Do you ever look at other people and wonder how those people manage to have their act together?
Spoiler alert: no one does. And anyway, who wants to be one of those people? (Well, maybe you do?)
Comparison is a tricky thing, but if you can frame the question through a different lens you might yourself getting your act together too.
Read on for 6 ways you can start changing yourself and stop comparing.
When I look back at one of the most chaotic periods of my life, I found myself often looking sideways at others. So much of my world felt out of my control and I was falling into behaviours I wanted to change.
At first the question was, “How does that person have their act together?”
“That person” was not a particular person. There were people in my life who emulated calm at work in stressful situations. There were others who managed always to prioritize daily piano practice even when their schedules were packed.
Of course there were also the people on social media. Let’s be honest: we all compare ourselves to them, even if we know better. “Those people” aren’t real, they are personas. But hey, we look and compare anyway.
How do they manage to have their act together?
This was the first iteration of the question. Looking sideways I would ask myself, “How do they do it?” Of course we think we know people, even when we know what we see is only a small part of a person’s reality.
Still, the question comes up. How do they… what? How do they always:
- appear rested
- stay in shape
- respond calmly to stressful situations
- have their dishes done by 7pm
- eat healthy meals
- get their kids out the door in the morning without chaos
- keep their home nice and neat
- look so happy on their social media profile (ha!)
Whatever. You get the picture.
We know better, and yet…
We still do it. We know that social media isn’t the full picture, and in many cases isn’t even real. We know that someone’s outward demeanour is only one small part of that person’s experience.
And yet, why do we do it?
We compare because we’re looking for something we don’t have. If we find ourselves feeling jealous of someone for something they have, go a little deeper. We want to get our own act together.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say someone has a great car. One person looks at that car and thinks, “Wow, it must be nice to have such a great car. Mine is so junky and I can’t afford to upgrade.” Then there’s another person who says, “Wow, great car. I’m so glad my car is great on gas and I don’t have to worry about my dogs getting the back seat dirty.”
Guess which person is looking for a personal change.
1. Go deeper
When you find yourself wondering how that person has that thing or demonstrates that behaviour that you find yourself envying, ask yourself why you’re comparing yourself to them.
Sometimes this can really hurt, and sometimes it takes a little digging. If you can get quiet and really think about your reaction, eventually you’ll get to the real question.
Back to the car situation. Do you really want that particular car? What is that car stirring up for you?
Maybe it’s a money thing. You feel your money situation is such that you could never afford to have a car like that, and the car represents this block in your life. Or maybe it represents someone with a successful business.
It could even be something a little deeper that you don’t want to acknowledge. Are you in the little-kids stage of your life? That person’s fancy car is so far removed from your mini-van reality that maybe you feel you’ll never get your life back.
If you find yourself in the comparison trap with other things, see if you can find a common thread among them.
2. Reframe the question
Once you figure out what’s really driving the comparison game, then the real work begins.
Back to the car again, let’s use the financial envy response. That car represents a financial reality that you wish you had. Well, it’s time to take that seriously and figure out a way to deal with it.
I’m no financial expert by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m human and found myself in a money-envy loop that I finally recognized. So I swallowed my pride, made an appointment with an advisor at the bank, and started to turn things around.
Now when I see someone with a great car I don’t feel envious. I’m able to look at that car as a car, not as a symbol of something I’ll never have. It also fuels (no pun intended) my desire to stick to my financial goals
3. Recognize the power of reframing
I really, really want a Tesla. There’s a line in my budget for one (because I tackled the money envy problem), and there’s nothing in there right now but oh heck yes, there will be. The exact dollar amount is there because I’ve done my homework and I know exactly what I want and how much it will cost. I know that the red paint costs the most but I don’t care, so it’s in the budget.
Now when I see a similar car I don’t look at the owners with envy, I look at the car with curiosity. What will it feel like when I have one of my very own? What will the driving feel like, and the steering wheel in my hands? What will the turn signals sound like? How much will my electrical bill go up, and my gas budget go down?
Every time I see a Tesla driving along the road I always say, “Hello, beautiful Tesla. You will be mine someday.” Not, “Hmf. Must be nice to be one of those people.”
Recognize that the ability to reframe the questions gets you focused in the right direction to getting your act together. You become motivated, rather than stuck in envy and comparison.
4. What’s really behind it
One day (of many) I was in my bedroom and found myself grumpy because of the mess that was there. I hadn’t put my clothes away after folding, there was clutter everywhere, dust on stuff, dog hair everywhere, and the bed wasn’t made.
I was so annoyed. So I started making the bed because it was something quick and tangible to upgrade the mess. I found myself angrily saying, “People with their act together make their bed in the morning,” as I took out my frustrations on the unsuspecting pillows.
Well, some people do make their bed in the morning. Does that signify that they have their act together? Unlikely. But it was a symbol of something I wanted to change.
I started to recognize those little moments, and instead of being angry that I didn’t have that in my life, I paid attention to the meaning behind the response.
The unmade bed was just a reminder of all the other clutter in my space. But the clutter itself signified a deeper desire to clean up some of the other personal clutter I had going on too. In my case it was emotional clutter due to work overwhelm.
5. Make one small change
Sometimes when we manage to just make the bed this can help trigger a positive response in other ways too. Even though making the bed was both a small reminder of a bigger issue, managing that small thing can help put you on a road to improvement in other areas.
My response to the unmade bed was really due to work overwhelm. I felt I had no boundaries and I was working all the time, so I didn’t have time to make the bed. It took some time for me to realize that was the problem.
Making the bed every day helped me feel a little more in control of one small facet of my life. That small victory helped me feel empowered to create small improvements in other ways too.
Sometimes all it takes is one small action to get yourself moving towards getting your act together.
6. Fill in the blank: People with their act together [blank]
The next time you find yourself frustrated or envious, fill in the following sentence:
“People with their stuff together [blank].”
This could be for anything.
- musicians with their stuff together practice every day
- professors with their stuff together always show up prepared
- good people with their stuff together never speak negatively about other people
- managers with their stuff together never respond to emails after hours
- parents with their stuff together never forget to sign permission forms
- grown-ups with steady, secure jobs (and have their stuff together) have budgets they can stick to
You get the picture. I’ve said all of these statements to myself at one time or another, and each of these statements has helped me look for different ways to uplevel the different aspects of my life.
Instead of thinking about what isn’t going well, think about what it is you’re trying to change for yourself. Then start looking for one small way to start making that change.
Getting your act together one bite at a time
It really only does take one small step to start the improvement. There’s the over-used analogy, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Sometimes the bites are bigger and more complicated than others, but one small bite or change can steer the direction in the way you really want or need.
Be patient. Deep change takes time, but the deeper change is figuring out the motivation in the first place.
I promise you, it’s worth the trouble. And I also promise that you can do it.