Vanity is a pretty unattractive characteristic and we’ve probably all come across smug individuals who have a superiority complex that manifests itself in a way that only allows them to feel better about themselves if they can make negative comparisons with others. Hence the reference in the title of this article to the catch phrase of Stan Herbert, the Harry Enfield character with his Black Country accent whose mission in life is to tell those who are less affluent “I am considerably richer than yow!”
Whilst having a superior attitude is pretty unattractive, having an inferiority complex is potentially very damaging to our self-esteem. In life we often spend time comparing ourselves to others who have ‘done better’ than we have. We can easily be tempted to make unflattering comparisons between ourselves and people who are better looking, are richer, have better jobs, more luxurious holidays, bigger houses, nicer cars; on the whole this makes us feel quite negative about ourselves and what we’ve achieved.
So how do we get a balance? In 1927 Max Ehrman wrote the wonderful poem Desiderata which includes the following lines:
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Focussing on what we have rather than what we haven’t is a much healthier state of mind. One of my favourite definitions of happiness reads ‘happiness is wanting what you’ve got’. Another problem with comparing ourselves with others is that making an accurate comparison is actually very difficult because everyone has a different starting point in life, so frequently we are not comparing like with like when we compare ourselves to others.
There is a much healthier way of using comparisons: to compare ourselves with ourselves which can be a very fruitful activity. Challenging ourselves to become better at our jobs, better as parents and partners, better friends, better at our hobbies or better providers for our families helps us to grow as individuals and can help lead us to living more fulfilled lives.
In 2015 I was fortunate enough to work as a psychologist with the very talented paralympic swimmer Tully Kearney. During our coaching sessions I suggested that Tully might want to worry less about winning medals; which seems like a very strange comment to make to a dedicated athlete. The point I was trying to make is that you can’t do better than your best. In individual sports where you have no opportunity to influence the performance of a fellow competitor, the only behaviour you can control is your own.
There was very little Tully could do to influence the swimmers in the lanes either side of her; all she could do was to swim her best. “Sometimes your best will be enough to win a medal…and sometimes it won’t.” Tully was a wonderful example of someone who put her heart and soul into her training, her diet and her mental preparation. She stopped worrying about the competition and just focussed on being the best she could be.
In 2015 Tully was selected to represent Great Britain at the 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships held in Glasgow. She was entered into seven events, including the freestyle relay and medley relay team events. She took home six medals in total, with four golds, a silver and a bronze. She also set three European records. Tully finished 2015 by making the final three athletes shortlisted for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year. Sadly Tully had to withdraw from the GB squad at the 2016 Rio Olympics through injury. But no one can take away her medals.
Try to spend as little time comparing yourself to others as you possibly can. Although we can learn from others and we can try to emulate those we admire, it is somewhat pointless to draw comparisons as we all have different starting points in life. However, we can gain enormously if we compare ourselves to ourselves and strive for personal achievement, growth and development. You can’t do better than your best.