Eventually, you will be amazed at how naturally positive self-talk happens for you.

Would you rather be happy or miserable?

The truth is you are amazing, you are beautiful and you are one of a kind. I love that romantic quote, "to the world you may be one person, but to one person you're their whole world". It's so true.

To Compare is to Despair

This leads us directly back to the competition piece. Comparing yourself to others can be great for a little push sometimes, I understand that. And there is such a thing as "healthy" competition. I often find myself gravitating towards those that I find influential and inspiring. Usually, this motivates me to want to work harder and can even help push me to reach more of my potential.

In either case, healthy competition or not, it's not about the other person. It really is you versus you.

If I can leverage that other person to help me capture more of my potential, this in turn helps make it "healthy". Or, for example, in the surfing photo that is featured in this blog, my friend is an avid surfer and a real "shredder". While I can surf (more or less) and make turns etc, he really can rip it up out there.

What is awesome about that photo, and one I loved so much, is that we're both headed out there together. Despite the fact that he is a much better surfer than I am, it was his idea to stop, and his idea to surf. He encouraged me to get back out there, at a time when I've been wanting to but haven't been.

The end result?

We had an awesome time.

And of course, his photos looked cooler than mine......

But that's not the point, even in the world of social media glamour and Instagram.

The point is, I was inspired by him to get out there, to work harder, and to push myself to be better. And I got to surf! Something I've been meaning to do, but left to my own devices, have fallen short of.

Does that help make it a little more tangible?

I could easily be judging myself, upset that he's so much better than me and/or that he got cooler shots on the waves, however, I'm too busy being stoked I got to spend time with my buddy surfing!

And that's what it's all about. I improved that day compared to the me of the day before. The me of today got a little better than the me of yesterday, and that was a direct result of being encouraged and motivated by someone who was "better" than me.

Where are you seeing competition in your life?

With whom are you comparing yourself to?

If you're struggling at all with them, is it possible any of that struggle boils down to an internal battle going on within yourself?

And if you could, in theory, recognize that as truth, would you want to lean on that person to help fuel and motivate you to become better yourself?

Yes, even that super pretty girl and/or the muscle-packed beefcake dude included.

Again, if it were up to me, I never would've surfed that day. Instead, I have awesome memories, and once more, additional life-teaching moments.

I leave you here with this...

While inspiration gets you started, discipline keeps you going and makes sure it happens.

Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Honor your commitments to yourself! You deserve it. Your best self deserves it. The world deserves it. We're counting on you.

You're worth it.

In this journey of life together, I wish you safe travels my friends!

For more on positive self-talk, and affirming actions and behaviors, click here for details on "Why not me?" (Coming soon) and here for more mental wellness blogs

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