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The 1 sentence you need to stop comparing yourself to others

Warrior 2,

Yesterday was my high school’s 10-year reunion. Because I live in another state and just got back from a business trip, I wasn’t able to go. But maybe I would have had I been closer with many of my high school pals.

The truth is: I’m not.

During high school, I was an introvert who hid behind words in Creative Writing Club. Oh yeah, and I was also waylaid with depression during my junior and senior years.

It’s this fact that turned me into a zombie who retreated online while the rest of my classmates were at mixers with boys. (Note: I went to an all-girls school.)

The result was that when I graduated, I hadn’t spent enough time with anyone to form lasting friendships. Depression gave me no motivation to do anything but hide in my room.

As milestones like 10-year reunions or 30th birthdays or even retirement pass, it’s tempting to compare then and now. I like to refer to this as the “I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now” Syndrome.

But when we don’t live up to our own expectations, is it because those expectations are truly ours? Or, could they belong to others?

Comparisons are discontent in disguise

Before practicing yoga, I used to be a compareaholic. Good grief does Facebook make this easy!

Plenty of my former classmates have families. I’ve seen their engagement pictures, wedding pictures and then pictures of their kids posted to Facebook.

As this was happening, I navigated in and out of unsuccessful romantic relationships and moved across the country. I posted pictures of my dog and kept thinking, “When is my time coming?”

Then, two years ago in my yoga teacher training, I was introduced to this: “Where you are right now is exactly where you need to be.”

This sentence began to break down my comparison barriers. It made me laugh when I couldn’t touch my toes in Paschimottanasana and cry when I eventually did. I discovered that my time is now, and now, and now. My “time” — your “time” — never ends!

And it made me realize:

Comparing ourselves to others isn’t because we want to be like them. It’s because we’re not content with who we are.

I’m not content not touching my toes, so I practice yoga regularly. I’m not content peeking into others’ projections of their fabulous lives, so I limit my time on Facebook and get to work creating my own.

It’s like that awful doctor’s joke where the patient says, “Hey doc! It hurts when I do this” and the doctor says, “Well, don’t do that!”

The only comparison you need

When you look back on yourself in high school, it doesn’t matter if you like what you see or not. It doesn’t matter if you have since landed the dream job or started the dream family.

What matters is if you’re content with who you are now.

So if you must compare, compare yourself in the moment. Am I as fulfilled as I’d like to be in my work? Am I as loving as I’d like to be in my relationships? Am I willing to realize that I don’t have to know all the answers right now?

If you have a hard time identifying with your true emotions — not just your emotional reactions to your circumstances — try closing your eyes and folding both of your hands over your heart. Take three deep breaths to lift the chest, and softly exhale. Ask yourself: “How am I feeling in this moment?” Wait for your heart’s answer.

Here was my heart’s response:

When you compare yourself to others’ smiling faces on Facebook, especially people you’re not close with, what you’re seeing is only the surface. Underneath, we’re all the same stuff: love, pain, jealousy, gratitude and the list goes on.

For a long time in high school, I thought I was the only one going through depression. Of course, I wasn’t.

Again, if I only knew then what I know now.

What if you could stop comparing yourself to others and instead recognize the sameness you share? How might you react differently to others’ fortune or misfortune?

Most important, how might you react differently to your own?

Your comparison barrier might be strong now, but it’ll meet its match when you start a regular yoga practice. Get started with this pose.

Breaking through the comparison barrier

Warrior II is excellent for staking a claim in your present while honoring your past and future. Your arms are actively outstretched. Your gaze is forward so that you have to trust what’s behind you. And your legs are shaking reminders of the need to plant firmly in the present.

Warrior II opens the hips, but the pose is so much more than this. It’s a declaration of strength, whatever strength you have right now, and a promise that no matter how shaky things get, you’ll stand your ground.

It’s also fertile ground for letting go of what your body “should” look like in this posture.

Don’t get so concerned about symmetries here. I discovered, through photographing myself, that my arms had a tendency to be different heights and my front thigh isn’t perfectly parallel to the ground.

So what! It’s not about looking like a yoga model. It’s about coming to terms with yourself in this pose and remembering: “Where you are right now is exactly where you need to be.”

