It’s the easiest thing in the world to do, compare ourselves to another; our work to an ideal, our material wealth to that of others. We even compare ourselves to our past selves and often come up short! I had the privilege to worked with a brilliant Integral Master Coach™ who called this type of activity the “shoulds”, which goes something like this: “I should be a better parent”, “I should be higher positioned at my job”, “I should be more physically active”…and on the list goes. Before you know it you are covered in “should”.
On our course to be our best selves we often fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to something (a point in time or someone else), giving very little thought to how relevant that measure is. Along the way we make assumptions backed by emotional reasoning (as opposed to logic, because emotional reasoning often feels very logical, especially in the unchallenged sanctuary of our own minds), solidifying the idea that something needs to be different in order to be better. Therein lies the trap, we know the status quo doesn’t make things better, so inherent in the pursuit of “better” is the need to change in some tangible way, but what is it specifically that needs to change? We look outside of ourselves for examples of what “better” could look like and there is never a shortage of examples. When we exclusively look to others to complete our own vision of “better” we set ourselves up for failure. When we compare ourselves to other people’s best days of course we will fall short. Ask yourself if you are trying to measure yourself against “perfection” (intentionally or unintentionally), and evaluate how realistic that may be.
It may also not occur to us that others may have used us as a model for something they aspire to reach. Think about it, the last time you bench-marked yourself against an ideal, did you tell the person who exemplified it that you used them as your model? Not likely (and bravo to you if you did, that took courage). Many of us would be intimidated to be the model someone else is setting as their benchmark, but then others are only able to see a specific facet of us, as opposed to the whole picture. And that is the point isn’t it? It is about the whole journey and not a single-point-in-time (an achievement, etc.) that makes us who we are.
What is it specifically that needs to change? This is an important question worth considering. When we choose unreachable ideals and set out to achieve them we undermine our own potential. Heading towards a goal is a great pursuit, but a reasonable, objective and well thought out goal – not an ideal that is based on someone else’s truth, life and journey. It’s not an easy path to build your own goals; it takes courage, compassion, work and (most of all) objectivity. It is easier to go “shopping” for a model you can “see” and settle on that (making a giant assumption), quickly moving on to the next step in the process because action makes us feel like we are progressing, which can quickly replace reason, losing sight of the more sensible and measured “big picture”. However, the first step is the most critical – setting a realistic goal (with some flex in it to allow it to evolve) based on what you need using a holistic view of your life. Screw this step up and you are on the path to discouragement, self-judgment, and criticism…in a word, failure. Not a positive place to strive from in life. Choosing your goal is also choosing what and how you will measure your progress and how much wellbeing both the journey and the outcome will provide, that is why this step is so important.
Many of us have found ourselves in a discouragement spiral, “should-ing” all over ourselves because we are not organized enough, educated enough…fill in your blank here. What is it specifically that needs to change? The way we approach personal goal setting, that is what needs to change. When we make comparisons, forming assumptions and acting on them, we become trapped in a discouragement spiral where not only do we diminish our own potential we are also much more likely to be critical and negative of others, projecting an image (either by full-on “broadcast” or more subtly leaking it out of our “edges”) that we are not enough. And when we feel we are not enough we are not in a position to help others; we cannot consistently be a supportive partner, a compassionate parent, caring leader, employee or community member. We miss opportunities, tangible life ones (like being asked to work on an exciting project), as well as the smaller ones (providing empathy needed by a friend or co-worker). Comparison is something to be mindful of; using it judiciously in your life is important. The milestones and ideals we set for ourselves are most powerful when they come from within, where they are not based on assumptions or the truths of others, but on our own life’s truths – our reality. When you take the time to evaluate the value of something from all aspects of your life, testing it, “wearing” it for a bit and seeing it’s potential (and how it may evolve), you are feeding something valuable within yourself. With this approach you are intrinsically telling yourself (while in the midst of contemplating change) that you are worth it…and you are.
Carleen Hicks is a certified Integral Professional Coach™ and EQ-i 2.0 Practitioner. She uses a unique perspective from her experience as a Leadership Coach and HR Professional to help people reach their full potential. See more of her blogs on Everyday Potential at http://www.chhr.ca and check out her Resources page to find great books, blogs and web sites that support professional growth and development.