Loosening the Grip of Our Comparative/Competitive Mind

Many of my coaching clients get caught up in comparisons. It’s also always been a huge topic in all my support groups and workshops over the years.

The following was written by Janet Esposito in a previous blog in October 2015:

I recently read an article by Martha Beck, a life coach, speaking about the insidious nature of our minds when we are in the state of comparing and competing.

Indulging in a comparative/competitive mindset is pretty much of a guarantee you will not have peace of mind as you keep scanning your world for who is better off and who is worse off than you – on whatever scale you are measuring – appearance, strength, social standing, speaking or performing ability, or any other quality.

The article notes, “A comparing mind is a setup for failure. Even if you can be the world’s best at one thing, you’ll be the world’s worst at something else.” Beck challenges you further to see the absurdity in all of these comparisons by challenging you to go outside and find the best possible stick. She notes that some sticks are good for toasting marshmallows, some are good for poking at weasels, and some are good for plain old digging.

Beck notes that the research on animals – including research on rats, apes, and chickens – suggests that “competitive urges run thick in our blood” and that many cultures that we live in, and are raised in, will further reinforce whatever biological tendencies we may have towards competitiveness. She lists three antidotes to the comparative/competitive mind that are worth considering:

Celebrate Failure – She writes, “Cheerfully fessing up to our failures turns crazy mind off, humility and compassion on.” Rather than doing the usual thing we do in our culture, which is to try to hide, minimize, and go to great lengths to avoid mistakes and failures, she suggests we learn to celebrate them.

She further suggests openly sharing your mistake and failure stories with supportive others. She assures that these confessions (done with a lighthearted spirit) can actually boost your confidence and make mistakes and failures less of a scary and humiliating prospect.

Compliment Your Rivals – She writes, “When you’re in comparing mode, the last thing you want to do is praise anyone else.” While our tendency is to envy or feel intimidated by others who we perceive have something more or better than we do, she suggests that celebrating the talents and successes of these people is a very empowering act.

She recommends that you genuinely share words of praise towards others with whom you feel pulled by the forces of competition and intimidation. (You can also do this in your own mind if it is not easy or possible to share this with the other person.) This can be a powerful way to turn off the feeling that others successes somehow threaten us or make us less than.

Play Your “Top Five” Hits – She writes that “…a brain in a state of appreciation simply can’t hang on to the fear and defensiveness that so often make us nuts.” She references Dan Baker, PhD, author of What Happy People Know, and his recommended practice of “top fives”.

In this practice, you describe in detail five things that come to mind in that moment that you appreciate most – beautiful sights, joyful moments, acts of kindness from others, etc.

The idea here is that it is hard to stay in a state of fear, envy or scarcity (i.e., the feeling of not having enough or being enough) when you are feeling grateful and appreciative for the gifts in your own life.

Consider these and other ways to loosen the grip of the comparative/competitive mind the next time it begins to take hold of you.

Practice letting go of the need to compare or compete with others. Instead, practice unconditional self-acceptance and self-appreciation, knowing you are exactly who you are supposed to be in this moment and you are not supposed to be like anyone else but yourself.

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