Hi there. This is Kristi Angevine, and I’m your host for the Habits On Purpose podcast. Welcome to Episode #48. In this episode, I'll discuss the habit of comparing despair, and how it reveals our subconscious beliefs and desires.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now, here's your host, Physician and Master Certified Life Coach, Kristi Angevine.
Hello, hello, everyone. So, I have two really fun announcements before we dive into discussing one of my favorite habits to discuss, which is compare and despair. I paused as I was saying that because I was thinking, I have a lot of favorite habits to discuss. And many of them are habits that I've been expert on, and I've learned so much about; that's why they are my favorites. But I have a very big list of favorites, but this is definitely one of them.
Before we dive into this favorite, here are my two announcements: First of all, we did a drawing for a free copy of Dr. Katrina Ubell's new book. So, one of my lucky listeners gets a copy for free. We did our drawing, and the name was drawn, and the lucky winner, is Jennifer Graham.
When I reached out and told her, she said the following, “I can't believe it. I'm so excited. I've been listening to your podcast since the beginning. And every week, I look forward to the next episode. I love your personal stories. And also, the quick practical tips we can implement right away. Keep them coming.” Well, Jennifer, thank you so much. It's so great to have you listen, and I know you're going to totally love Katrina Ubell’s new book. It will be coming in the mail to you very, very soon.
The second announcement is, enrollment for the Habits On Purpose for Physicians Small Group Coaching Program for Women Physicians is open until December 30. If you want help applying the concepts and the tools that you hear on the podcast, so that you can make some lifelong habit changes, check out HabitsOnPurpose.com/hopp5.0.
So, let's dive in to compare and despair. Compare and despair is a habit that I have personally won several gold medals for, and many of my clients are expert at it, too. I wanted to take some time to examine it here, so you can better understand it if you find that it is something that you do, as well.
My compare and despair started at a young age. I can remember doing it in elementary school. Like, I have these vague notions of comparing the way I was doing my work to maybe some other five-year-old, and how they were doing things, or what my clothes look like and what their clothes look like. Or, comparing myself, not very favorably, to kids on the playground and what they were doing and what I was doing.
And then, in middle school, I, for sure, would almost consistently every single day, compare the clothes I wore to other people's clothes. I would judge my social awkwardness relative to what I perceived as ease in others. I compared my intelligence to other people's intelligence. If a friend got feedback on an essay that they wrote, that was really good, I used that as proof that I was not good at critical thinking, and that I would never do anything that required creativity.
This habit persisted in college. It was there in medical school. It was there in residency. It would come out in going to parties where I would compare either my appearance or my comfort level to other people. I would compare my ability to maintain small talk, or compare my vocabulary to other people's vocabulary. It would come out when I was rounding at the hospital as a resident. I would do it when I was in the operating room learning how to operate.
It is a habit that comes out when I was around people that I didn't know well, like at school events for my kids or going to medical conferences. Or ironically, it would come out at wellness conferences or coaching events. And thanks for the work that I've done with my habits, compare and despair is something that I don't do very often today, but it's not entirely gone. But now, thankfully, I just notice it more quickly and I understand it so much better now.
It is definitely a habit that is a highly opportunistic one. So, if it's something that you experience, it's extremely normal. Let's talk about why it happens. Compare and despair is like any other habit, it is a habit that we learn. A teacher of mine, Derrick Scott, says, “No baby comes out saying, ‘Does my butt look big? Oh no, compared to that baby, my butt looks so big.’” No baby ever does this. But we learn to compare ourselves unfavorably to others.
And because we learn this habit, it is something that we can unlearn, and we can change. So, let's define it, flush out how it presents, and then I'll discuss why we do it and how it relates to our unmet desires. What exactly is compare and despair? Compare and despair is where you compare yourself unfavorably, and then you proceed to self-criticism, pessimism, defeat, despair.
You make differences that you see between yourself and others, an indictment on you as a person. It's basically, another way of beating yourself up. And as such, it's a very opportunistic habit; it will come out at any possible moment. And since it's an automatic habit, it has served some purpose, on some level. It is a solution that we learned.
And as I said a moment ago, since it's learned, once we understand it and once we can question the beliefs that support its existence, and the beliefs that are embedded inside it, then we can decide if we want to continue doing it. Or, if we want to change what we believe and therefore, how we act.
Now, compare and despair can also be the act of comparing yourself to how you used to be. Where you compare your current fitness level today to your fitness level of 10 years ago. Or, you compare yourself to how you want to be. Or, you compare your ease with socializing now, to where you thought you would have been when you're in your 40s.
