You know the one. It’s where you compare a physical attribute, or skill-set, or talent of yours, to those of others. Most often, when you play this game you’re on the losing team; you don’t measure up. And yet, you find yourself playing this game again and again, hoping for a win.
Would you stop playing it if you realized how destructive it is?
There’s a powerful connection between social comparison, feelings of inadequacy, and one’s longevity. It turns out individuals who compared their levels of physical activity to others and decided they were less active than other people significantly shortened their lifespan. In one research study sample, the scales were tipped by 71 percent towards a premature death by people who held this belief.
As, the authors of the study, Octavia Zahrt and Alia Crum, point out, this was true even when participants were of similar health status, including how much they really did exercise based on self-report and step-tracking data, obesity, body mass index, and heart health. Fueled by social comparison, the belief they were not measuring up generated deadly feelings of inadequacy. This sense of not doing enough whether it was being active enough, strong enough, dedicated enough, athletic enough is what ultimately contributed to their premature death decades later. As Zahrt states, “People who think they are less active can be discouraged by that perception, and they might stop exercising and become less active over time.”
Beliefs and Behaviors
Let me state for accuracy: Zahrt and Crum’s study was not designed to prove that participants’ perceptions about their physical activity caused the observed differences in life expectancy, as correlation does not mean causation. Nevertheless, other experiments from their lab do support the idea that mindsets directly affect behavior and health.
What we do know is our beliefs generate the thoughts we think, which impact the emotions we feel, which influence the decisions we make, and the actions we take. When we feel inadequate, we’re more likely to take inadequate action which ultimately reinforces the beliefs we have about ourselves.
I see this truth in my own life. If I believe I haven’t been a good enough friend, I will hesitate out of embarrassment or shame and be less likely to make the “just-checking-in” phone call I might otherwise make. Feeling less talented around writing or painting can easily keep me from sitting down to write or pulling out my art supplies. A friendship contracts and shrivels from lack of contact. A creative spirit is stunted and possibly withers altogether. In both cases, a form of premature death is experienced.
I see this correlation in the lives of my clients, too, where their doubt about being and doing enough hampers them from living happy, whole lives. Recently a client admitted her bedroom, which she would like to turn into a restful sanctuary space, was stacked high with papers and magazines and books dedicated to weight-loss.
“What does that give you,” I asked, “to have all of that information piled up like that?”
“It gives me the feeling that I haven’t done enough…the magic bullet is out there and I just have to keep looking for it,” she replied.
“How much weight have you lost?” I asked, knowing she is also working with a weight-loss expert.
“30 pounds in 3 months,” she replied proudly.
“That is seriously, fantastic!” I said. “What about that accomplishment isn’t enough?”
She looked at me confused, so I pressed her. “If what you are doing is working, why are you keeping all these other pieces of information on hand? What is it costing you, this belief that what you are doing isn’t enough? “
“It’s costing me peace of mind,” she said, realization crossing her face. “It’s costing me the satisfaction of having taken weight off. It’s costing me a relaxing space to retreat and reflect.”
What can we do to end this vicious cycle of comparing our efforts to what others are up to and finding ourselves lacking? When faced with other dangerous scenarios, like say a fire, we’ve been taught to take decisive, protective action and stop, drop and roll.
I suggest these three same steps are applicable when feelings of inadequacy arise.
STOP. Stop playing the comparison game immediately. This de-motivating game leaches joy from your spirit and pulls you into a downward spiral.
DROP. Drop into your body. When you feel like you don’t measure up, your mind-body knows it. Inadequacy manifests in noisy, mean conversations in our heads. It spreads to our hearts and sadness and shame move through our blood and bones. Notice, for example, how your chest feels heavy or how your jaw and shoulders feel tight. Notice the thoughts you were thinking and the story you were telling yourself about how and where you don’t measure up.
ROLL. Roll out curiosity. Ask yourself: what do I get by comparing myself? What is it costing me to feel inadequate? Roll out a new line of thoughts: what if I am enough just the way I am? What if the actions I am taking right now are enough? What is the most kind and loving thing I can do for myself in this moment?
Once you are safely out of the danger zone, you’ll find you’re more likely to have the energy and motivation to do what you need to do. If it is enough to go for a slow, no-judgment, three-mile jog, then you’re more likely to lace up your shoes and get outside. If it is enough to lose weight with the life-style plan you are on, you’ll be more willing to toss out the extraneous ideas that clutter your mind and house. If it is enough to play with paint for the sheer joy of creating, then you’ll be more likely to break out the paints.
“The ultimate end goal is the sense of enoughness,” explains Alia Crum. “It’s all individual. If you’re thinking, every day, that you haven’t done enough, that is problematic.”
Believing we are not enough – doing enough, being enough – can lead us directly towards actions which further underscore this belief. Literally, it can be a deadly belief.
Believe in your enoughness. It will be what saves you.
If you would like to explore your own “enoughness” I will be happy to be your thought-partner.
Let’s boost your sense of contentment and satisfaction with a FREE coaching session.
Give yourself the gift of space and time to reflect. You can, of course, do this on your own some rainy afternoon, sitting with your journal.
And, the reality is, we very rarely give ourselves this time and space. Contact me today, your freedom to be YOU is waiting.
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