Amongst the most common obstacles to achieving what you want, the saddest one is not having the ability to overcome inferiority complex. We have dreams only to dismiss them by comparing ourselves to those who are light years ahead of us. Do you face this problem or know anyone who does?
Do you find yourself taking tentative steps towards something you want to do, only to drop it with a loud sigh after a few days and say, “I’ll never be as good as so-and-so”?
Do you belittle yourself when you discover people who are already doing what you want to do? And not only are they doing – but they’re dancing at the top of the ladder while you fiddle with the first rung!
How many projects have you left undone or partly-done, believing that your work will never be good enough?
Have you ever thought about whom it should be good enough for?
We each come in a unique package. Yet instead of unwrapping that package of potential and talent, we try to paint it the same colour as the next one and the next one. We try to suit someone else’s standard.
We try to emulate their success by using what worked for them and we fall into despair when it doesn’t work for us.
This is especially demoralising when we have a personal relationship with the people we are holding ourselves up to. Perhaps you stumbled upon an old school mate on Facebook. It could be that the two of you were at the same level of performance back in school, but now – fifteen years on – she’s the CEO of a thriving business, has a house, a car, vacations abroad, three perfect kids and, of course, the perfect man. You, on the other hand, work for a meagre salary at the cafe around the corner, in fifteen years you’ve changed as many jobs, your kids wear you down and you have no idea where your life is heading.
Okay that could be an exaggerated scenario; but given that there are many people who dread high school reunions, it’s not too far off.
Take this moment of sweetness (?!) to ask yourself a sour question:
Why be a second class version of someone else when you can be a first class version of your self?
Now this needs some elucidation. If you’re a first class Mr. or Mrs. Lazy Bones, I suggest you take no pride in that title. However, when you’re engaged in a positive and developmental endeavour, be the first class version of yourself and push yourself further each day.
The only comparison is the you of yesterday. Think about where you were in the past – such as yesterday. What can you do better today than yesterday? What did you learn, discover, improve or resolve to do? Yes – even a new intention that didn’t exist previously matters!
Did you manage to wake up 10 minutes earlier? Are you a little less exhausted? Did you make an intention to outsmart the negative talk? Did you manage to outsmart the negative talk long enough to get one little task done? Did you smile more often during the day? Have you memorised the system password so you don’t have to keep looking it up from today? Did you restrain yourself from yelling at the kids when it wasn’t their fault? Do you have a slightly better attitude? Did you remember to take a five-minute break after twenty-five minutes of work so that you’re more refreshed and can get more done? Did you manage to add two more lines to that article you’re working on? Have you made enough changes to your routine so that you manage to catch the 6 PM train home now instead of missing dinner with the family? These tiny bits of advancement fuel your race against yourself. Appreciate them and work upwards.
When Can You Compare Yourself with Others?
Now you may thumb your nose at this gracious wisdom and argue that merely trying to outdo yourself can be limiting. What’s the point in being a better version of yourself instead of working to be the best out there in the world? Here’s why- when you outdo yourself consistently, you not only eventually reach great heights, you also keep going higher and higher. You don’t limit yourself to being just better than the second-best person in the world. You don’t have to constantly look over your shoulder to see if they’re catching up. You just keep going ahead.
Looking around at others is a good practice when you want to draw ideas and to gain insights into what’s possible in the future. As Albert Einstein is quoted to have said, “What a person does on his own, without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of others, is even in the best cases rather paltry and monotonous.” In addition, it’s a good practice for showing gratitude. You can look at those below you and be thankful for what you have and appreciate how far you’ve travelled. At all other times, though, a pair of blinkers will serve you very well.
How to Overcome the Comparison Trap
Here’s a five-step process for you:
- Sit up
- Stock up
- Brush up
- Write up
- Shut up
1) Sit up – or stand up. Adjusting your posture to a power pose is the first and easiest thing you can do to alter your attitude. Straighten your back and shoulders, place your hands on your hips, and say, “I can do this!”.
