Comparison is the Thief of Joy – it’s True!

Photo: Arthur’s Seat from Regent Road Gardens, Edinburgh, July 2020

It’s been so long since I wrote a post I’m almost having to re-learn how to use WordPress! When I started out I thought I would write once a week – but that was before everything in the world changed.

There has been so much ‘noise’ on social media and blogs that I didn’t feel the time was right to weigh in with my thoughts. Even now, three months in, I’m not entirely sure what to post. I share my reflections with the caveat that I’m very grateful I’ve kept my job.

The headline quote is generally attributed to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. I don’t know who originally said or wrote it, but it is a favourite of mine and I think it is especially relevant just now.

Despite some of the good things that have come out of technology and how it is helping keep us connected and mobilising community efforts, social media has still been chock full of people boasting. I’m never really sure what drives this, but it’s been disappointing.

Then there’s the constant posts about what home workouts people have been doing, how they’ve been ‘crushing their goals’ and all the self-development they’ve been (allegedly) undertaking during ‘lockdown’. I know everyone has their own coping strategies and is doing their best, but apart from being tone deaf to the fundamental struggles other people are having in order to survive and meet even their most basic needs, why has this narcissistic quest for validation persisted?

Why continue to compete about who can be busiest or most productive? (This extends to home schooling of kids and their extra-curricular activities too) – I guess some habits have just become too ingrained.

Compare, compete, repeat – when many people are just struggling to make it through the day. How to balance the need for connection with the downsides? I’ve stopped looking at social media for extended periods, particularly as the constant mention of the epidemic has overwhelmed me and fuelled my anxiety. My radio used to be my constant companion, but I’ve had to turn that off too.

Some furloughed workers, many of whom of course have their own unique set of challenges and worries, nevertheless have been showing a lack of awareness when posting about the things they are doing – home improvements, enjoying the sunshine and the outdoors; getting a tan – while those who continue working are under intense pressure without the prospect of a break anytime soon – never mind all those people who lost their jobs overnight and continue to have zero support to fall back on.

Despite my awareness, I’m not immune to the Comparison Culture. As a child of the 1970s I’ve grown up with capitalism, consumerism and the onslaught of advertising. Encouraging a targeted segment of the population to compare themselves to others (their neighbours, the cover model, or whatever the latest image of success looks like) and finding themselves lacking is the cornerstone of marketing, so much so that it’s become normal.

I can’t imagine anyone developing an eating disorder unless they are bombarded with messages – from family, bullies, society, the media – telling them what they look like isn’t acceptable or good enough. I won’t go into what lockdown has been like for someone recovering from an eating disorder (for me personally, it’s Binge Eating Disorder), apart from to say it’s incredibly challenging, borne out by the influx of calls to helplines.

There’s so much we don’t know right now, but what we do know is nothing is ever going to be the same again. There are some aspects of this that might be very positive, particularly regarding the environment, the unchecked greed of rampant consumerism, the chasing of economic growth at any cost and the light being shone on the shocking inequalities in society. It would be good to think that values and behaviours might change – but will they?

It is difficult not to simply want our old lives back. The familiar aspects of what we have always done – and expected to be able to continue doing – will always feel more comfortable than the great unknown. The difficulty of being able to assess risk has been a particular challenge for me so far, as someone prone to anxiety. It looks like comparing our lives now to our lifestyles in the recent past isn’t going to be helpful, nor is striving for a quick return to ‘business as usual’.

For someone who is quite far along her personal path to Minimalism, there are some benefits from changes I’ve already made, such as paring down my life, paying down debt and ruthlessly prioritising and budgeting, but therein also lies a new challenge. My top priorities have been:

1) my health – mental and physical 2) spend more quality time with friends and family 3) see more of the world 4) go to more music gigs.

Everything in my life is aligned to these goals, so I think the problem here is obvious.

1) As someone who still finds food stressful, I normally rely on online food shopping for a whole host of reasons, but it’s been hard to access this and there has been deep anxiety about going to shops due to my respiratory condition. With a partner who is a key worker, exposing him to more risk was not something we wanted to do, but we had to. Thankfully we now have the Click & Collect option, so this has helped tremendously.

My mental heath has taken a battering during over three months of self-isolation, but I now feel more confident to go outside for local walks, although many places are overcrowded – the downside of living in a city. Managing my anxiety has been especially tough.

