When to Compare Yourself to Someone Else
If you’ve taken a NoCo class, you’ve heard me say that comparisons are at the root of most (if not all) complaints. In fact, at its core, a complaint is a comparison between some ideal alternative and the reality of what is happening. This is a problem because it puts your focus on something that is not happening, and turns it away from something that is.
For this reason, I encourage NoCo folks to stop making comparisons. Instead, I think we should look at what is happening and engage with reality.
There is, however, one highly effective way to use comparisons as a tool against complaining and for gratitude: Compare yourself with someone who is worse off than yourself.
I’ve been very stressed for the last few weeks, feeling overloaded in both my personal and professional worlds. I’ve had little time to take care of myself and have been getting exhausted. In the evenings I just want to check out and then in the morning I get frustrated with myself for wasting time. Yesterday I snapped at a coworker who was trying to talk with me about something fun.
While I’ve mostly been able to keep my external complaining in check, my internal monologue has been at best cranky, and at worst complaining and blaming. Even with years of NoCo practice under my belt, I was frayed and complainy.
Then last night I took some time to think about Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. I have family and friends there and I am thankful that they are all right. But I had been worried about them for several days and I hadn’t let myself feel my fear and worry until that had been confirmed. Also, I was (and still am) worried about the entire country. Last night I watched and read news and let myself fully absorb the tragedy – and the guilt I had been avoiding about myself and my family carrying on with our lives while over 600,000 people had been displaced in a single day. I felt into the extra layer of sorrow I carry knowing that most of those people were already poor before the typhoon hit.
And as I thought about them, the grip my previous stress had on me grew less. Yes, there’s still a lot for me to handle in my world, but I was not so worked up and it became easier to take a step back and think about what I needed to do to take care of the underlying situations.
I’m not saying that whenever you’re complaining you always have to think about something as tragic as Typhoon Haiyan, but it can be useful to remind yourself that things can be worse. And the more concrete an example you have in your mind of what “worse” looks like, the more effective it will be at unhinging the grip of stress or anxiety or depression or whatever negative emotion has wrapped itself tightly around your heart.
Sadly, the world is filled with examples of people who are suffering. I do believe that if we can connect with others’ suffering, we can both gain perspective on our situations and expand our empathy towards theirs. Empathy leads to compassion which leads to action – and this is truly the only way that we can heal the world.
So the next time you find yourself caught in a self-focused loop:
Invite yourself to contemplate someone whose situation is worse than yours.
Let yourself feel thankful that you’re not in their situation.
It will do a world of good.