2) Stock up – on fuel. Remember that the small achievements are your fuel. Develop a keen eye for small victories and make note of them. Take time to appreciate them yourself because even if other people such as your boss notice, they may forget or fail to let you know. However, ensure that recognising the small victories for self-motivation does not lead to an inflated ego.
One way to collect the fuel is to keep an achievements diary. You might think, “What? Another diary?”. No – please don’t take it too literally. What it means is that you make note of your little achievements; whether that’s in your mind, a little index card in your wallet, a notebook, or a note on your phone does not matter. The important thing is that you have a sound record of small victories to look back on when the comparison disease shows its face.
Take time to review your day, week and month. It doesn’t have to be a formal process. Just sit down or go for a walk by yourself (whatever helps you get in to the deep-thinking mode) and think.
3) Brush up – your vocabulary. You know all the right words but you use them to describe others rather than yourself. It’s not considered boasting if you praise yourself to yourself and there’s no need to portray false modesty. It’s called positive self-talk and it gives you moral support especially when you don’t get it from the outside. Replace:
- “I’ll never make it” with “Oh there’s the finish line. I can see it already”
- “I’ll never be good enough” with “I’m better than I was last year”
- “This is too difficult” with “This is an interesting challenge”
4) Write up – in your journal. Any time that you get to be alone with your thoughts is ideal for journalling. If you’re barfing at the thought of maintaining a journal, that’s only because you think it should look something like this:
Today was the most wonderful day ever. I wore my favourite blue jeans and T-shirt and everyone said I looked gorgeous. I bought myself a delicious tart from the new baker down our street. I think I’ll go back for more tomorrow. My cooking didn’t turn out too well though. I ruined the pie and the kids refused to eat. OK diary, it’s been a long day and I’m tired now. Sorry if I contradict myself. Going off to bed. XOXO.
Rather, a journal is for thoughts about what you’ve learned, for collecting fragments of new ideas that are floating in your head and brainstorming around them, for gathering observations, for doodling about future projects, and so on. It can also hold little notes about day-to-day miracles, a.k.a. your achievements diary.
Having a journal helps you to see the great ideas you’ve had, how much you’ve progressed over the days and serves as a great resource when you’re looking for inspiration for a new project. In fact, the inspiration for this very article came from a note that I had written some time ago that read, “The only comparison is the you of yesterday”. I decided to share what I learned from that observation through this article.
5) Shut up – the negative self-talk. Granted, you may fail from time to time. Yet making a habit of belittling yourself over these bumps tends to become like an itch you can’t resist scratching, although scratching just makes it worse. Overcome the confirmation bias that prompts you to find “evidence” that you’re a failure. Instead, go back to steps 1, 2, 3, and 4. Rinse and repeat.
Inferiority complex is the saddest amongst obstacles for two reasons:
- it is the ridiculous dismissal of our special potential without even trying to explore it
- the techniques to overcome inferiority complex are rather simple
While someone else may be light years ahead of you, how do you know what paths their journey will take them on and who’s to say that you might not suddenly discover that a new expressway has opened up – enabling you to shoot across in half the time?
Besides, as Terry Pratchett once said, the prize goes not to the explorer who first sets foot upon the virgin soil but to the one who gets that foot home first. If it is still attached to his leg, this is a bonus. [Click to tweet.]
Allow everyone else to reach a peak by looking for a path somewhere along the mountain. You, on the other hand, can climb another mountain altogether and, from that distant peak, shine a guiding beam of light back on the first one. How’s that for being awesome?
Don’t give up on your dreams even before you’ve started just because others are already at the finish line. Yours is a new race and your competitors are versions of yourself from the past. Guess what – you have the advantage of knowing your competitors inside out. You can easily outdo them.
As long as you’re making progress, you’re getting there. Keep going, keep observing and learning, record your victories and focus on being your first class self.
Believe it; you can achieve it.
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