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Sweat dripped from my nose and splashed onto my mat.
The beat of the music propelled me through my vinyasas. I felt strong and confident and joyful. My whole body smiled from head to toe during that yoga class.
Then, it struck. The little voice inside my head: You’re not as good of a teacher as her. She’s cuter and younger than you. She connects with her students better than you. Her playlist is better than yours.
The voice took me out of my practice. It deleted my smile.
There is a famous Teddy Roosevelt quote: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Comparison. Competition. Jealousy. The little green monster. Whatever it’s called, it is a fascinating emotion.
What is happening when these feelings creep in and steal our joy?
First, I recognized myself in the other person. There is a similarity between us. She is a yoga teacher. I am a yoga teacher. The gifts I admire in her teaching are the exact same gifts that I possess, in different measure, in my teaching.
I don’t compare myself to a major league baseball player or a CEO of a large company. When I see successful people in a different field than me, I don’t compare. If anything, I either feel nothing or happy for their success.
Second, my habitual thinking, programmed from childhood, is from a scarcity mindset. Like in first grade when there was only one line leader, one winner of the spelling bee, and only one best artist. The scarcity mindset says there is not enough room for more than one gifted yoga teacher in this town.
But the truth is that the world is abundant. There are 7.7 billion people on the planet, and there will be people who share the same strengths and gifts as me. Many who do it better than me. It doesn’t make me any less special or unique. It doesn’t take away my gifts. In fact, it adds to their value.
So what about the joy thieving? I was jamming out in that yoga class, having a great time—then, boom, grumpy shorts rolled in to spoil the party.
In the book The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, he talks about the “upper limit problem.” We each have an invisible capacity, or upper limit, for the amount of joy and good feeling we allow ourselves. When we feel we have surpassed the limit and are filled up with joy, we subconsciously knock ourselves back down with negative thinking in order to go back to a more comfortable state.
I’ve noticed this at work in my life. I will be feeling buoyant, grateful, and appreciative about my life, thinking all the good things; wow, I’m so lucky, so blessed, so alive. Then, wham, I have a random dark thought like, what if my finger gets smashed into this car door? I wonder if my mom is okay; I will be devastated when she dies. The thought immediately brings me back down to a more comfortable, less joyful state.
Brené Brown mentions this concept in her book, Braving the Wilderness. How we talk all the time about wanting happiness, but when finally happiness comes, we spoil it with our own inner worry. Happiness actually makes us feel vulnerable and fearful. When it arrives, we immediately think someone is going to steal it away. We wait for the other shoe to drop.
What do we do when comparison strikes?
It begins with awareness.
In that yoga class, I became aware that it was happening. Instead of falling down the well of negative self-talk, I said hello to my old friend, comparison.
Then, I sent love to the teacher. In my head, I thanked her for the great class and for her gifts that she was sharing with the world. I named five things that I liked about her teaching.
Most importantly, I sent love to myself. I told myself that I was enough. I thanked myself for caring about teaching yoga so much and for being brave enough to share my own gifts with my students when I teach. I named five things I loved about my own teaching.
To my surprise, they were five different things that I had admired about the other teacher. Different expressions of a similar quality.
If scarcity is a feeling drawn from fear, then abundance is rooted in love.
Whenever I feel fearful that I am not enough, that I am not as good, successful, beautiful, in love, happy, or free as someone else, that is coming from a scarcity mindset. I re-remember that it is not comparison, but recognition. The light in me sees the light in you. Namaste.
I once asked a coaching mentor of mine how he shares his knowledge so generously with people. Isn’t he afraid people will steal his work or hire one of his less costly students?
He answered that he remembers that every person is a flavor of God. Meaning, if we are all connected from divine source, then there is really no stealing or comparing of oneself to another. We are all interconnected. We are all a different flavor of God that will be expressed in our own unique way.
The antidote to comparison is love.
The next time comparison steals your joy, send the person you are comparing yourself to even more love. Most importantly, send yourself love. Thank yourself for all that you contribute and share with the world. Recognize your very own unique flavor of God.
There is no other you on the whole planet.