The Comparison Grasp

How A Rude Shock in a Yoga Class Got Me To Confront An Exhausting Habit

After four months of cramming my yoga mat on the floor of my busy living room, in amongst plastic whales, teethers and the detritus of baby-food missed in the flurry of a nightly clean up, I was excited to do my first class back at an actual yoga studio. A semi-regular yoga practice had been an anchor for me through lockdown, allowing me to reconnect with my body, embrace movement and flow, and focus on my breath in amidst a sea of uncertainty and anxiety. Yoga felt like the perfect invitation to connect with my felt experience of moving and being, in a world that is so suffocatingly obsessed with proving and doing. 

But, I got a rude shock a few min into my first communal yoga class back, when I scanned around the room, swiftly evaluated the poses of those around me and immediately noticed a loud thought arising, that said…

Wow.

Barely 5-min into a class that I attended for my own personal progress and growth, and I was already scrambling to compare myself with other people, and judging myself as good or bad depending on where I happened to fit on the yoga-doers hierarchy… in a GENTLE FLOW class, less than ONE WEEK after a 4-month lockdown.

Huge Buddha energy right there. 

Why Are We Obsessed With Comparing Ourselves to Each Other?

My rush to comparison is a deeply human habit, and one that I have had plenty of practice with throughout my lifetime. In fact, comparing ourselves with others has been a staple of the human experience, given that we learn a great deal about how to behave and how to adhere to social norms based on observing other people’s behaviour, and the subsequent results or consequences of that behaviour – imagine a mum at a grocery store pointing out another well-behaved toddler to her own explosive child in full tantrum-mode, and saying “If you’re good like that little girl you can get a finger bun with sprinkles for the car ride home…”

The desire for status is also a feature we’ve inherited from our mammalian ancestors, and one that requires constant comparison and analysis of other people’s levels of power and prestige, so that we might evaluate where we fit within the social hierarchy. 

It’s no wonder that we’re obsessed with comparison, but over the past few months (even before this embarrassing yoga experience) I have noticed how it’s become an almost constant feature in my daily life. I’m driven to compare myself as a mother, as a writer, as a psychologist, as a public speaker. I compare my body to other people’s bodies (“They’re so much fitter than I am…”). I compare my IG account to other peoples IG accounts (“They have wayyy more followers than I do…”). I compare my successes to other peoples successes (“That person has published a book! I haven’t published a book!”). 

There are two different types of comparisons we make, upward and downward comparisons, and while they seem like polar opposites, they both wind up enforcing a dangerous ideal – that our worthiness is something that we judge based on the achievements & aptitude of others.

Upward & Downward Comparisons

Downward comparisons, that is the kind you make involving people you consider as doing or being worse than yourself, can ignite a cheap and transient experience of euphoria in the moment (“I am so great, I’m better than you”). On the flip side, upward comparisons are the kind you make with people you consider as doing or being better than yourself, that often leave you struck with feelings of inadequacy, incompetence and failure (“I am so shit, they’re so much better than me”). Social media creates a rife and fertile ground for upward comparisons, as you’re bound to find people on social media who present themselves with lives, jobs, families and achievements that look rudely superior to your own.

Although the immediate, felt experiences following upward/downward comparisons might be different, the act of comparison itself (regardless of its direction) is a habit that reinforces the importance of visible or external factors on your sense of worthiness & success. It constantly requires looking outside of yourself for who you are and how you’re doing, and constantly requires you to scramble to “please, perform, perfect & prove” (as Brene Brown puts it) in order to establish your worthiness. 

The Comparison Grasp

You can also become easily addicted to the fleeting euphoria of evaluating yourself as better than others (kind of like a nangs-style ego boost), leaving you chasing it constantly (kind of like me in that yoga class). I’ve given this a name – The Comparison Grasp. That jolt to compare is almost like me grasping for a quick feel-good fix, but the other side to it is, that, if I don’t think or feel like I’m doing better than others, I cop a gross, feel-bad blow. From there, I’ll then force myself to “please, perform, perfect & prove” to increasingly greater degrees, in an effort to grasp again for the chance of that fix. It’s an exhausting and chaotic way to live. 

