Have you ever compared yourself to someone with thoughts like: "Why can't I be successful like she is?" or "I wish I was smart like him." We all have.
Gotta Love That Brain
Usually, those sorts of thoughts just make us feel insecure, sad or jealous, right? So why do we have them? It's because our brains are hardwired to figure where we stand in the social pecking order. It's a primitive survival strategy that says, "If I'm more powerful, then I'll live to pass on my genes."
I Want Jennifer Aniston's Hair
Trouble is, having a fabulous haircut or a nice car doesn't do much for ensuring the survival of the species anymore. But since comparing ourselves to others is programmed into our thinking, it's hard to shut it off.
Instead, we need some strategies to gently redirect our thoughts. One of the best strategies I've found comes from a story I heard about a now-famous Broadway dancer.
Lessons From A Dancer
As a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, this novice dancer was frustrated by her stumbles and missteps in class, so she asked her dance teacher when she'd be able to move like the other students at the studio.
The teacher told her, "Don't look at the other girls. You're not in competition with them. You're in competition with yourself. Your goal is to be better than you were yesterday, not better than the other girls."
When I heard that story, I immediately saw an image in my mind.
Thinking About Horses
Growing up near New York City, the closest I got to horses was the Macy's Day Parade on television, but I recalled that the horses wore blinders -- small shields near their eyes that kept them focused on the path ahead without getting distracted by what was around them. Turns out, these blinders keep the horses calmer and when they run, they do it faster and better.
So what if we could wear blinders too -- sort of metaphorically -- to keep us focused on our own path without comparing ourselves to others? Could we be calmer and live better, just like the horses? I think so. Here are a few ways to do that:
How To Put On Your Blinders:
1. Compare yourself to yourself. Instead of measuring yourself against others, rate your progress with yourself, just like the Broadway dancer. What's better about you now than say, a year or two ago? Are you a better listener or a better photographer? Ask yourself, "In what ways have I improved from before?"
2. Notice what you judge. It's human nature to measure your progress on things you can see like jobs, money or relationships. But success is just as much about internal qualities like wisdom or strength. Ask yourself, "How have I grown inside?"
3. Rethink the meaning of "losing." There will always be things in life that someone else gets instead of you: the gold medal, the big promotion, the cute guy. But the mere pursuit of what you want has its own rewards. Maybe now you're more persistent or more sure of your values than you were before. Ask yourself, "Who have I become in the process of striving for what I want?"
For me, I've found that putting on the blinders helps me remember that the race is only with myself. And that's made all the difference.
How can you put on blinders in your own life? I'd love to know.