Comparison is the Thief of Joy
When we decided to change in any area of our lives, one of the best motivators is to see the progress that we're making. at the beginning of the year, I decided it was time to finally start losing some weight, so naturally I got on the scales on 1 Jan and took a note of the number that appeared. Then I got my wife to take a selection of photos of me in only my boxer shorts (I'm still holding onto those for when the big money calendar deal gets tabled), and took out the tape measure, so I could write down my thigh, waist, chest, neck and bicep measurements. By doing that, I gave myself the best possible starting point from which to show progress; I could take updated photos and see where I'd visibly lost weight, I weighed myself weekly for the comparison on the scales, and had the measurements so that as my body composition changed and I started to add muscle in place of fat, I could see the measurements reflect there, even while the scales plateaued.
One of the mistakes that people often make, however, is that when they look to make changes, the thing they're measuring themselves against, is not themselves yesterday, but someone else. The ubiquity of social media means that we're fed a constant diet of the things that other people do, have, achieve or posses. And while that can be a nice thing, allowing us to champion and celebrate others successes, to get an understanding of what might be possible for us and see just how high the sky might be, it can often be deflating and leave us feeling like we're failing.
Eric Barker in his book Barking Up the Wrong Tree, wrote of the difference between historic times when we were part of a tribe of one or two hundred and we could be the best at something and stand out, and be valuable as a result. Now, he says, "Our context is a global tribe of seven-plus billion. There's always someone better to compare yourself to, and the media is always reporting on these people, which raises the standards just when you think you may be close to reaching them."
Back in 1997, when I was just a 14 year old lad, growing up on the mean streets of Laurencekirk, I was standing in Norma's (a small convenience store which was a hotbed of quality sweets and rental video options) and I distinctly remember the first time I heard the Baz Luhrmann song Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen playing over their radio. For those who aren't old enough or don't remember, this was a spoken word song, voiced by the man who had risen to fame as the director of Romeo and Juliet and who went on to direct Moulin Rouge, Australia and The Great Gatsby, in which he reads an essay, written by columnist Mary Schmich, about how to live a good life. There are a lot of great nuggets in there, including the importance of wearing sunscreen which, being ginger, is particularly pertinent! However, the one line that struck me on that day in Norma's when I was deciding between fruit bonbons, chocolate nibbles or a quarter of licko (a powdered chocolate delicacy which I believe was made from crushed smarties!) was one that I still live by today. The race is long and, in the end, it's only against yourself.
If you're taking the time, as we approach to the end of the year, to think about what it is that you'd like to achieve or do next, or where you'd like to grow (or shrink!), spare a thought for this simple principle.