Before you can unlearn compare and despair and rewire a new habit, you actually have to become aware of when it happens. The first step in changing is always awareness of what the habit looks like for you, and how it shows up for you in your life.
So, I'm going to share some examples. You are going to know that you're doing compare and despair by; number one, recognizing the behavior as you're taking it. Or, recognizing the feeling you have when you do it. So, contemplate this question, where might I be comparing myself unfavorably as an automatic habit?
Here's some examples of how it shows up for many people: You're scrolling social media and you think, “That person has it all figured out. Her life looks gorgeous. She's so articulate. I don't know how I'll ever get there, my life looks nothing like that.” Or, you hear of colleagues’ success, or their promotion, or an award, and you feel really disappointed that it's not you.
You compare your chapter 1 to someone else's chapter 20. Or, maybe you see a group of people chatting, and laughing and having fun, and you think, “That's never going to be me, I don't ever fit in. I don't have friends like that.” Or, you read a really great book, and then you use that as ammunition to judge your own ability to write.
Or, compare and despair might show up for you as self-consciousness at an event or at a party. “Look at how comfortable those people seem. Oh my gosh, look at her outfit. I look so shabby. These people have no trouble with small talk, like I do. I don't even know what to say. I shouldn't even be here.”
Or, you're out exercising, and you're running or you're biking, and you get passed by somebody going faster than you, who looks like they're not even breaking a sweat. And you start beating yourself up, “Why can't I even keep up with her? She's probably 50 years older than I am. What's my problem?”
Or, you're listening to a speaker, maybe you're watching a TED talk or you're listening to somebody at your national conference speak, and you have a feeling of awe and respect. And it slowly morphs into a sense of your own personal inadequacy.
For you, there might be predictable circumstances in which you do compare and despair. It might come out more on social media, it might come out in groups of people that you don't know well, at work conferences, while you're working out. It might come out around certain groups of acquaintances.
In general, no matter where it comes out, the feelings that are associated with compare despair are usually in the family of things like; disconnection, not belonging, loneliness, inadequacy. It also might be things like insecurity, anxiety, discouragement, self-consciousness. So, at this point, you might be thinking, “Great. Well, I'll be more aware of my tendency to compare and despair. But how is that going to help me stop it?”
Well, the way to change any habit involves two critical pieces. First, comes awareness. And second comes understanding. You can't change something that you don't understand. But you also can't change something that you're not aware of.
When it comes to changing a habit like this, there's no quick fix. There's no hack. Rather, there are gradual processes of first becoming aware of it when it happens; what you do, how it feels. And then, after that awareness is there, then you can gradually understand the habit.
Every habit we have developed as a response that served some purpose. Developed as a response that had some positive intent, even if today we don't like the consequences. And once we understand what there is to learn about why we have a habit, that's when we can start to change it.
Why do we compare and despair? There is no universal, blanket answer. What is universal is that every habit you have served a purpose and had a positive intent, even if it's not obvious at first glance today. And, even if you see more negatives to this habit than positives.
So, for you, you engage in compare and despair for reasons that are unique to you and your system. But you do it because on some level, to some part of you, it seems or seemed helpful at one point in time. Let's think about this.
Maybe, a part of you believes that if you didn't compare yourself unfavorably, that you would stop striving to be your best. Maybe, there's a part of you that worries that if you didn't do compare and despair, you'd become arrogant.
Maybe, there's an old belief from middle school, that the reason that you don't have more friends is because you're unlikable. And if you let go of that belief, you can no longer explain years of feeling like an outsider. And the sadness of that might be worse than the standing hypothesis of being unlikable. So, compare and despair would make sense, because it helps you hold on to this old belief.
Or, maybe compare and despair ensures that you feel too discouraged to do anything concrete towards a big goal. And this ensures that you don't have to feel disappointed if you fail, or you don't miss the mark.
I know for me, one of the reasons compare and despair was really useful, was as awful as I felt when I was doing compare and despair, when I did it, I ultimately avoided things like, trying new things, learning new things, writing, sending emails, experimenting.
And by avoiding this, it helped me avoid vulnerability, exposure, potentially being evaluated, being judged by myself, being judged by others. So, one way you can learn why you might compare and despair is to ask yourself; what do I get to avoid when I'm comparing and despairing? What am I afraid would happen if I didn't compare and despair?
So, let me ask those again; what do I get to avoid when I compare and despair? And, what am I afraid would happen if I didn't compare and despair?
Now, the next aspect of compare and despair has to do with our desires. You may not enjoy the experience of comparing and despairing, but it isn't a sign of a personal failing. But it is a window into your desires. When it comes to desires, compare and despair reveals two main things; material desires, and emotional desires.