Warrior II (Virabhadrasna II) in 10 steps

How to do Warrior II pose in yoga

  1. Stand at the top of your mat and sweep your left leg to the back of your mat.
  2. Place your hands on your hips.
  3. Point your right toes forward and turn your left toes parallel to the back of your mat.
  4. Align your front heel with the arch of the back foot. Press the outer edge of your back foot into the mat to avoid collapsing the foot’s arch.
  5. Lunge into your right knee, always tracking the knee over the ankle. Adjust your stance by inching the front foot forward or back to increase or decrease your lunge.
  6. Align your torso over your hips, neither leaning forward nor backward.
  7. Float your arms up, palms face down. Actively reach through your fingertips and relax your shoulders away from the ears.
  8. Look down at your right big toe. Can you see it? If not, move your right knee toward your pinky toe to open up the hips.
  9. Finally, turn your gaze over your right fingertips.
  10. Stay in this posture for 6 deep breaths before carefully stepping to the front of your mat and switching to the opposite side.

Do you often compare yourself to others, especially on Facebook? Compareaholics you’re not alone! Leave a comment on how you overcome your addiction.

7 Comments — Add Your Own

    David A Wood says:

    Hi Caren,

    You are so brave and I am humbled to be one of your students. From your keyboard to the world, what an amazing time we live in. These days I make my living fixing the internet. I love my job because it helps people like you change the world, one key stroke at a time.

    Funny your subject today is Compareaholics. I’ve recently been exposed to a deep and powerful poem (in my opinion) called, “Call me by My True names”. The preamble to the poem reads, Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? See for yourself.

    David A Wood

    Caren says:

    David, I’m honored to teach you. I always learn such great insights from your observations after class is over.

    Thanks for sharing this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh. I agree – extremely powerful. I like this part best: “Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow because even today I still arrive.” All of us, arriving every day. It’s calming to understand we’re all in this together, even if we do get caught up in comparisons from time to time.

    Jess Goldstein says:

    Beautifully said! I love this sentence “Comparing ourselves to others isn’t because we want to be like them. It’s because we’re not content with who we are” sums it all up. Isn’t that true, we all compare ourselves to see where we stack up to one another but if we turn the energy wasted comparing to bettering ourselves, how much more productive we could be and more loving to others! When the envy creeps in it’s just a reminder that we are not quite where we would like to be. Perhaps a nudge in the right direction, a window into what it is we really want out of life. It’s never about the other person. Thank you for another AHA moment! You’re brilliant!

    Caren says:

    Thanks, Jess! I love the idea of shifting energy from comparing to bettering. By ceasing comparisons, you’re automatically better for it.

    Miriam says:

    I recently deactivated my Facebook page. I wish I could get back some of the hours and hours and hours I spent on it instead of writing my dissertation, going for a run, calling a friend back, check in with a loved one, trying a new recipe,… the list goes on. At first it was fun to grow my friends list and reconnect with long lost friends and acquaintances. Keeping up with family abroad and being reminded of birthdays is definitely an upside, however as of late I’d begun to do too much comparing of my life to others’. I’d started to feel bad about not traveling more, not having more friends, not being a better photographer, on and on and on.

    Yoga also introduced me to “Where you are right now is where you need to be”. I remind myself of this when the brain hamsters start spinning and it slowly brings me back to my heart center. I am grateful for my life as it is, with all of its gifts, its ebbs and flows.

    I love your blog. Thank you!

    Caren says:

    Miriam, I’m happy that your brain hamsters carved out a little time to spend time here. I’m grateful that you subscribed and look forward to getting to know you more!

    Your Facebook detox sounds great! What stinks about Facebook is everyone projects their best selves all the time… well, most everyone… so you lose the sense that they’re just a normal person, like you. I read a wonderful article in The Atlantic called “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” that I think you’d totally agree with.

    Trudy says:

    Hi Caren,

    A sentance that spoke to me deeply and made me think was,

    “But when we don’t live up to our own expectations, is it because those expectations are truly ours? Or, could they belong to others?”

    It was just what I needed to hear and when I needed to hear it!

    Warrior pose is one of my favorites!!

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