How often do you unwittingly compare yourself to someone else? Once you start catching this, you might well be alarmed. From Greek philosophers to holy scriptures, and fairy tales, we have been warned about the damage done by ENVY.
According to getAbstract co-founder Rolf Dobelli in his book, The Art of the Good Life, “Envy has a bigger impact on your life situation than physical affliction or financial ruin, and the ability to manage it is fundamental to the good life.”
This comment really struck me. I never considered that it could be so malignant. I’m ashamed to say that it reminded of some people’s success that I’ve resented and, yes, envied over the years. Most days as a competitive A type, I have to catch myself when I see people “like me” with nicer cars, nicer clothes or, in the gym, with Planet of the Apes frames!
And that’s how it works: “Above all, we envy those who are similar to us in terms of age, career, environment and lifestyle…you’re not comparing yourself with the Pope…Alexander the Great or a super-successful Stone Age human from your part of the world.”
Yet how do you feel when you think these thoughts? You never feel good, do you? And this matters to the high achiever because you change best when you feel good, not when you feel bad.
What’s the best way to feel less envy?
The primary solution is to STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS!!!
This is challenging because it is (unfortunately) human nature to compare; it’s actually even an animal instinct (based on research with primates). So, what can you do?
How else can you reduce feeling envious and messing up your thoughts and days… and lives?
1. Compare Yourself to Your Recent Self: Create Daily Questions
Marshall Goldsmith developed these working with Fortune 100 C-suite leaders. They all begin with the wording:
“On a scale of 1-10, to what extent today did I do my best to…”
You can decide what your priorities are and measure yourself against your recent self. Examples include:
a) Set clear goals?
b) Be engaged at work?
c) Meet my prospecting targets?
2. Compare Yourself to Your Recent Self: Use a Habit Tracker
Decide which habits are important for you right now and track them daily, weekly, and monthly. Again, focusing on your own activity compared to your previous activity keeps your thoughts on what you can control and off what others are doing.
3. Compare Yourself to Your Recent Self: Do a Monthly Review
Once per month, I recommend scoring yourself in key areas on a scale of 1-10 (health, key relationships, professional and financial to name a few).
Then I urge you to ask yourself what to stop/do less/keep/do more/start/accept moving forward. It’s a great way to make small adjustments and to preserve a LOT – even if this feels less exciting. (Successful people already have a lot of good habits but are often tempted by the concept that change always equals progress).
4. Overcome the “Focusing Illusion”
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has found that when we think about something a lot, we unintentionally inflate it out of proportion and lose all our perspective – hence, a “focusing illusion.”
I remember a few years ago spending a ridiculous amount of negative mental energy on a banker who never paid me for a workshop. I would let it wind me up so much! The outrage! How dare he etc.? I’m quite sure it never gave him an ounce of stress. And if, instead of spending all that time following up and fuming, I’d simply focused on all the good things in my life, I could have turned that positive energy into positive action and made far more money than what his company owed me. By focusing my thoughts on it, it messed up far too much of my time and happiness because I blew it out of proportion.
5. Understand the fallacies of envy (this knowledge is power if you use it)
a) When you envy someone else, you are assuming (unwittingly) that s/he is happier than you and that everything in that person’s life is better than yours.
Yet how many times have you later found out something about another person only to be relieved you’re not in their shoes?
A couple of weeks ago I remember standing behind this immaculately dressed man at my local coffee shop, and I started imagining his huge lake-view home with a blissfully happy stay-at-home wife tending to her organic garden, polished exuberant children probably at first class summer camps, dogs with endlessly wagging tails, and various luxury cars outside.
Then when I went to sit down, I looked out the window and saw him sitting with a large young man in thick glasses making loud squealing noises rocking back and forth in his seat to calm himself. As I watched, I realized it was his son, who was severely cognitively delayed. A flood of emotions came over me from embarrassment, shame, and upset at myself for feeling envy and then a deep appreciation for all the experiences I’ve been able to have with my own son.
You know what really got to me the most? It was the realization that he could never have a thoughtful conversation with his son – never be able to reflect on life with him. Now I see him outside the coffee shop every morning (which feels like an unexpected reminder).
“If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.” – Regina Brett
And this isn’t the entire point either, it’s also crucial to be happy for other people’s successes and wish them well. You and I have no idea what someone went through to accomplish their wins. Being jealous of others gets you nowhere. The recipes for what it takes are public information; the other truth is most people are not willing to do what it takes – to do the hard, hard work, take the risks, and pay the price. It’s easier to have sour grapes.
b) The things you envy are far less important than you think they are.
Many of my neighbors have swimming pools and my kids sometimes say, “That’s not fair; they’re so lucky.” On bad days I feel envy too and a bit of a failure as if I am being a negligent father and denying my kids what some of their peers have.
On the vast majority of days (thankfully), I remind myself the rather ridiculous notion that there is extensive scientific double-blinded research proving that the presence of a pool determines whether my children grow up to be happy, kind and confident contributors to society!
c) Rolf Dobelli has a ‘last resort’ suggestion to remove envy which is to identify the worst aspect of a person’s life that you envy and imagine them struggling with those problems.
6. Avoid social media
How do you think most people feel after scrolling through Facebook or Instagram? How do you feel most of the time noticing people’s seemingly perfect family, holiday or evening out?
Researchers at Humboldt University found many users felt: “frustrated and tired.” Dobelli adds: “The internet has turned jealousy into a modern-day epidemic.”
We change best when we feel good, not when we wished we had someone else’s life.
And the last time I went to cool, picture-worthy professional sporting event, my son ate too much junk food and threw up all over the urinals. I should have posted that.
7. Let it be: Accept that there’s always someone somewhere doing better than you
While this isn’t something we like to think about, it is pointless to deny.
It could bring us plenty of peace not to obsess with having to be the best in the entire world out of seven billion.
Then we could just get on with being our best selves.
8. Compare Yourself to Your Recent Self: Every Evening Identify Five Things You Did Right
This is one of my favorites so I saved it till last. For years I had this awful evening habit of perseverating about the one or two things that hadn’t gone well that day – the ‘no’ I got or the person who said they’d get back to me and hadn’t. By that point in the day, I was already tired and emotionally depleted. It was a terrible way to end a day when I had done many things right and to the best of my ability – but I wasn’t noticing the 80% of things.
I’d go to bed feeling bad about myself. And when our brains start on a negative spiral, it’s easy for the inner critic to show up and say something unencouraging like, “I bet so-and-so is doing better than you!”
The solution is to write down (or at least mentally list), five things you did right that day. Get your brain to focus on the positive actions you took. These are all free of envy and address things within your control that deserves applause.
End the day on a high note.
I hope you found this more helpful than you expected. Negative feelings are BAD NEWS.
Walk on the sunny side of the street.
Founder & President
Matt Anderson International
1177 Oak Ridge Drive, Glencoe, IL 60022, USA
Phone: +001 (312) 622-3121