Today’s guest post is by Liza Baker. Liza is an Integrative Nutrition® health coach, author, and health consultant.

Are you prone to compare and despair?

“Compare and despair” is a popular phrase in the coaching world just now.

There is plenty of advice out there right now about not comparing yourself to others, not going on social media if it just leaves you feeling like everyone else’s life is perfect, like you’re a donkey in a world of unicorns.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

Everyone else’s life is perfect: spouse, kids, outfit, house, dinner, yoga practice…right?

Isn’t it odd how…

  • nobody else’s spouse is as awful as yours?
  • nobody ever forgets to pick their kid up from school? (Okay, I’ve done that, so now you know ONE other person!)
  • nobody in real life experiences a major wardrobe malfunction?
  • nobody but you cleans the kitchen counter by sweeping its contents into the everything drawer?
  • nobody else burns dinner?
  • nobody else considers that falling asleep in corpse pose counts as yoga?

I’ve NEVER been there, have you? (Before you panic, yes, that’s in sarcasm font.)

If everyone else’s life looks perfect, you’re probably looking at the world through rose-colored Instagram lenses.

Here’s the truth: You don’t generally put that stuff on Instagram, either! Why not? Because on Instagram, we’re ALL passing as unicorns and feeling like donkeys, and so we fall easily into compare and despair.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

~Teddy Roosevelt

To whom are you comparing yourself?

Here’s the really good news: we ARE actually unicorns: we’re all unique, and therefore what is “right” for someone else (diet, career, physical activity, etc.) may not be “right” for you, so it makes no sense to compare yourself to anyone else.

And I think in many ways, this conversation misses the mark.

Someone else we often unknowingly compare ourselves to is … our younger self!

Three generations of hands

Have you ever thought, “Well of course she did better than I did—she’s 30 years younger!” and in the next instant thought, “Ugh—I used to run the 5K, and now I’m walking it? I’m only 50, I should be able to run it still!”

When we talk about comparisons, I like to add a “unicorn corollary” for my clients: what’s right for you right now may not be what was right for you in your 20s, 30s, or even 40s.

I think the biggest attachment I face is attaching myself to who I used to be
… versus being present with who I am right now in this moment.

~Sadie Lincoln

How many times have you said, “I used to weigh… I used to run… I used to lift… I used to sleep… I used to work…”

We can become very invested in particular diet and lifestyle choices and cling to them fiercely, even when they no longer serve us well. Releasing those choices and experimenting with new ones are often the key to improving our health.

I know many women (and men) who find that becoming vegan is what serves them best…until it doesn’t. Others find that a strict regimen of high intensity interval training (HIIT) gets them in the best shape they’ve ever been…until they exhaust themselves and suddenly start gaining back all the weight they lost.

Before this escalates—I don’t have anything against veganism (my brother is vegan and is one of the healthiest people I know) or HIIT (Jillian Michaels is kinda my girl crush). I just recognize that we are all unique, and for some, a bit of animal protein goes a long way toward making us healthier and trading physically stressful HIIT workouts with walking and yoga can do wonders—we just need to be open to listening to and believing what our bodies are telling us.

Of course, this means that you are responsible for taking off your Instagram filters and looking inward to discover what works for you: your diet, your workout, your spiritual practice, your sleep, your spouse, your career—everything—has to be right: not “right” as in perfect, but as in right for you and right for you right now, at the stage of life you’re in.

A dirty word that starts with s-h

There are two expressions I suggest my clients try to eliminate from their vocabulary: “I used to” and “I should.”

“Should” is dangerous because it is often externally referenced: it indicates an expectation that others place on us—or that we project others are imposing on us—and expectations that go unmet are really just resentments waiting to happen.

“Should” is often a good indicator that we are comparing ourselves to someone else’s (perceived) standard—one that is not suited to our own uniqueness.

“Should” is really just another dirty word that starts with s-h.

“Used to” is similarly dangerous because it’s most often pointing out that compared to our younger self, we’re coming up lacking.

As a simple exercise, try to track how often “I should” and “I used to” cross your lips (and your mind) in a day and how often are they immediately followed by a sense of heaviness, dissatisfaction, or even despair?

An equally simple adjustment to make is to say or think, “I choose to” in place of those phrases.

It may seem a bit ridiculous … and there is evidence that we can change our mindset just by changing our words.

If you can wholeheartedly say, “I choose to,” in place of “I should” or “I used to,” you give yourself permission to choose what is right for you right now rather than what someone else (including your younger self) thinks is right for you. And having a choice feels significantly lighter.

Want to manage compare + despair?

Here are some suggestions I share with my clients:

Own your inner unicorn.

First, recognize that you are unique—there is no one else like you on the planet, so don’t expect there to be a one-size-fits-all solution.

Experiment on yourself.

Do your research, being careful to check who’s funding it—if someone’s pushing a certain program or product, odds are good that they stand to benefit from you taking their advice!

Ask for advice from those you trust, being cognizant of the fact that what worked for them might not work for you.

Check in with your inner wisdom: does this eating style, workout plan, spiritual practice, scheduling method, etc. feel right for you? Does it, as we say in the coaching world, “resonate” with you?

Experiment on yourself with eating and exercise styles, spiritual practices, etc. Give yourself time to adapt to them, and journal about the results. Journaling does not mean simply noting down what you did and how much you did: what’s important to notice is how you’re feeling—not just physically but emotionally, mentally, energetically, and spiritually.

Try not to judge yourself for falling away from your experiment: if you’re finding it difficult, look at the situation with compassion.

  • Are you struggling because you are trying to make a change too quickly—couch to 5K in 3 days? omnivore to vegan overnight? If so, try making smaller shifts over a longer period of time.
  • Or are you struggling because this just doesn’t feel right? If so, go back and rethink the experiment.

Decide what’s right for you right now.

Once you’ve run your experiment for a while—anywhere from one to three weeks—read back over your journal. What shifts occurred in your physical body? Your mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual bodies?

If your weight hasn’t shifted, your mind is foggy, your mood is heavy, your energy levels are in the basement, and you feel disconnected from everyone and everything, you may want to rethink the lifestyle choice you’re trying on.

That’s okay! Again, release the judgement: you are not a failure; you can cross this choice off the list as not right for you right now.

If your clothes are fitting better, your mind is clearer, your mood is lighter, your energy levels are up, and you can feel your connection to the greater Universe, you’re on to something!

Consider sticking with your new lifestyle, and remember that it will serve you until it doesn’t—at which point you can choose to find one that does!

About the Author

Liza BakerLiza Baker is a sanity whisperer and flame nurturer to women 40+ who feel that the only way out of their overscheduled lives involves a plane ticket, a wad of cash, and a change of identity. Her work is grounded in the belief that we women can live happy, healthy lives, meeting all our obligations and honoring our own wildest, sweetest dreams. Full-time Integrative Nutrition® health coach, self-published author, part-time consultant, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four, Liza lives in a half-empty nest in Ann Arbor, MI and is passionate about health and happiness, education and exercise, SOLE food and social justice.

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