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Episode 218: Comparison


[00:00:00] And hello to you, and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast, the personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be the best you can be. I'm psychotherapist Richard Nicholls, and this is episode 218. It's titled Comparison, and if you're ready, we'll start the show.[00:00:30]

Comparison is the Thief of Joy. Said Theodore Roosevelt over a hundred years ago. He knew it then and we all still know it now, but do we remember that? Probably not enough, I'd say. Especially when we so often compare ourselves the wrong way, in the wrong direction. We compare everyone else's best to our worst. And focusing on the things that we see as the worst [00:01:00] part of ourselves is not an ingredient in the recipe for success.

Social comparisons can be useful though. They can inspire us and show us what we are capable of. Social comparisons can help us to say That could be me. When we see someone achieve something, which is why athletes don't like going first in group competitions because they set the bar for everyone else to then aim to beat. Which is so often the case.

We see it [00:01:30] in so many places. You can watch films that have been talked about for decades as being the best films of all time, the best TV shows of all time, and most are very good for their time, but rewatching decades later, it's easy to think that they could be better. Like, that section dragged on longer than it needed to and that acting was a bit stiff.

My son's really into Star Wars has been for years, and [00:02:00] I know it's a controversial thing to say, but I think it's overrated. I mean, they're all right films for what they are, but do they really deserve such an enormous fan base? But it set the bar. And the recent TV shows on Disney Plus are glorious in comparison. And not just because of the technological advances that we've made over the last 30 or 40 years.

But because of the effort that was been put into it, [00:02:30] because of the passion and enthusiasm of the people involved, and I know that's what's made the difference because of the other new stuff with bigger budgets and just as good tech, but less effort. I'm pretty sure that if we were to go back in time and watch the original Shakespeare productions, we wouldn't be blown away by the acting or the staging.

But every historian who's interested in the theatre would [00:03:00] seriously consider cutting their leg off to have a worm hole in time to go back and do that. And I think they'd be disappointed. And I think they'd miss their leg. Because every time someone sets a bar, it creates an attempt to beat it. So comparison isn't always a bad thing.

You just need to compare in the right way and with the right intentions. Look to others to inspire you rather than dishearten you. [00:03:30] And I know that's not easy because so many other things get in the way. Self-esteem, confidence, helplessness. There was a study once with the snazzy titled report, the Powerful Disregard Social Comparison Information.

It was done by Joris Lammers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Hello to you. Joris If you're listening slash watching, cuz this all goes out on YouTube. And in that study they asked [00:04:00] students to think and write about times when they felt powerful, when they felt in control, when they felt they had an influence over people. Or some of the participants were asked to think about the opposite. The organizers asked them to think and write about a time when someone else had an influence over them and they felt powerless. Remember my often repeated phrase, the [00:04:30] brain doesn't know the difference between fact and fiction. This yet again proves a part of it as true. These sorts of imaginary experiences really do change our mindset. After they'd done this little experiment. After they're done this little thought experiment, thinking about either being powerful or powerless, they then had to read about some fictitious student who did really well.

And then they were asked some questions about [00:05:00] themselves. So as to rate themselves on six traits. They asked to write about, rate themselves rather on how bright they thought of themselves, how competent, how much of a good student, how hard working, how likable, and how successful. What they found is that if they'd been primed beforehand to feel powerful, then they didn't compare themselves to this fictitious genius, but [00:05:30] the other group did. And they found the same thing when instead of getting them to write about real experiences, all they were asked to do was a word search. And circle 10 words. One group had six words that were related to feeling powerful, which were, uh, powerful for one, influence, control, authority, leader and manager. [00:06:00] And the other group had six words out of the 10 that were related to being powerless.

The opposite, you see. Which was powerless, dependent, submissive, uh, subjected, subordinate, and follower. And they had a control group as well that just said 10 random filler words. So this is just simply being exposed to words that are related to feeling powerless or powerful. And it had the same effect when they then had to read a newspaper article, [00:06:30] which was interviews with students written in such a way as to rather make you feel bad if you compared yourself to them.

