I am making big changes in my life and I finally feel aligned with my higher purpose. I am in flow with the Universe (most of the time), and it feels good.
Do you want to know what instantly takes me OUT of that flow if I let it permeate my spiritual bubble?
Comparing myself to others.
So, I'm in yoga class, right? Settled in dancer pose. I feel so good, so aligned. My drishti (focused gaze) is set steadily on one point. I am facing the mirror wall in front of me and looking into my own eyes. I am in the zone. I am strong. I am balanced. I am growing, taking myself one more inch today... until I start wondering how all of the other students are looking in THEIR dancer pose. Am I doing it the best in the whole room? I let my eyes drift a tiny bit to my right to see what the next person is up to. Before I can even get a full view, I have lost my gaze, my focus, my balance. I have fallen out of the pose. I try to get back in but it feels completely wrong.
This is what happens when I compare myself to others, in any area of my life. I'm feeling good about my hard work to support my passion, the projects I am gaining traction on, the positive feelings associated with living this incredible life... and then I get distracted. Uh oh. An email hits my inbox and I start thinking, She is so much farther along than me. Ugh. My mailing list is so small. I suck. Who do I think I am to believe I can accomplish anything? Get a grip.
Back to my yoga foible. What if I hadn't tried to sneak a peek at the other students? What if I had just held my gaze, kept growing in my own pose, and made a delicate transition to the next sequence? What if I instead compared my present-self to yesterday-self or year-ago-self and appreciate what I have accomplished and how my practice has grown?
If I improve the posture based on my body, my alignment, my skill level, my experience, that is the real achievement. It is none of my freaking business what others are doing. Plus I am a cheerer-onner, I want them to succeed! It isn't the real me that is looking around the room and competing. It's my inner critic because he doesn't like me to feel secure. As soon as I started feeling satisfied in that pose, and dare I say a little proud of myself, he chimed in, You're actually probably not doing it as well as you think you are. I bet someone else in here has better form. Why don't we take a little gander? I impulsively trust that critic enough to shift my focus and of course then fall, as I have learned over and over.
A yoga teacher once told me to take my yoga practice seriously, but not to take myself too seriously. That applies to so many things in our lives—our careers, hobbies, relationships. If we are focusing on the practice, the content, the process, the interaction, and not getting so lost in the "I" and "me" and what we should or shouldn't have done, and attacking our character, we can dedicate that energy to the necessary action items to meet our goals.
One more example that may be a little more relatable. In the past, if I made a mistake on an email, I would beat myself up the whole afternoon. I confused taking my work seriously with taking myself seriously. Here is the difference:
1. Critic's voice: What the HELL is wrong with you? If you had just slowed down for five seconds to read it again. You're not even that busy. Why did you rush to send it off like that? Idiot.
2. My healthy voice: Haha, that was a silly mistake, but a good learning moment to be more careful next time because they are part of my professional network and I am very particular about the accuracy of my messaging.
Which perspective do you want to support? Which force do you want to flourish within you? Because that decision is very important. It ultimately determines how you live your life. Don't get me wrong. The narrative still pops in to ridicule me, like an uninvited soundtrack, but now I can laugh and say So what? The bully says, What if you fall out of the pose and people think you're not good at yoga? SO WHAT! Dude, I missed the letter E in one little email, why does that even matter? You're kind of getting uptight over nothing. It totally debunks their already unsound theory, it dilutes their argument.
Next time you are reeling—this usually comes in the form of regretting something in our past or rehearsing something we are scared to face in our future—ask yourself the burning question: What are you so worried about? Listen for the answer. And then you kindly reply, So what? They may try to fight you and pull you deeper into their tricks to convince you of your weaknesses. But just keep saying, SO WHAT? !
Pay attention to the inner roommate that takes up all that rent-free space in your head, the one constantly criticizing you and doubting you, providing false evidence to support your unreliable, insecure beliefs. Say, I really can't be bothered with you right now. This is my mission. And I take it seriously. Ahem.
Put your thoughts on trial. Use the guide below to test the message's validity. Then decide which voice wins out. (If you want to get fancy about it, this is called cognitive restructuring.)
I also want you to look at some of the other stupid ways your illogical roommate may try to bring you down. This is a list of unhelpful thinking patterns. (If you want to get fancy about it, these are called cognitive distortions.)
P.S. If I misspelled anything in this essay, please do not bring it to my attention because my answer will just be, So what?