Note to self

This is a blog about the trap of comparing ourselves to others.

Recently I had an evening of very honest and open conversations with two close friends. They are a couple who I have respective, and equally important relationships with. Both of these things are somewhat unusual.

If I was going to make the conversations into a movie, I might call it ‘They were the worst of times, they were the best of learnings.’

Following the evening I lay awake half the night with our conversations rattling round my head. Not because they were new conversations, but because they were old conversations. Old illusions. I have just spent the last 5 years doing that very difficult 45-50-year chapter of life. The chapter where you clock your own mortality and take stock of your life (the years when this happen may be different for you). The research is pretty clear that it can be a shit time. It gets better again.

Post sleepless night, I needed to remind myself where I got to with all those illusions. If you can take something from what follows, please help yourself.

  • The only place life exists is now. The rest is a story [#1].

  • It's a story based on unreliable memories, and memories of plans for the future.

  • Some of the memories are pleasant and helpful. Some fuck us up.

  • The ones that fuck us up need to be put where they belong - in the past.

  • Sometimes we need some help with that.

  • Mindfulness and meditation help you remain more present [now].

  • There is growing evidence that practicing them significantly improves mental wellbeing.

  • So, practice them.

  • Some of my friends are dead. They died with ages between 21 and 59. There are no rules. We will all die.

  • Death reminds us to live. Refer to #1.

  • The future is unknown, it will always remain that way.

  • Make a plan based on acceptance.

  • Acceptance is the most violent act of psychology. In the act of acceptance, we free ourselves to form a relationship with our new circumstances. A new way of being with now. Refer to #1

  • The truth will set you free. Tell yourself the truth about your current reality.

  • In the words of Lily Tomlin; ‘Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.’ Make friends with now - back to #1.

  • Do something towards your future plan everyday (the one based on your accepted reality). Action beats fear. Some people call this day-stacking.

  • It is difficult to be consumed by anxiety when you are busy taking action.

  • Life is not a competition. If it was, and you played that out across the inevitable collapse of the universe, (or even just a lifetime), what would winning be? How would you know you’d won?

  • Success is perhaps better measured by how much you smile and laugh. Or the moments of genuine peace you are able to occupy temporarily. 

  • Nobody has a reliable answer to what success actually is. It's a human invention. It's an invention of language (another story).

  • Most of the great philosophers say the same thing about meaning. Life has no meaning other than the meaning you give it. Find what you care about (genuinely, and no matter how ridiculous) and do that. It is a trap to let others, or society convince you about what meaning is.

  • Research would suggest that putting others first is a good place to start.

  • And then, be yourself. Your best self. No matter what that means. (See acceptance).

  • Struggling and suffering is very much part of life. And not one that school (or potentially your upbringing), prepared you for.

  • Struggling and suffering in life is another reality to accept, and perhaps even embrace. 

  • Interestingly, the easier life has got in wealthy societies, the greater the prevalence of mental health issues.

  • The solution seems to be to get bigger problems. Ones that matter to you. Is getting a bigger house or flasher car a bigger worthy problem?

  • Comparing ourselves to others makes us vain or bitter. It's harmful, relative, and based on partial intelligence. (You really don’t know the realities of other people’s internal battles).

  • When others judge you, they are attempting to make sense of their own worlds. (See Social Comparison Theory for more). 

  • When they do so, they tell you more about the contents of their head and their insecurities, than they do anything that is true about you. This is called projection.

  • This comparison malarkey is based on social threats and rewards. Our place and agency within social groups. You can remember these as ’SCARF’: Status; Certainty; Autonomy; Relationship (Belonging); Fairness.’ (See David Rock for more).

  • This is a hangover of the evolution and biology of a ‘successful’ social species (Humans).

  • If you can listen to, and observe others through the understanding of projection, you remind yourself it’s not about you - it’s about them. Stick with clearing up your own distorted thinking - it’s enough to keep you busy for a lifetime.

Note to self:

    • You have arrived at the above because you are insecure and vulnerable like everyone else. 

    • Stick with the truth on that.

    • Also stick with the fact that remaining present is a practice. 

    • Practices are called practices because you have to practice them. 

    • This practice is for life. Literally and metaphorically.

The only place life exists is now. The rest is a story.

 If you think it might be useful to have somebody remind you of what you’ve always known, drop me a line.


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Header photo by Dietmar Becker on Unsplash
Insert photo 1 by Randy Tarampi on Unsplash
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