Or good. It was far more likely to have an effect on you if you've been primed beforehand to feel powerless. That's how stupidly suggestible our brain is. So we need to use this to our advantage rather than our disadvantage, and that means firstly. Being aware that we can fall for this so that we can [00:07:00] challenge ourselves if we go down that everyone hates me, I'm a piece of crap rabbit hole. Cuz it obviously feeds itself as you then start comparing your worst with everyone else's best.

Once you're aware of what you're doing and why you feel as bad as you do. You can then start doing something about it, because comparing yourself and your life in this way is literally the opposite of gratitude and appreciation and being appreciative of what you [00:07:30] have in life, grateful for what you can do rather than resentful over the things that you can't is a far better ingredient in the recipe for a happy life.

Although, what I'm not saying here is that we should go around thinking that we shouldn't feel anything negative because there's always someone worse off than you. I mean, it's absolutely true, yes, but it completely invalidates how you feel when you're in pain. There will always [00:08:00] be someone worse off than you, but by that definition, that means out of nearly 8 billion people on earth, there's only one person that's allowed to be unhappy,

disappointed or frustrated and that's ridiculous, but that's what Cheer up, there's always someone worse off than you means. I mean, if it makes you feel better than, sure. Think about that one person. Maybe imagine getting that phone call that says, Hey there, it's [00:08:30] the emotion police here. Guess what? You're the one who's allowed to be sad today cuz nobody has it worse than you.

No one wants to be them and if genuinely it makes you feel more grateful for what you have going on in life then. Go for it. But seeing as these studies that Joris Lammers did shows us that we can influence how we feel about ourselves so subtly that it helps us to bounce off any outside influences that have the potential to drag us down than we [00:09:00] could do with spending more time in our head thinking about the things we

can control not the things we can't. It'll give us more power and authority over our life and stop anyone else's successes or popularity or whatever from being anything to do with us. We simply need to clamp down on comparing ourselves, and it seems it's not that hard if doing a word search with inspirational, motivational, powerful [00:09:30] words

is enough then, Well, crikey I should be promoting my hypnosis tracks on Patreon a bit more often. But if you are not a patron of mine and you wanna listen to some. There are some shorter free ones on my website. There's a link in the show notes to subscribe to them, but it does mean making the time to lie down or sit back and relax for a bit, rather than listening to a podcast while you do the ironing or whatever.

But if you've gotta do it, Do it. [00:10:00] Now you know that it'll do you good. Anything that can even subtly influence your self-esteem is going to improve the way that you see yourself in comparison to others. One thing that can really help with that is to develop or recognize your sense of purpose in life.

And I know existentialism is a big topic. It's got its own entire modality within psychotherapy, and there are probably millions of hours of podcast content out there all about it. [00:10:30] But suffice to say, having meaning in life, having a purpose is helpful no matter what that purpose is, no matter what you find meaning in.

And we know this from plenty of studies into sociometer theory. Part of which is that positive feedback from other people boosts our self-esteem because it signals acceptance by them, the opposite of rejection. And natural selection has long [00:11:00] trained us to be fearful of rejection. You can influence people's self-esteem with what they did in these studies was a fake version of Facebook and you get to control how many likes their selfies get.

And what we see is that there is an anomaly in the studies. There are some people who seem more immune to the negative effects of not getting external validation, and it's those that have a purpose in their life. And we know from [00:11:30] other studies that having meaning in life, having a sense of purpose is great for mental health.

But that doesn't mean we have to start up a charity or try to end child poverty. And it doesn't mean that we have to have as many children as possible. Someone I spoke to recently told me how they saw a post on social media about having children being the only thing in the world that can bring meaning into your life.

And then if you don't have kids, you may as well be worthless [00:12:00] and it's nonsense. There is absolutely nothing to back that up at all. And I'd actually go as far as to say it's literally the opposite that's true. In that seeing your only purpose in life is to be a parent. The only way to find meaning in your life is through the existence of somebody else.

That's actually pretty detrimental to our mental health. The only place where you can find meaning and purpose [00:12:30] is inside of you. It's in your values, your actions, your life, not anyone else's, not even your children's. So don't even go there. Don't even think about going there. Yes, if you have children, there can be a part of your purpose, but you absolutely need to expand upon that because, unless you're a carer for a severely disabled child,

there comes a time when you are not [00:13:00] required, when you are absolutely surplus to requirements to them. And so we should be, I do want my son to need me. I want him to love me. I'm hoping he does. I think he does. And thinking that you love someone because you feel that you need them around you. That sounds like an abusive relationship to be honest.

