Our brains are hardwired to compare ourselves to those around us and you are not alone in doing this. Our ancestors had far fewer resources and had to compete with those around them for food and shelter in much more intense ways than we do now. This forced humans to evolve brains hardwired to observe how we are doing by looking at the people around us. Even though our brains naturally operate with this scarcity mindset, it doesn’t mean we are trapped in this way of thinking.
Why comparing your current self to your past self is dangerous
We are often taught that comparing ourselves to others is harmful and that the better alternative is to compare ourselves to ourselves. The thought behind this is that we use our past selves and capabilities to motivate us in the present. The issue with any type of comparison – even to ourselves – is that we tend to compare our current low point to another’s high point. It’s possible that looking back at a time in your life when you were productive and thriving will motivate you; but there is also the danger of shame creeping in and not giving full credit to all the factors involved in your current situation.
You are the only person who knows your current situation
The only person who can know if you are reaching your full potential is you. Only you are capable of fully understanding what mental, physical, spiritual, financial, and relationship factors are affecting your behavior in the present. There is a balance between giving yourself credit and grace for where you are and knowing what ways you need to improve to be living a healthy life. The moment we let go of compassion and start to beat ourselves up is the moment that shame takes over. Shame is not a kind or helpful motivator.
It is important for each person to understand what regular actions they need to take to feel like they are living a fulfilled life in accordance with their values. This will look different for each person. For some, it looks like striving to go to the gym three times a week, filling a water bottle several times throughout the day, making time to spend with friends, reading each night before going to sleep, meditating or trying to improve spirituality, and eating snacks that provide energy during the day. Identify the habits that give you motivation and energy to feel like you are living your best life.
Motivate yourself lovingly, not critically
If you only go to the gym once in a week, instead of beating yourself up, use past knowledge of meeting a goal to know that it is possible. Your self-talk goes from “You should have exercised more this week. What’s wrong with you?” to “This week you had a lot on your plate. It’s awesome that you made it to the gym once. Let’s try again next week to go more often because it makes you feel better.” Instead of letting the inner critic grab the wheel, choose to respond with how a loving parent would talk to a child.
The next time you are tempted to compare yourself with a time you were thriving in the past, ask yourself, “Am I trying to compassionately motivate myself, or am I trying to shame myself?” You will realize that even if you are falling short of your goals, you will still feel much better when you take a kind and understanding approach.
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