Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Comparison is the thief of joy... or is it?
There's been a popular quote floating around by Theodore Roosevelt which says,
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Roosevelt is one of my hubby's mentors, so I hate to disagree with him. ;)
But this statement is only partially correct.
I love how James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) added to and clarified it:
Comparison is the thief of joy when applied broadly, but the teacher of skills when applied narrowly.
If you compare your house, your car, your marriage or your net worth to your neighbor's, that's comparing yourself broadly. It's likely to rob you of joy.
Comparing yourself narrowly to others includes:
your exercise techniques to your personal trainer's
your morning routine to your life coach's
your writing techniques to your literature professor's
your diet and exercise routine to your healthy and fit neighbor's
In these instances, comparison becomes an instructor that helps you improve in specific areas of your life.
Comparison is most often seen as a negative thing because most of us are comparing results, not strategies.
Eating donuts for breakfast we look at our healthy, active neighbor and think to ourselves, "I wish I could look like that and have that much energy," instead of saying, "Hmmm. I wonder what she eats for breakfast."
That's the right way to compare yourself.
That's the 'narrow' vs. 'broad' comparison Clear was talking about.
But there is a way to compare yourself broadly that you should be doing.
Brian Tracy once said that the biggest reason more people aren't millionaires is that they've never been exposed to it as being a possibility.
They've never been exposed to the idea of 'wealth as normal' instead of a far-off 'wouldn't-that-be-nice-pie-in-the-sky' dream.
This is true with nearly everything in our life.
Most of us don't exercise more because we haven't been exposed to the 'exercise-is-normal-and-just-what-I-do' idea.
We don't read more because we haven't been exposed to the 'reading-is-just-what-I-do-to-get-better-at-life' idea.
Etc., etc., and so on, and so forth (fill in the blank with anything you think of)
Nearly any idea you are exposed as being 'normal' becomes a natural part of our life, just like brushing your teeth.
Instead, most of us live in our little 'bubble' -- usually a 20-30 mile radius from our home. We drive the same roads, visit the same stores, and interact with the same social circle.
'Normal' begins to be defined by what we see and experience within that bubble on a daily basis. Normal is what our friends and neighbors and community are doing.
Jim Rohn said that we become the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with -- the average of their salaries, their health and fitness levels, the number of books they read, their political views, etc.
As a result of living in our bubble, we're rarely exposed to different or challenging ideas.
If we are, they're usually rejected as being 'weird' or 'out there' or 'unreasonable'. No one else in our bubble thinks or acts that way, after all.
But it's unwise to compare ourselves among ourselves (our bubble). (2 Cor. 10:12)
When we do, we remain small, narrow-minded, and underdeveloped.
(Remember Twain's quote?
Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner (aka 'bubble') of the earth all one's lifetime.)
If you want to do something better or improve your life in any way -- your health or net worth or writing skills -- it helps to cast a wide net.
Look outside your bubble. Look for the best in the field -- the experts, people who are 'crushing it' and doing whatever it is they do really well.
Once you cast that wide net, come back to the narrow comparisons.
Don't get envious of their lifestyle or their levels of success.
Start to model their strategies, techniques, and systems for success. Learn what it took to get them where they are.
And then model it.