Swimming is my go-to exercise as an overweight person and I have struggled a great deal not being able to burn off excess energy safely. I attempted jogging but the stress on my body is too great. I have also tried indoor and outdoor cycling but I just don’t enjoy it – and it’s not great for my posture either as someone who sits at a desk working most days. Swimming is also very good for my mental health and I miss it a great deal.

2) My family and the majority of my friends do not live in Scotland, so I’ve not been able to see them in person for over six months. I had planned a trip in March to catch up with my close family who I hadn’t seen since November or December 2019, but that had to be cancelled as it wasn’t safe for me to travel. This has been incredibly hard.

Despite video calls, nothing compares to seeing them in person and I’ve not been able to support my Mum in a practical way during her period of (age-determined) isolation. One of my friends who does live closer has been seriously ill with the virus and is having a difficult recovery- it’s been so hard not to be able to visit her. My heart goes out to all those people who’ve not been able to be with their loved ones at incredibly difficult times.

3) Having just got ourselves into a position in our lives and finances where we can travel a little bit more, my partner and I can no longer plan to fulfil these dreams. Even thinking about this is of course a privilege not afforded to many people around the world, but having made it a top priority, it’s difficult to let go of it and to find other dreams to take its place. I’m still very much working on this one. Not having this as something to look forward to means a big mind shift. I was very lucky to travel quite a bit when I was younger, but my partner was not.

4) Music is a great shared passion of ours and seeing it live is always the best experience, shared with the passion of other fans around you. Access to the Arts is one of the main reasons I live in a city. We don’t know yet whether the rescheduled gigs from 2019 will go ahead even next year, so not having any to look forward to for such a long time is hard for us and requires a big adjustment. I have real fears for the music industry right now as with the advent of streaming, most musicians can’t make any income without touring or selling merchandise. Artists and venues are reaching a critical point.

My final point is about the economy and shopping habits. I personally have changed my behaviour and spending a great deal in recent years and I don’t intend to return to ‘retail therapy’, even if I could afford to. In the last three months online shopping has boomed and I fear even more for our high streets which have changed beyond recognition already.

How can we support our local businesses more and how can physical shops remain relevant, safe and offer consumers what they need in terms of the ‘in person’ experience? That human connection is something we all need and crave, but what happens next depends to some extent on the actions of government, to support smaller businesses who cannot compete with the online shopping behemoths who benefit from a grossly unfair tax system and avoid paying the substantial contributions they should.

Encouraging us all to ‘shop for Britain’ to somehow save the economy does not sit well with me, when every household faces an uncertain future re: employment and income, which will not fully reveal itself until the autumn, once employment retention schemes start to wind down. Mass redundancies are already taking place and with the prospect of a No Deal Brexit looming, is this the time for people to be spending to satisfy a quick fix? If not now, then we are all at great risk of not being able to keep up repayments in the near future.

I’m not here to preach to anyone or expect everyone to agree with me, but I can offer up a few small suggestions that have helped me. These include finding pleasure in the small daily rituals such as making a proper breakfast; putting on make up, perfume and styling my hair; (that’s become a challenge!), taking a bath; going for a walk and not looking at my phone, but really noticing nature and wildlife – even in the city; creating a new nighttime ritual of turning off all screens earlier and listening to some favourite albums; taking a coat or blanket and sitting on the balcony – no matter what the weather; keeping a gratitude journal. The last thing I probably struggle with the most and yet it is the thing that creates the most happiness.

One thing I’ve had to let go of is some of the expectations and pressure I’ve put on myself to practice my guitar more and do a lot of drawing and painting. I still would like to do these things, but my motivation is often simply not there and I’ve needed to give myself permission to do my best at work; feed myself and my partner well; exercise whenever I can; look after my loved ones and communicate with them; keep a tidy and clean home; read a lot; meditate; write my journal. I have given myself permission to believe that these things are enough.

Comparing the present with the recent past is going to steal all our joy if we let it – my main wish is to be able to mindfully discover joy in new places in my life whilst helping others.

Thanks for reading.

S x

The Resources Page is Now Live!

Photo: Sunrise, April 2020

Looking for inspiration? I’ve now compiled the Resources page, so check it out via the Menu to find lots of links to some of my favourite things!

Wishing everyone a safe, happy and healthy weekend .

