When everyone is posting their success all over social media, it’s hard to avoid comparison. But it’s important to keep your self-evaluations in check, especially now.
We’re all used to a certain level of productivity and accomplishment. So as we begin week five of our collective social distancing efforts, the question “how are you doing?” is a tough one answer! Social media might have you believing that everyone else is “winning” right now. But before you start to compare, keep a few things in check.
Psychologist Tom Golightly shares three things to keep in mind before you count yourself less than others. He shares how seeing the success of others can sometimes backfire.
Avoid Comparison in the Age of Coronavirus
We’ve all seen the motivational memes encouraging us while in “quarantine” to learn a language, start a business or make some other gigantic leap in personal growth and development. As we start week five of our collective social distancing effort and schools being out, we can engage in some pretty deflating self-evaluation in which our feelings of efficacy and worth take a huge hit. While seeking online motivational boosts is an important part of making it through, avoiding comparisons is becoming a more frequent and intense challenge. It’s becoming imperative to remind ourselves that growth is most often a step-by-step process, rarely occurring by leaps and bounds, especially in times of upheaval in our lives. The following are three suggestions to keep our self-evaluations in check:
This is a Marathon, not a sprint
Consistent effort, not spectacular effort is going to help get us through. Social media comparison has always been a thing, but lately when we see one person doing the awesome home-school lesson plan, another with the perfect in-home workout, yet another executing the gourmet recipe, or that amazing Tik Tok, then we tend to put all of these things together and assume that everyone is doing all of these things, all the time in all of these ways and we are losing each day of quarantine. We feel like we need to give a herculean effort, and bring incredible ideas or energy all day, every day. When we don’t measure up to that standard, we become anxious or create some feelings of low self-worth. Based on these comparisons, we might pull away from others, feel discouraged and maybe get a bit grumpier or distant in our parenting/interpersonal behavior.
We aren’t “losing” each day of social distancing, it’s important to remind ourselves to stay the course and be consistent in our effort. Much like in a marathon, we aren’t sprinting 26 miles, we have to maintain our pace, and have the discipline to not do too much, too quickly, which leads to burnout. Just do what you can every day to make it through, every once-in-a-while, for a special occasion, doing something big or grandiose, but not every day. There is some good research based on behaviors of submariners and space station astronauts which help provide some guidance about tight spaces, monotony and a limited pool of people to interact with for months at a time. Most of it is being consistent, with moments of brilliance mixed in. We aren’t losing the quarantine game when we don’t do all the things all the time. As Dory from Finding Nemo would say, “Just keep swimming!”
Evaluate the heartening/encouraging moments instead of the day as a whole
We are all being required to play more roles, in limited spaces with limited resources. When we evaluate our competence at the end of a day, we tend to look at the entire experience, which leads us to get a little too black-and-white and label full days as good and bad. We fall into the trap of ignoring the nuances and uniqueness of each moment in time. This really impacts our motivation to try to meet the demands of all these roles over time. We lose patience with ourselves and others which shows up in our parenting, our relationships and sometimes in our productivity. Even when we have days that don’t seem to go well, generally there are still really good things that happened that we did well. While we didn’t do amazing at getting our task list done for work, we might have had a good craft time with the kids, helped our high schooler nail that homework assignment or finally got those shelves mounted. Take a bit more time to be deliberate in your self-evaluation and spend some energy finding the smaller moments that still went well, this will go a long way in helping us in finding worth/satisfaction to stay engaged in the never-ending multi-tasking we’re doing these days. It will be worth the effort to build from some of the good things, instead of only seeing the bad trends.
Your effort is always acceptable
What if I really can’t find anything positive about what I did, failed at most or all of my plans, or I just decided to sit on the couch and eat chips all day while I binge-watched three seasons of Friends? The ideal is not going to happen often. Much like we would give people a compassionate response, extend that kindness towards yourself and accept that maybe we needed to be a little less on top of things that day. Self-acceptance is being okay with all of our need. Generally, it’s best to plan self-care strategies, but if we aren’t even doing a good-enough effort in a day, then be forgiving. Commit to get up and do a little better in one or two areas. Remember, that change is usually gradual and getting back to focusing on the step-by-step processes keeps our goals/expectations manageable and doesn’t give the overwhelm associated with the expectations of a lifestyle makeover.