Sure, have kids if you want them, and don't if you don't. Studies have consistently shown us that there is no correlation [00:13:30] with greater long-term happiness and having children anyway. Having kids doesn't protect us from feeling that life is meaningless and won't protect us from depression or anxiety. In all honesty, the opposite seems to be the case.

Having children gives us more to worry about. We can get our purpose from anything that we do. I know a lot of people associate purpose and meaning in life with altruism, kindness, and that could be good. [00:14:00] Yes. But like I say, we don't have to go tin rattling in the town center, run marathons or try to guilt sell our mates raffle tickets for a cause they couldn't care less about. Your purpose can be your own business.

It can simply be to enjoy and appreciate art, literature or music. If there's something you do in life that makes you forget what the time is, then you might find that there's something in that that is meaningful to you. [00:14:30] And living a meaningful life might be all the purpose you need. If there was something that you loved to do when you were young, but life got in the way.

You might find that there's something about the adult version of it that could bring you real joy. It's not always about fighting injustice. I mean, it can of course, but it doesn't have to be. It could be dancing. Amateur dramatics, costume [00:15:00] making. Doing anything that gives you a sense of accomplishment can be a purpose.

Even web designers will say that they feel it's their purpose in life. I was at a conference last weekend and was chatting to the guy who runs the webhealer web design company and you can see the passion that he has for it. And I've chatted with people on web design forums before who say the same thing.

I quite like helping my colleagues update their websites, you see. Sorting out someone's website, [00:15:30] it's a little bit like being a therapist. Yeah. Yes. Bear with me with that. But it's a bit like being a therapist. You start with something that somebody isn't happy with and then you strip it back a bit, strip it back to the basics, and together you come up with a new framework.

It's still got the same aims, goals and history, but something that's more appropriate for what's needed [00:16:00] for a modern experience. And once it no longer needs any updating, and we've installed some software on there, so, that they can add bits in for themselves. They can log in, make their own changes. They don't need a web designer, and the site runs itself, just ticks over quite smoothly.

Without any errors from any missing files, cuz sometimes old websites use external services to load certain scripts. You see. And those services don't exist. They get deleted [00:16:30] sometimes or the location gets changed. Things don't function properly. Cause you'd always expect the old script to be there and throws up errors when it can't run it.

It is just like being a therapist and there's great pride in helping to fix all of that, whether that's with a website or with a client. So I, I totally. Why something as ordinary as coding and color palette matching can become someone's purpose. And if it's yours, then don't belittle it. [00:17:00] Find what makes you happy.

Even in the oddest of places, I saw something on Twitter once from someone that said, I Know I do a lot of tweeting about politics and disability and mental health and stuff, but I'm really at my happiest when I'm just chatting about hats. And I thought, I like that. If you know you are happy when you talk about simple things, then go out of your way to do that.

Make debating about hats your purpose, or Harry Potter or Star [00:17:30] Wars, or equality or capitalism or socialism or hats. Sometimes it really can be that simple. So you do that if you want to, and don't if you don't, no matter what. I'll be off for now, but as always, I'll be back soon enough. If you're a Patreon supporter or a premium subscriber on Apple Podcasts, then there'll be an episode out on Monday.

As always. But I do make these little five minute videos that go out every Friday on YouTube as well. So [00:18:00] if you want to watch those go and have a, a watch of those, maybe I'll add those and turn them into audio tracks and add them onto the podcast feed for everybody to listen to when you are out and about, so you don't have to sit at a screen and watch it on YouTube, maybe. If I do, they'll be added every Friday, like a little five minute Friday thing for you all.

Yeah. Yeah, that wouldn't hurt, would it? That'd be quite a good idea. So if you enjoy what I put out there and you want to support the show, come along onto Patreon where [00:18:30] you get loads more content throughout the week to keep your mental health and your optimistic outlook high. The link is in the show notes as always, right.

I'm gonna love you and leave you for today, but like I say, I'll be back before you know it anyway, see you later folks. Take care.