Every day, we make comparisons, which is another way of saying we make judgments. Sometimes this is done consciously and other times subconsciously.
Every comparison we make has two possible outcomes. Either we feel like we’re better than someone else, or we feel like we’re worse than the person we’re comparing ourselves to. These comparisons take place in every aspect of our lives, whether it’s how many kids we have, how much money we make, or even what level of spirituality or calling we have.
If we feel we’re always better than someone else, what sin are we committing? Obviously the “sin of pride,” which, by the way, does not increase our self-worth but may give us an emotional lift. This boost, however, is short-lived because we cannot feel better about ourselves over the long term when the assumption is based on the misfortune of others. Having a nicer car or a bigger home than someone else will never bring us true happiness. It’s an illusion that far too many people fall victim to.
On the other end of the scale, we have comparisons that leave us feeling less than someone else. In my experience, this category of judgments is more prevalent and therefore more damaging. If I feel like someone else is more successful, better looking, more popular, has a nicer looking body or is a better parent because their kids are better behaved, then where does that leave me?
Sadly, having worked with so many people who struggle with these types of comparisons, I see the outcome is pretty dire. Depression, discouragement, stress and even thoughts of ending one’s life are often accompanied by a lifelong feeling of not being good enough. But there is one view that can actually help our self-worth, and it is not based on either one of these conditions.
The only comparison that prevents both pride and pity is comparison of our current self with our past self. Here’s how this works: Let’s take our spirituality as an example and go back 20 years, 10 years, five years, last year and now. We can look at our habits of saying our daily prayers and regular scripture study. If 20 years ago I was not very active spiritually, but over time I started making it more of a priority in my life, clearly there’s an improvement made. If five years ago I was more dedicated and last year more consistent but this year I not only read but I actually study and apply the scriptures in my daily life, then I have made tremendous progress.
To acknowledge this improvement in my spirituality is not a prideful statement. I’m not putting myself above anyone else because it’s a factual statement. Same as if I’ve lost the weight that I’ve been struggling with all these years, and I’m now in a better physical shape. Again, I’ve improved in that area of my life and therefore feel better about myself.
Our self-esteem can improve when it is based on the hard work and progress we’ve made in different aspects of our lives. It is vitally important for us to regularly step back and acknowledge that we are doing better — it adds fuel to our tank and helps us to remain motivated and eager to continue to make progress.
What if we compare ourselves to our past self and see that we’re actually not doing as well in a certain category? What if 20 years ago I was in tip-top shape but over time with work, family and other requirements, I have neglected that part of my life? I’m not eating as healthy, I lack energy, I sleep poorly and my weight is not where I’d like it to be. My first question would be, is this still a priority in my life? Clearly taking good care of our body should be a priority because it can influence every other aspect of our lives when physically we are at a sub-par level.
This information is not meant to prompt us to beat ourselves up. The second and more important question then is, what am I willing to do about it? What’s my plan for restoring my physical health? Perhaps I can start to walk a few miles each day, lower the intake of junk food and get to bed before midnight.
If you are up to the challenge, I suggest that you take time to assess your life. Take a look at the various categories that are important and meaningful to you, and then go back in time like the examples above. Be honest in your assessments, and you’ll discover areas of growth and improvement. Be kind and acknowledge your success, and you will feel better. By the same token, take a look at areas where things are not going in the direction you would like. Make a commitment to formulate a plan of action, and you’ll see great results. Sometimes we might need someone to help us along the way, like a mentor or a coach or just a “walking buddy.”
Remember that you are capable of amazing things. I would love to hear your success stories!
Dr. Elia Gourgouris is a nationally known speaker, relationship coach, and the president of LDSCoaching.com. With over 20 years of experience, he has inspired thousands of individuals and couples to find greater happiness and fulfillment, both in their careers and their personal lives. He holds a degree from UCLA and a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Gourgouris speaks to groups around the country regarding women’s issues, self esteem, communications skills, and relationships. He is also a favorite presenter at both BYU and BYU-ID Education Weeks, and Time Out for Women conferences. He is the author of “DTR: What You Need to Know Before You Get Married” and he has an upcoming CD entitled “The Multi-Platinum Marriage: Going from Just Surviving to Thriving!” He and his wife, Sona, live near Boulder, Colorado, with their children.