Confidence-building Comparisons

One of the things that we don’t do particularly well is make comparisons, often to the detriment of our confidence.

Grocery experience

Believe it or not, this insight was triggered by a trip to the grocery store.  My wife had asked me to pick up a few things while I was out.  I witnessed two women forgo buying steaks they wanted because steak was $10 a pound.  I glanced into their baskets and saw that both had luncheon meats from the deli counter that I knew each cost $10 a pound.  Why were they willing to pay that price for lunch meats, but not steaks?

The simple answer is ineffective comparisons.  They were comparing the price of steaks to the prices they paid years earlier instead of current prices of alternative meat products.  Their failure to make effective comparisons deprived them of what they wanted.  It also triggered feelings of inadequacy at their “inability” to afford such a luxury.  In other words, they took a hit to their confidence.

Personal comparisons

This same type of mistake occurs as we compare our success, our accomplishments, our abilities, our happiness with those of others.  Our natural tendency is to compare ourselves to people whom we believe are smarter, more successful, happier, more talented, more skilled than we are.

That’s not all bad…if we do it with the intent of learning how we can become better at whatever it is we want to achieve.  Learning from others, particularly their mistakes, can be energizing, motivating and accelerate the growth in our ability.

Unfortunately, too many of us making these comparisons experience feelings of inadequacy, of jealousy, of despair.  Instead of being energized and motivated, we bemoan the rotten hand we’ve been dealt and resign ourselves to what the “fates have deemed for us.”  The question is “How do we shift ourselves from this victim mindset to one that is energizing and motivating?”   

Valid comparison

You have two options here.  Choose whichever works best for you.

  1. Before comparing yourself to others, remind yourself that you’re making the comparison to help you discover ways in which you can enjoy greater success and greater confidence.
  2. Compare your current performance against your previous best performance.  The progress you make will fuel your desire to continue getting better and better at whatever you choose to do.

CAVEAT: When comparing your performance against your previous personal best, realize that your best is going to vary from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day.  There are going to be days in which you’re not feeling well, got too little sleep the night before, had an unresolved spat with a loved one.  All of these will impact your performance that day.  That’s not the day you want to make comparisons.

Instead, be aware of your previous personal best, continuously strive to beat it without pressing yourself to do so, then celebrate your success.  Keep in mind that the more you press for a result the less likely you are to achieve it.  Why?  Because you’re focused on the result instead of improving your approach to getting that result.

For our kids

You can help your kids avoid making ineffective comparisons by:

  1. Vocalizing your effective comparisons.  When your kids regularly see you making effective comparisons, they’re more likely to do so as well.
  2. When you see them making bad comparisons, ask them “Is that the right comparison to make?  Isn’t there always going to be someone who is smarter about something, more athletic, more persuasive, more talented in some way than we are?”
  3. Remind them that they have two choices as outlined above.  That either will serve them well, then let them choose.  Whatever they choose will bolster their confidence and help them make better comparisons in the future.

These simple steps can help you and your kids avoid the vagaries of ill-conceived comparisons while increasing your confidence, your success and the joy you experience in what you achieve.

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