Training for my upcoming sprint triathlon has reminded me of so many important success principles. If implemented in our lives, these principles can make a lasting difference to the joy and happiness we can experience each day. Isn’t it interesting that when we decide to reach for higher ground our stretching causes us to learn new things about ourselves?
From day one of returning to the gym, I found myself in the midst a comparison game, all the while knowing that comparison is the root of all evil. Notwithstanding, I found myself falling into this bad habit. I questioned myself and my readiness for my upcoming race. Knowing my 58th birthday was coming up wasn’t helping my attitude either. Many have written regarding the perils of comparing ourselves to others. Jack Canfield said, “I generally find that comparison is the fast track to unhappiness.” And Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
We recognize that comparing ourselves to others yields little value and yet so many do it. Fortunately, this has not been a debilitating habit in my life, but boy, did I see it rear its ugly head in my first few weeks of getting back to a consistent workout schedule. How was I going to swim a ½ mile, bike another 12 miles and then finish by running a 5k? Those first few weeks I was doing my share of wondering if I could do it. Those early doubting moments brought on the comparison game until I finally caught myself.
Social media can be the worst. We scroll through Facebook or Instagram feeds and see others post about their lives, vacations, careers, family, etc. If we are not careful, we compare ourselves to others and conclude in a moment that we are hopeless or whatever. And of course, everyone posts the best of the best, right? Rather superficial and absurd when you think of it…Now, don’t get me wrong, I love social media, but too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
Comparing ourselves to others is as old as humanity, but its practice yields little fruit. Such a meaningless activity, but why? Consider these reasons.
First, when we compare we almost always compare our weaknesses to other’s strengths. How fair is that? Who can win that game? The player loses every time! Sit with that reality for a minute and you will conclude how destructive this mindset can be. This factor alone should avert each of us from this illusionary habit.
Second, what you see on the surface of someone’s life is largely an inaccurate representation of who they are. This means that in our comparisons, we are applying initial perceptions that are largely erroneous. I have observed many at a distance, sometimes for years, only to finally get to know them and find out that what I initially thought was true was not accurate at all.
One of the joys of life is getting to know and connect with others. Unfortunately, our culture, with its lack of relational margin, is suffering a drought of interpersonal connectedness. We could talk at length about the sadness we see in our society because of this deficiency.
Third, when we compare ourselves to others we don’t know that person’s life experiences, struggles, challenges or what difficulties they have faced to reach the success they have experienced. Having conducted hundreds if not thousands of personal interviews, in both my professional and ecclesiastical life, I can say that most don’t know the spectrum of someone’s life. Therefore, it’s impossible to have any real context when comparing yourself to others. People’s lives are fraught with all kinds of private twists and turns that few know of or understand. Therefore, when we play this imaginary game it invariably yields unhappiness.
Fourth, when we compare, money and material things often prompt our senseless comparisons. We view the house they live in, the car they drive, the vacations they take, the clothes they wear, the friends we think they have, etc. News flash! Money doesn’t buy happiness and material things may provide a temporary boost, but I have observed through my experience of owning a wealth management practice, that these things alone don’t provide a lasting sense of joy and fulfillment.
Joy and happiness are dependent on so much more. Success in our relational and spiritual lives is the secret. This is where we can find an overflowing and enduring level of joy and happiness. Money is a tool, an important one, but it’s not a determinate of joy. Focusing on both temporal and spiritual self-reliance coupled with personal responsibility are also important elements.
Can you see how comparing yourself to others can be a fruitless activity?
Over 25 years ago, I received some great advice from a business coach when I was engaging in the destructive habit of comparison. He interrupted me when I was no doubt having a pity party about comparing my performance to someone else, saying, “Mark, stay in your own lane!”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He then counseled, “Olympic swimmers are coached swim to their race, focused straight ahead. They are told to not look over at their opponent in the opposite lane while in the heat of a race. If they do, they will lose rhythm and therefore valuable time. Competitive swimmers are taught to ‘stay in their own lane’.”
This was some of the best counsel I ever received. Fortunately, I recalled this wisdom in my early weeks preparing for my big race. Its understanding helped me reframe my attitude and so I’ll pass it on to you. Jennie Lynn Finch, a former collegiate All-American and medal-winning Olympian said, “Try not to get lost in comparing yourself to others. Discover your gifts and let them shine!”
I have learned that life is a race against yourself. If you want to compare, compare yourself against yourself. Reach for the goals you want to achieve and who you can become. Identify the governing values you want to live by and then let it rip! In short, race against your own potential and possibilities. This can be such a rewarding peak to peak life experience if we will have the proper perspective.
If you are going to compare yourself to others then compare yourself in a manner that can truly help you succeed. I pulled a nugget from Tony Robbins’ book, Unlimited Power that has shaped my approach to life’s quests. Find people in life who are where you want to be, then model what they do. This is a simple, yet powerful concept. In other words, watch what others do and model their behavior.
I played a lot of competitive tennis in my high school and young adult years. Back then I would study the great players like Jimmy Conners, John McEnroe, Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe and Bjorn Borg. These were the great ones of the day! I would watch and study their swings, how they’d move on the court, how they would approach the net and so forth.
I loved watching the motion of their serves and the crack of the wrist to create that hard to return top spin. The purpose was to learn and to improve through observation and to apply the new-found skills. It wasn’t “why can’t I be like them?” but “how can I model what they are doing to improve?”
Life presents so many opportunities to learn and grow. If we will look through the lens of personal development and self-improvement, we can capture so many great insights to propel us forward. But if we get lost in the unproductive habit of comparing ourselves to others, we will limit ourselves and our emotional well-being.
From a spiritual perspective, the best way to reach our possibilities is to pattern our lives after Godly objectives, principles and attributes. When we look up for comparison rather than looking at others, our growth accelerates. With Providence at our side, we can experience and become so much more!
So, reach for higher ground by increasing your awareness of the destructive habit of comparing ourselves to others and consider the advice I received many years ago to, “Stay in your own lane.” This counsel has been a life saver to me. Count your blessings and focus on your strengths. Concentrate on the task at hand realizing that success is a journey, not a destination. Be confident that line upon line and precept upon precept you will get there!
As you race against yourself you will be amazed at the progress you will make!