Thanks for reading.

S x

Why? Is a Powerful Word

Photo: Atrium, The Guggenheim, New York, Sept 2019

Last week’s blog post was a long one, so this week I’m keeping it short, plus I’ve been focusing on compiling my Resources page! (More on that next week). Reflecting on the couple of weeks since I started writing here and thinking about what today’s post should be, I settled on the fundamental question of Why?

Why am I writing a blog when I am usually a fairly private person? Why now? Why is this pandemic happening? Why are so many people dying? Why am I making certain choices and decisions? Why can I not turn down the chatter in my mind? There are so many why’s out there it’s overwhelming.

Simon Sinek https://simonsinek.com/ is a bit of an expert on this question and he encouraged us to ‘Start With Why’ to understand how great leaders inspire us to take action. In my field of work, understanding the ‘Power of Why’ is also important when it comes to storytelling and influencing people to behave in a certain way.

I’ve also just finished reading an inspirational book by triathlete Sue Reynolds https://suereynolds.net/ who quotes how she finally began to conquer her obesity by fundamentally shifting her ‘Why’. Without fully understanding her intrinsic motivation (which had nothing to do with other people’s expectations or her appearance) she had never been successful in the past.

Often our lives these days are so driven by tasks, outcomes and to-do lists that I think pausing to ask ‘Why Am I Doing This?’ is a lost art, which has a detrimental impact on living a purposeful life rich with meaning. For example, as I head towards age 50, I am qualified and have enough work experience and skills to do many different things. What will drive my decisions for the next phase or ‘season’ of my life, when my priorities now are very different from when I started my career at age 22?

What we consciously choose to do with our time each and every day is incredibly important and I’ve come to learn that most of us have more control over this than we think. To keep this post short, I’m going to focus on answering just one of my own questions: why am I writing a blog?

1. I want to share information that helps people

As someone who reads a lot and is endlessly curious, I find so much value and inspiration in exploring the thoughts and ‘life experiments’ of other people who are asking important questions, or have overcome challenges. Often I am referred onwards to other resources – which may be written, or podcasts, or videos – that teach me something else, or prompt further exploration.

We live in a time where we are overloaded with streams of ‘shallow’ information and soundbites where ‘deeper’ and more meaningful thought is becoming lost. I hope that even a handful of people might find their way to my blog and find a nugget of information that helps them. Helping people makes me feel good. (There may be a heavy dose of narcissism involved in such feelings, but I choose to see it as a constructive focus of the reward centres of my human brain).

2. Writing helps bring a sense of order to my messy thoughts

As I suffer from anxiety, I’ve often been encouraged to keep a journal or to write things down at the end of the day to help me process my thoughts and stop them whirring around in my brain. Although I know beyond all doubt that this works, I’ve never been any good at doing it! I’ve now accepted this as one of my (myriad of) limitations and writing a blog seems to help fulfil this need.

I’ve come to realise that as someone who has lived most of her life as an extrovert, I really enjoy conversation and I’m still learning how to focus inwards and reflect more – these are new skills I’ve learned through therapy only in the last few years. My blog is a conversation with my imagined readers (even if there aren’t any!). Writing things down does have a cathartic element to it and I definitely felt a sense of release and freedom after my last post which although painful to write, brought me some closure and a chance to move on.

3. I hope to connect with interesting people, thoughts and ideas from around the world

My favourite subjects at school were Art, Geography and Languages and I went on to study Geography at university, (later returning to higher education to study Interior Design). I was fortunate to be brought up in a home where the ‘National Geographic’ magazine was one of the most important ‘books’ and I’ve always been fascinated by the world, other cultures and how things work. Although I have a difficult time managing my exposure to the internet and social media, I do appreciate how it enables us to connect with people across the globe like never before. I love to question and challenge my thoughts and beliefs – respectful and healthy debate is a wonderful thing.

4. Creating things brings me joy

Although this is number four on the list, it may be number one in terms of importance. I know that when I create things, rather than consuming them, I am happier and more fulfilled. End of!

These are the first four things that come to mind this week, but it will be interesting to revisit them in the future to see if they change. I’d encourage you to find a few moments each day to focus on your ‘Why’ instead of the ‘What’ and ‘How’ and see how it shifts your focus. It may not be easy to do, but it may also be incredibly rewarding.

Thanks for reading.

S x