Can We Get Over the Compulsion to Comparison Grasp?

Well, the real talk is that we probably can’t – not completely. There will likely be a running dialogue in your mind urging you towards comparisons – more so, if you’ve found yourself entrenched in the habits of “pleasing, performing, perfecting & proving” your way to feeling worthy of love and belonging. 

But what we can do is notice when these thoughts and the urge to “comparison grasp” arises. We can acknowledge that the act of constant comparisons reduces life and experience to a very narrow and rigid dichotomy  – better/worse, good/bad, success/fail. And we can acknowledge that indulging in the cheap thrill of a “I’m better than you” downward-comparison leaves us at the mercy of suffering the discomfort and disappointment when we’re faced with the inevitable upward-comparison that says “You’re better than me.”

When you find yourself drawn to the urge to comparison grasp, just as I did in the yoga class that day, your best next step is to pause and take a breath. Unhook from the flurry of thoughts cascading through your mind by allowing yourself to sink back into the experience of being in your body.

You can do this in a yoga class, or while scrolling instagram, or while your kid’s having an exorcist-style meltdown. Recognise that the urge to comparison grasp is natural and human, but the result of being driven by these grasps leaves us trapped in an exhausting and unwinnable race. A race that pits us against friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers, where life becomes something to win or lose. Gently guide yourself back to your own lane and be present with your experience for what it is, in that moment – something not necessarily good or bad, better or worse, but rather a gesture in the kaleidoscope of growth & experience that we call life. 

2020 | The Look-Back

This year has certainly been one to remember. It’s been said that there are some years that ask questions and other years that answer them. This year has held a great deal of answers for me, as well as much learning and reflection.

Something that I have found increasingly useful to do at the close of the year is take stock of what the year held for me – particularly how I was able to live in alignment with my values, move towards goals, live with intention and just bloody enjoy myself sometimes.

I’m sharing this below in case it might be helpful to you (even though it does feel a little boastful/whiney to be putting this out publicly). Of course, you will need to reflect on your year in the context of your own life, but this might lend a little structure to your lookback and allow you to take pride in your accomplishments and create momentum towards your goals.

What went well for me this year?

Baby

This year I grew and birthed a beautiful, healthy baby. So that was pretty cool.

‘sup Levon.

In the year coming… I would like to spend quality time with Levon, be present as he grows up (they do that pretty quick, so I’ve heard), and mindfully and compassionately introduce him to the world. 

Psych-work

I am proud of how I progressed this year with my psychology work – getting 6 months into my provisional licence, working with clients and learning lots about therapeutic interventions and ways to support others. I wrote a bunch of cool blogs and articles on behalf of The Indigo Project. I also got to hold a bunch of Zoom-workshops, courtesy of Support Act, where I chatted about mental health and hopefully helped some folks learn a little more about their minds, emotions and behaviour. I enjoyed facilitating workshops for Big Sound and would love to do more of this in the future. 

My tile for facilitator at BigSound2020

In the year coming… I would like to tick off one full year to my provisional registration, hold more workshops (in person and online) and create more impactful and visible psychology and self-development content with passionate, like-minded people.

Friends & Family

This year, I got to spend a lot more time with friends and family. Thanks to COVID, I was forced to make the effort to catch up with people and spend quality time with people whose company I enjoy. I’m grateful for the amazing people I have in my life and would love to continue to invest in my relationships and make an ongoing committment to be present and generous with the people who matter most to me. 

My Baby Shower Oct 2020

In the year coming… I would like to continue to enjoy the company of others, host dinners, play games, and keep in better contact with friends who live far from home.

Healthy Habits

This was the first full year where I committed to my healthy habits and I really committed. 

335 Days of German Practice (DuoLingo)

343 Days meditated (Insight Timer)

~330 Days of my gratitude practice, affirmations & journaling

I read 32 books

My Values Board for 2020

In the year coming… I would like to continue committing to these healthy habits, and add more exercise and healthy eating into the mix. I also started learning piano early this year, and going forward, I’d like to add that to my weekly habits too.

