I’ve got a confession to make.
I tend to compare myself to someone. As far as I can tell, I think she is better at rocking her habits than I am. When I look at how I’m doing, and I look at how she is doing, I get really self-critical and spiral into negative thoughts, guilt, and frustration. I mean, comparisons aside, she just has it going on. She’s on fire with her life, and she is fueled by joy. It looks so effortless and blissful, the way she goes through her routine each morning, like clockwork. It’s both inspiring and infuriating to see how her rituals transform her whole day and make her more creative, more productive, more alive in every moment.
Who is this magical woman who I keep getting caught up in comparing myself to?
She’s me. A former version of me.
One of the tricky things about habits is that, if we lose our rhythm, we can find ourselves in a really sticky trap where our past success becomes a present-day barrier.
So here’s the story. When I was 20 years old, I discovered meditation, and it rocked my world. I had been practicing yoga on and off since I was 16, yet savasana (corpse pose) had always been an afterthought for me. But meditation totally transformed my life. As soon as I discovered meditation, specifically insight meditation, a form of mindfulness meditation based in ancient Buddhist wisdom, I began gobbling up books, attending community gatherings (called sanghas in Buddhism), and most importantly, refining a morning meditation routine.
My routine was ON POINT, guys. I would wake up before the sunrise, giddy with anticipation. I would free write in my journal for 3 pages stream of consciousness style, then sit facing my window for 45 solid minutes of silent meditation. When I opened my eyes, I would see the sun rising through my college dorm window, take in the splendor of the new day, then rush to put on my running clothing and go for a three mile run alongside the Hudson river. I’d get home, eat a healthy breakfast, take a shower, get ready for the day, and arrive at my part time job for the 8am opening shift. This was my routine every day of the week. I did this on icy New York City winter mornings. Or when I was coming down with a cold. Even when I was out late and only slept a few hours. I did this no matter what was going on inside my body or outside in the world. It. Was. Radical. And amazing. I can remember going to sleep so happy, EXCITED to wake up before dawn and do it all again.
What was wrong with me?
UGH. I hate that girl.
But that’s the thing. I don’t hate her. I envy her. These days, I still have my morning routine. But lately, it’s not as blissful, so the comparisons are all too easy to make. Some mornings I really have to drag my butt out of bed. The three mile sunrise run has become some gentle stretching and pranayama (yoga breathing). The 45 minute meditation is usually 20 minutes (sometimes even shorter than that). The stream of consciousness journaling is still there, but I won’t lie, some mornings it just says, “Why am I so damn tired, Universe?” I still get in my routine, but it is not always fun, and it’s not always easy.
I could come up with all sorts of excuses for this. I’m in my early thirties now. I’m older. I need more sleep than I used to. I have more obligations now. My life and values are different. But let’s not lie. I still want my morning routine to fill me with the bliss. I still crave that clarity, that natural energy, that creative boost stronger than a shot of espresso every morning.
And at the same time, I am super grateful that this is a chapter in my history book. While most of my friends in college slept in until the last possible minute and rolled out of bed to drag themselves to class, I was overtaken with some sort of borderline obsessive desire to level up in life and raise my vibration every day, and it made a huge difference in how my life shaped out down the road. It’s okay for me to be inspired by my former habits.
But it’s not okay to beat myself up over the fact that this is not where I am now.
Because when I do that, it lowers my mood, increases my anxiety and mental fatigue, and actually works against me. I’ll feel less capable, less confident, and will overall by less likely to succeed. In fact, I set myself up for failure this way, because the temptation to quit altogether lingers, that all or nothing mentality of “if it can’t be the way it was, why bother at all.”
Yeah, I don’t recommend you think like that. To succeed at making or breaking a habit, making comparisons self-shaming are not going to be your friends. Self efficacy – that’s psychology jargon for the belief that you CAN do something – is absolutely key to maintaining motivation. Theodore Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy” and I aaaabsolutely agree.
So whether you are trying to quit smoking again even though you already thought you kicked the cigarettes three years ago, or you are trying to start a daily running habit after overcoming an injury that knocked you out for six months, or you had three kids and want to keep a morning routine the way you did in your youth, use your past as inspiration, not drawing comparisons and being hard on yourself. Try saying, “Look, that person was me. That person kicked ass, and that person was me, which means that person IS me, which means I still and always will have the capacity to kick ass.”
Something like that. Whatever works to get out of the shame game and get moving.
Do you ever get stuck making comparisons between your present struggles to your past successes? What will you do today to shift your mindset and get out of the comparison rut?