Drive Straight There: The Ultimate Plan to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

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“The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why we compare ourselves to others

When we are clear about where we are going, we just go there. When we are not, we start comparing ourselves to others.

 Have you ever driven to a large sports event or concert? As you get closer you start noticing other people that are clearly going to the same place. You may notice their running outfits or team jerseys or that they are as excited as you about finally seeing Rodriguez perform. When you know exactly where the event is taking place, you go straight there, right? But when you are not sure where the place is, you may start following other people that you think are going there.

The story of comparing ourselves to others is exactly the same.

Why we shouldn't compare ourselves to others

First, we have no idea of what it is that we are comparing ourselves to. Years ago I knew this guy who was totally intimidating: he had a high profile job, a gorgeous wife, a beautiful house, clearly lots of money and he was in great physical condition. One fine summer's afternoon he locked himself in a garden shed, and killed himself. Later the truth of his desperate life emerged. Wow. Clearly looks deceive. Suddenly I didn't want to compare myself to him any longer.  The grass is never quite as green on the other side.When we compare ourselves to others we assume that they have somehow cracked the code and know how to live. Maybe they don't know either.

More important than reason number one, is reason number two: it doesn't feel good. Comparing ourselves normally leads to feelings of inadequacy, stress and other negative emotion. While comparison to others may mask itself as motivation and inspiration, its often just self-criticism in drag.

Reason number three is no less important: you must live your own life, not someone else's! Even if you could copy someone else (which you can't really), you would still be inauthentic. You are totally unique. What a waste it would be if you did not at least try to reach your own full potential, rather than someone else?

How to stop comparing yourself to others: Focus on your own game
  1. Be as clear as possible about your own goals, priorities and game plan. There is no formula for living, so don't aim for complete certainty. Take your best shot and make sure it feels right.
  2. Work towards those goals every day. Small steps are better.
  3. Pat yourself on the back for each of these steps. We often just forget the amazing things that we have done in a day. Remind yourself. Write a done list.
  4. When you catch yourself comparing yourself to others, remind yourself of own your goals and game plan and of what you have done towards those goals today. And make sure that you have done it (see step 2).

How will I know? Connect the dots.

You may not be sure about whether your goals and plans will lead to success. Its exactly when we start doubting our own plans that we start comparing ourselves to others. At these points we need to remind ourselves that they don't know either. If no-one really really knows, then we need to have a little faith. Let me give the mic to Steve Jobs for a second:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.”
Even if you don't quite succeed in the wild spectacular ways that you may want to, you would have lived your own life. And what can be more important than that?

"There is no one flower that cancels the need for another. Each bloom has a unique and irreplaceable beauty." - Julia Cameron (author of The Artist's Way)

Some more reading

Many other people have written on how to stop the comparison virus. Here are a few that I enjoyed reading:

Life’s Enough: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others - Leo at Zenhabits

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others: An Alternative to Competing with People - Sonya at Tiny buddha

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others - Judith Orloff at the Huffington Post

You vs. Her: How to Stop the Mind Games You Just Can’t Win - Martha Beck at

Are you over-committed on self improvement?

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Do you feel like you are not making much progress with your personal development projects? Are you still not exercising or meditating? Or is that extra weight not really coming off? Chances are you are trying to do too much, rather than too little. When we take on too many self improvement projects, we get the opposite result - we end up achieving nothing. The ideal is to commit to a small number of projects and to resist the temptation to take on anything else. Once you have achieved your limited goals, you can turn your attention to new horizons.

You know how it goes: You have decided to lose weight and you are on a good diet. Then you read an interesting blog post on how to start running and you start following that program too. Exersize will help you lose weight, right? One thing leads to another and pretty soon you are writing a blog, training for a marathon, learning meditation etc etc etc. After a while it all falls apart and you don't make much progress with anything. This is frustrating and erodes your self-confidence.

The reason I am writing about this, is because I do it all the time. I wrote down all the things that I am trying to change in the way that I run my life and I came up with an embarrassingly long list with nineteen items on it. You can laugh, but make your own list first! I have decided to pare this list right down to three things:
  • Do nothing but write and think in the mornings from 8.30am - 12.30pm,
  • Write a to-do list for each day and stop work when I complete the list, and
  • Meditate for 2 minutes at the end of the work day (I have to start somewhere, ok!)
I will work at these three things for the next four weeks. During this time I will not take on anything else. When I read an inspiring blog, I will put its ideas on a list to consider after these 4 weeks. Why four weeks? There is some debate about about the 21 day habit forming rule, so I've added a week, just to be sure.

If you have over-committed on personal development projects, here is what you do to fix it:
  1. Write down all your current self improvement dreams,
  2. Choose two or three of these to focus on,
  3. Make concrete plans for each of them and write them down, and
  4. Resolve to take on nothing else for the next 4 weeks
  5. After four weeks, come tell me how it went.
You have my short list above. What's on yours? I'll report back on progress in 4 weeks and then commit to the text 3 goals.

Photo courtesy of waterdotorg

How to teach your children to march to their own drummer

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If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away - Henry David Thoreau

When our household goes to a restaurant, we re-enact some pretty common scenes. The kids want to order things that we can't afford. Or they want to order dishes and deserts that are unhealthy. And my responses have been pretty standard as well: that is to get a little irritated and to tell them that they can't have this or that. Normal, but unpleasant and, I suspect, ultimately unproductive. They will grow up and my wife and I will not be at their sides to tell them what to do. Sooner or later they have to learn to judge for themselves. How can I ensure that we are at least starting the slow transition from dependence to independence? From looking to their parents for decisions to looking into themselves?

A few days ago, we went out to lunch again and a different approach 'came to me'. Before we went to the restaurant, I told the kids what our overall budget for the meal was. They could order whatever they wanted, but they needed to consider the overall cost and we all had to stay within the stated limit. When we were looking over the menus, I also asked them to keep the idea of 'balance' in mind when they ordered. I didn't give any other instruction. Just that they consider balance. 

These two experiments were a huge success. For starters I didn't have to say 'no' a thousand times. But beyond this, it feels like this approach is a step closer to helping my kids become the kind of adults that I would want them to be. I want to help them become adults that are inner directed, not outer directed. What I want to teach them is to make their own decisions, not blind obedience to some authority figure such as a parent, a teacher, or a boss. To march to their own drummer.

I did a parenting course a few years ago that suggested that by 16 your children are largely adults and that they are best treated that way. My children are now 11 and 13 years old respectively. That means that I have only 5 and 3 years to help them learn how to be inner directed adults. Time is short.

Also read:
About being inner-directed: Becoming who you are
About parenting during the holidays: What to do when the holidays stop being fun