Savings & Contributions

Thanks to COVID, I surpassed my savings goal this year. Spending most of my 20’s being frivolous and carefree with money, I am proud of the discipline I have been able to show, and the system that has been put in place to put money aside regularly (Thanks, Barefoot Investor.)

In the year coming… I would like to hit a savings target! I would also like to make regular monthly contributions to a charity and learn more about investing. I would also like to start a savings account for Levon.

What didn’t go so well for me this year?

Phd

I didn’t make a great deal of progress with my phd and so as a result, feel quite behind with it. The shut down of the uni’s ethics portal and the impact of COVID didn’t help.

In the year coming… I would like hit some important milestones with the phd and make sure I am back up to speed with it.

Art

I didn’t spend much time creating art this year and that disappoints me. I feel like it’s really something that does not get done unless I eke out specific time for it. 

In the year coming… I would like to make a regular time to create art, both digitally and off the computer. I would also love to attend a Clay Sydney class, and a Sip and Sketch class too!

Diet & Fitness

Due to my pregnancy, as well as COVID, I wasn’t able to commit to my exercise regimen as well as I would’ve liked and was not particularly concerned with healthy eating. As a result, I don’t feel great in my skin right now and many of my favourite clothes don’t currently fit me.

In the year coming… I want to commit to 5 sessions of exercise per week, including one yoga class, one weights-based class, and one cardio class. I would also like to organise & meal plan, so that we can order less take-out and make more healthy meals each week. Oh, and stop drinking so much Coca Cola…

What did I learn this year?

If the worst could happen, so could the best.

Throughout my pregnancy, I spent a great deal of time worrying about the worst case scenario. This took a great deal of effort (was super draining) and also robbed me of enjoying my pregnancy. Turns out that Levon is complete fine, healthy and thriving. While I can forgive myself for being anxious given the circumstances (COVID and weird ultrasounds, etc.), I can now acknowledge that uncertainty does not always equal disaster, and that if I am making room to consider the worst case scenarios, I should also make room to consider the best – because sometimes the best comes true.

We can feel multiple things at once.

This year, I have done so much better at accepting that emotions aren’t the bad guy. I have given myself permission to feel what I feel, and not try to force myself into feeling differently or stop feeling. This has been a hard thing to learn, as it can be tricky to distinguish if you’re allowing yourself to feel your feelings in a healthy and constructive way, or instead wallowing in them and allowing them to rule you. I think daily reflective mindful practices (including meditation and journalling) have really helped with this. It’s one this to accept this conceptually, something totally new to actually learn to do it. 

Some therapists just won’t be your person. 

The psychologist that I was seeing earlier this year was not the right fit for me. I didn’t feel super comfortable sharing with her, and didn’t feel confident in the strategies she was suggesting. Doesn’t make her bad, doesn’t make me flakey/a quitter. I’ll have to practice what I preach here, and understand that finding a great therapist can take time and energy. 

Cut yourself some slack. 

Once upon a time, I would have given myself a flogging for all the ways I fell short this year – my weight gain, or lack of phd progress or for neglecting my art practice or failing to continue with my regular piano practice – however, I now know that that does little to help motivate me into the future, and instead, would simply damage the relationship I have with myself which I’ve worked so hard to nurture. 2020 has been a tough year and I’ve learned that you don’t have to do everything all the time. Sometimes it’s enough to tend to what’s important for you in the moment. This year, it was growing a baby and working to become a better friend, mum and psychologist – and I’m proud of my efforts all round. 

Dealing with Uncertainty | The Indigo Project

I’ve definitely been feeling the tension and anxiety build in regards to uncertainty lately. The world is a weird place right now and it’s challenging when we don’t know what to expect a month, six months, a year from now. I wrote this blog to highlight the different areas in which we are empowered to take back control and exist with uncertainty.

"…the good news is that there are ways we can learn to live with and relate to uncertainty – even when it’s…

Posted by The Indigo Project on Thursday, 6 August 2020