The Upside Of Envy: Productive Comparison

Productive comparison

Don’t compare. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: comparison 1) isn’t helpful, and 2) will kill your excitement and enthusiasm faster than anything else around.

But saying ‘don’t compare’ is sooo much easier said than done.

I know the dangers of comparison, and yet I still often fall into the trap, often without even noticing. I’ll be scanning through Instagram and I’ll start feeling a little down on myself without knowing exactly why.

In my more self-aware moments, I realize it’s because I’m comparing myself. I’m not as cute in photos (seriously, how do some people take such good photos mid-long run? I look like a drowned rat after running 16 miles), I didn’t run as fast, my running tights aren’t as cute … whatever.

Upside of envy

Making Comparison Productive

I can’t speak for anyone else, but try as I may, I know that some degree of comparison will always happen, even when I know I shouldn’t. So I’ve developed a little productive comparison workflow:

  1. Don’t Compare
    • To the extent I can, remove comparison from my life.
    • Don’t compare myself to others, where I was 10 years ago, or to where I wish I was
  2. Don’t wallow in what’s left
    • Make it useful
    • Practice productive comparison
    • Be self-aware and use comparison/envy to move me forward
    • Have the right mindset to learn and grow from that comparison/envy

If you think about it the right way, there can be an upside of envy.

(Note: for the purpose of this article, I’m using the terms ‘comparison’ and ‘envy’ interchangeably. While they are different, in this post I’m talking about those comparisons where we don’t fare well and we’re left feeling envious of others and down on ourselves.)

Use It To Teach Yourself About What You Want

You can use your envy to figure out what is important to you and what you value.

This requires more than a little bit of radical self-honesty: Why you are envious?

Be very specific.

What does your envy tell you about what you want to accomplish?

When you’ve more specifically pinpointed what you want, find small, actionable steps to move you in the direction you want to go.

If there is nothing you can do, if there is no small step you can take to move you in the direction of what you want, chances are your envy is a version of regret. Acknowledge the jealousy, but move on.

Personally, I’ve recently been in a video mindset (check out my brand new YouTube Channel!) and watching (and often becoming envious of) talented and successful TV and video presenters. At first glance, I was jealous of them for different reasons, but ultimately, it came down to one thing: I was (and am) jealous of how comfortable they are in front of the camera.

What small, actionable step can I take to move me closer to what they are doing? Get in front of the camera and practice!

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Use It To Learn And Improve

Consider what the person you are envious of did differently than you.

Are you willing to do those things to get similar results? Are those steps realistic and actionable for you?

No? Then this is idle jealousy and wallowing in it will do you no good.

If yes, what changes can you make to move you closer to goal?

If you are jealous of someone else’s speed on a run, consider: are you willing to do the extra speed work required to get faster? Are you willing to head to the track on a regular basis? Are you willing to put in the time at the gym to gain the extra strength that is required?

The exact accomplishments of that person may still not be realistic for you (I hate to break it do you, but all the dedication in the world will not make you as fast as Usain Bolt), but if you are willing to do (and actually do) the work, you will get faster (or whatever your goal is).

You just have to figure out what actions you have to take to get you there.

And looking at what the person you are jealous of (who successfully did the thing) did, can be a good, real-life template of what is required to move you in the right direction.

Use It As An Inspiration

Sometimes you may be jealous of someone for something you know isn’t realistic for you either now or in the future (at least in your current reality).

It can still inspire you to work harder for a version of that thing that is realistic for you.

It can show you what is possible.

Looking at the success of many super successful bloggers fits into this category for me. I look at what the best of the best are doing, and while it in no way resembles my reality, I am still envious/inspired by it.

Maybe it is possible for me to accomplish similar things, but I don’t (currently) have the necessary imagination to see those things happening in my life. I can’t create enough small actionable steps to move me to where some of them are.

But right now, I can turn my envy into inspiration.

That is enough.

What about you? Have you used envy to your benefit?

Upside of envy

Sara is a runner, running coach, writer, blogger, and a lover of all things written.

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