What if compare and despair was showing you things that you might want for yourself? Consider this, you probably don't have the tendency to compare and despair relative to things that don't interest you. Personally, I don't see a national dog show and think, “I'll never be that good.” And, I don't do that because I don't have any interest in national dog shows. I don't have any interest in all the things that would go into raising and training and showing a purebred dog in that way.
But when it comes to things that I do want for myself, those things are more charged. With those things, I'm more likely to have compare and despair show up. So, let's talk about the non-material and the emotional desires.
Compare and despair could be about something that you don't actually want for yourself, but the thing that you're responding to, is the emotional state, it’s the feeling that you think you would have if… So, say you're on social media and you flip past someone else's really casual but creative and thoughtfully done, beautiful family photo. Your brain, consciously or subconsciously, thinks, “They have it all together. That looks gorgeous.”
And then, you proceed to compare and despair. In this situation, the compare and despair might not be revealing that you have a desire to have a family photo just like theirs, but it might reveal that you want what you imagine their life must feel like.
You could ask yourself; what is it that you're craving? Is it the ideal of an unrushed life? Is it a sense of confidence? Is it the connection you think you would feel if you were in a booth of laughing friends? Maybe, you have no desire to actually do research, but when your colleague gets invited to present their findings at a conference, it's not the research you want to do, but it's the recognition.
When you imagine having the thing that prompts you to compare and despair, is there an emotional feeling that you want? You can find this out by asking yourself; what are you predicting that you would feel, if you could do or have the thing that you notice you're comparing yourself against? What would you make it mean if you have the thing that you're comparing yourself to?
In these ways, compare and despair, like all of our habits, reveal so much. And once we understand why we're doing it, how it makes sense, then we can move on to changing it. So, every time that you catch yourself engaging in compare and despair, you now get to say, “Oh, I'm doing that thing. This means there's something fascinating about my system that I can learn. Okay, what's going on here?”
“Is this a material desire? Or, is it a feeling that I want more of? I know I'm doing this for good reason. There's a part of me that feels it's necessary. So, I wonder what would be the risk of not doing it? Is it helping me avoid something?”
This type of really kind, compassionate, but thorough inquiry is how you can get to the bottom, and the root cause, of why you're doing this. And this is yet another instance, where curiosity is one of the most effective tools in the toolbox.
So now, you know that compare and despair is not a habit that indicates some sort of moral failing, it doesn't happen just because you are personally incompetent. And it doesn't mean anything about you as a person, or your potential to reach your goals. Like all of our habits, compare and despair is simply a way of responding to the world, that on some level, is useful, even if we don't like how it feels.
The way to change this habit is not to swat at it like you would mosquitoes. You can't just change it by saying, “I'm going to stop comparing and despairing,” or shifting away from the circumstances in which you do it, and making yourself do something else. The way you change it is you start with awareness, and then you move to understanding; these two pieces are absolutely mandatory.
So, figuring out your unique reasons why compare and despair makes sense to you comes down to asking two questions: What do I get to avoid when I'm comparing and despairing? And what am I afraid would happen if I didn't do this thing? And since compare and despair might also be a window into your material and emotional desires, now you can use it as a peep-hole to see what you might be ignoring, about what you might deeply crave in your life that's not there.
For those of you who are listening to this in real time, and you want to learn more about how to implement this into your real life, I encourage you to get on the email list at HabitsOnPurpose.com
And for women physicians who are interested in applying these concepts, alongside other physicians doing the exact same work of habit change, come on over to HabitsOnPurpose.com/hopp5.0.
The Habits On Purpose for Physicians small group coaching program is six months where we work together to work on unwinding, unpacking, and deeply understanding your habits, so you know exactly why you do what you do. So, that you can then design habits that give more than they take.
The enrollment for this next round closes December 30. And when you join, you will learn how to identify habituated thinking that doesn't serve you. You will start understanding how your habits formed as resourceful adaptive responses. And then, I'll teach you how to implement realistic plans so you can make sustainable changes.
When you do this, you're going to change how you experience intense emotions. And, you're going to stop beating yourself up for good. You will learn to default to curiosity and fierce self-compassion. So, this next round runs from January to June of 2023. We have weekly coaching calls, our own private online Slack community, where you can connect with other physicians doing the exact same work.
It would be my pleasure to have you in this next round. So, if you're interested go to HabitsOnPurpose.com/hopp5.0.
I hope, that all of you listening have a really great week and I will see you in the next episode.
If you want to learn more about how to better understand your patterns, stop feeling reactionary, and get back into the proverbial driver’s seat with your habits, you’ll want to join my email list. Which, you can find linked in the show notes, or if you go to HabitsOnPurpose.com, you’ll find it right there.
Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.