This week, a client in my mentorship program who’s leading the development of a brand-new community center, shared that while things are going really well, she’s also noticing a lot of uncomfortable feelings coming up in response to the work.

She wrote:

“Things are good, and I have waves of self-doubt and fear that make me anxious – Like, how can I possibly actually do this?

Often it comes in the form of a negative self-comparison to an imaginary other person who would be doing all this better.

What practice could I engage in to keep me out of comparison mode?”

In today’s episode, I offer six practices to soothe the inner voice of comparison.

If you sometimes hear a voice of comparison, self-doubt, and fear arise as you reach toward your goals, this is for you.

 

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This week, a client in my mentorship program who’s leading the development of a brand-new community center, shared that while things are going really well, with more and more organizations getting involved, she’s also noticing a lot of uncomfortable feelings coming up in response to the work.

I’ll share with you what she wrote to me, and I invite you to see if it sounds familiar:

She wrote:

“Things are good, and I have waves of self-doubt and fear that make me anxious – Like, how can I possibly actually do this?

Often it comes in the form of a negative self-comparison to an imaginary other person who would be doing all this better.

I’m wondering what practice I could engage in to keep me out of comparison mode, especially as more people get involved and I anticipate an increase in self-doubt/judgment coming up for me if I don’t pay attention?”

Now, in case you, too, hear voices of comparison, self-doubt, and fear arise as you reach toward your big goals, I want to share with you what I told my client and offer you six practices to soothe your inner voice of comparison.

Let’s dive in.

1. Instead of trying to stay out of comparison mode, expect that your brain will automatically compare, especially when you’re facing a new challenge.

In her book, Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown writes that research demonstrates that our human brains are physiologically designed to compare, but we have a choice about how we respond to the comparisons that arise.

Brown writes: “The bad news is that our hardwiring makes us default to comparison—it seems to happen to us rather than be our choice.

The good news is that we get to choose how we’re going to let it affect us.”

2. Give your inner voice of comparison a name.

When a part of ourselves is struggling, it can be as though we’re looking through a mask without realizing the mask is there. But when we give names to the struggling parts of ourselves, it’s like we take our masks off and can come into a conversation with them.

With that in mind, I invite you to give the part of yourself that compares or doubts or judges you a name. Make sure to choose a name the part would want to call itself, a name that is free from judgment.

I call the comparing part of myself the Monitor, which is a name that I learned from Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout. They write:

“The Monitor is the brain mechanism that manages the gap between where we are and where we are going…

Technically, it’s called the ‘discrepancy-reducing/-increasing feedback loop’ and ‘criterion velocity,’ but people fall asleep immediately when we say that, so we just call it the Monitor…

The Monitor knows (1) what your goal is; (2) how much effort you’re investing in that goal; and (3) how much progress you’re making. It keeps a running tally of your effort-to-progress ratio, and it has a strong opinion about what that ratio should be…[1]

So perhaps you’d also like to call your inner voice of comparison the Monitor. Or maybe, like Don Miguel Ruiz does in his book, the The Four Agreements, you’ll call this part the Judge. RuPaul calls hers the Inner Saboteur. Anne Lamott calls hers the itty-bitty-shitty committee. My son, Kai, calls his the Troll.

If you don’t find a name that resonates completely, go for good enough. You can always choose a name now and change it later.

Once you name this part, do your best to refer to it in third person, using its name. For example, rather than saying,  “I’m so hard on myself,” say “My Judge is being really hard on me.” Or, rather than saying, “I’m worried I’m not going fast enough,” you might say, “My Monitor is worried I’m not moving fast enough.”

Talking about our parts in the third person can feel awkward at first. But when we give our struggling parts names, it can become easier to gain space from them and witness when they pop up.

3. Practice noticing as soon as this part pops up.

Once you have a name for your inner voice of comparison, get curious and ask yourself:

  1. What does this part feel like in my body?
  2. What physical sensations and emotions do I notice when I begin to compare?
  3. What does this voice sound like in my head?
  4. What thoughts or stories does the comparing part tell?

The more awareness you can bring to the feelings and thoughts related to self-comparison, the quicker you can notice when they arise. And the sooner you can notice the feelings and thoughts arise, the sooner you can pause the comparing.

4. Once you notice this part pop up, welcome it.

Now, this step may feel a bit counterintuitive. My client’s question was—How do I stay out of comparison mode—not How do I embrace it?

However, most people find that when they try to avoid a part of themselves, it screams even louder to be heard. And when they turn toward the parts of themselves that are struggling, often these parts feel heard and can settle.

So, rather than trying to silence any part of yourself, see if you can turn toward it, welcome it through the eyes of a competent, compassionate witness and say hello, perhaps gently placing a hand on your heart, belly, face, or wherever you feel it in your body.

You may also imagine bringing in a competent protector beside you in your mind’s eye, a capable and warm-hearted being that you can count on to love and champion you. You may imagine a person from your family line, someone who nurtured you earlier in your life, a character from a story, movie, or book, a deity, someone famous such as an author or musician or a movement leader, or an animal, tree, or other being from the more than human realm.

If it feels too challenging to witness this part of yourself on your own or if paying attention to it turns up the volume of self-judgment, this is a sign that you may be touching a past trauma. I encourage you to seek support from a trusted, trauma-informed therapist or support person.

5. With this welcoming perspective, get curious about what the comparing part wants you to know.

Grab your journal, and ask it:

  1. What are you trying to tell me?
  2. What do you need?
  3. What does this situation need?
  4. Is there something that might be helpful for me to do here?

Write down everything this part says. If the comparing part shares a next step that you think would be helpful for you to take, ask yourself when you’ll take it. If you’re able to prioritize this step, put it on your to-do list. And if you’re unable to prioritize this step in the next month or so, put the step on your Later List, so that you can return to it when you are able.

6. Track self-appreciation.

Self-appreciation is a powerful antidote to self-comparison.

Self-appreciation is not conceit. Self-appreciation is the skill of giving thanks for who we get to be in this life.

So, from now on, I challenge you to track glimmers of self-appreciation. You might:

  1. Notice things you appreciate about yourself throughout your days and take a moment to feel the sense of pride in your body.
  2. When someone offers you a compliment, say, thank you.
  3. Keep emails expressing gratitude in a folder and/or a “Done List” of the goals you’ve accomplished.

When we practice appreciating ourselves, it becomes easier to recognize our areas for improvement without the painful jolt of self-judgment and enjoy the path toward reaching our vision.

I’d love to hear how this lands with you. Feel free to send me an email at katherine@callingsandcourage.com and let me know!

In the meantime, I’m wishing you a soft landing pad inside yourself so you can know you are safe and supported, even as you reach for scary new heights.

[1] Amelia and Emily Nagoski. Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. New York, NY: Random House, 2020.

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