This month the Guidepost class I facilitate is working on the 6th Guidepost for Wholehearted Living – Letting go of Comparisons and Cultivating Creativity. The hardest part of this one for me is the letting go of comparisons part. Did you know that one of the things our brain does at it’s resting state is to compare? Our brain is wired with tasks to keep us safe so how does comparisons keep us safe? Well I’ve got to know who the fastest of the tribe is so I can be a little faster than them if a tiger enters the community. The problem is today there aren’t very many tigers entering our neighborhoods. So figuring out who is the fastest, prettiest, smartest, etc. tends to feed our shame and doesn’t keep us safe.
Just like all these guideposts, letting go of comparisons is a daily practice. I like to remember that my brain is wired to compare as I practice this otherwise I feel shame for comparing which makes me feel worse. So, the first step for me of this letting go practice is to just recognize when I am comparing. Sometimes it is happening in the background of my mind and I don’t even realize it. It is like the radio that is always on in the grocery store that you rarely pay attention to but that research has shown actually influences what and how much you will buy. The background noise of comparisons affects us. It affects how we show up and it interferes with showing up and living brave.
So step number one – notice and name it. “I notice I’m comparing myself to her right now . . . ” Then for me, the next step is to take a deep breaths. Breathing helps to reset me and gives me a minute to decide what to do next. Taking in air mindfully for 3-4 breaths seems to help stop the unconscious train that I am on and brings me back to the present. After some deep breaths, if my emotion isn’t to high, I get curious. Why am I comparing myself right now? What is the emotion I am feeling? Where am I feeling vulnerable? We often go to comparisons when we are feeling vulnerable in an area. Like when I am feeling vulnerable about sending my kids back to school, all of a sudden I am looking around at drop off and comparing myself to every other parent there. So I name it, take some deep breaths and name the vulnerability. “I am feeling scared right now for my kids. I’m feeling nervous to drop them off and worried about how their first day will go.”
If my emotion is too high to get curious (after all we can’t effectively get curious in really high emotion) – I will just distract my thoughts until the emotion comes down and I can get curious. I’ll distract by doing an activity really mindfully – like go and wash the dishes. Or I’ll name things around me – “I see a tree with green leaves, I see a red car.” Then once the emotion is down, I’ll get curious.
After I get curious and have named the emotion and/or the area of vulnerability, I will validate myself and practice some self compassion (from Guidepost #2). I try to focus on the common humanity vs. the comparisons. I realize that we all have a story. Like in my example about dropping the kids off at school, I remind myself that other parents I see around me are probably nervous too. We are all dropping our kids off and hoping for the best.
Last, I will do something behaviorally to cultivate creativity. Something I’ll cover in the next blog post.
- Notice and name when you are comparing
- Take some deep breaths
- Get curious and ask yourself what emotion you are feeling and where in your life you are feeling vulnerable