Have you ever heard the expression "like crabs in a bucket"? If you put crabs in a bucket, they will continuously try to climb over each other to get out of the bucket. The result is that none of them get out. Sometimes, it feels as though we are not all that different.
Envy and jealousy are dangerous feelings. They destroy our personal sense of "having enough", "being enough", being able to "create something of value", and have us "what-iffing" ourselves into misery. Worse even, it also makes us crave others' failures and shortcomings. As soon as someone from one of the groups we associate with on a regular basis, such as colleagues, family members, neighbours, do well, we immediately compare their success to our own. That is uncomfortable, especially when the measurement results in having them higher up on whatever success yard stick we are using at that time. And, the greater the gap, the crappier it feels.
Comparing ourselves to others is always most painful with folks who are close to us. It's a lot easier to admire and support the success of complete strangers or of people further removed from our own reality. After all, we don't know what resources they had access to, what "special sauce" they were able to use to achieve their level of success, fame, fortune, beauty, athletic ability, fill in the blank...
I've fallen victim to this way of thinking many times over time, and likely will again in the future. For example, imagine a:
- Friend is more attractive
- Fellow student is smarter
- Writer is more talented (not too hard to achieve in my case!)
- Neighbour has a nicer home
- Colleague has been promoted more quickly or seems to be the leadership's favourite
...I've even felt envious of people who I believed looked happier than I was at a given time...how dare they! I seem to be most susceptible to this way to thinking when I am in a lull. That is, when I am between projects or activities that make me feel fulfilled for too long and don't yet seem to have the drive to start something more or something new.
What is interesting is that this focus on other peoples' success in achieving what might be important is completely external. Why do we care about what others achieve when there is no way we can or should control their life's outcome? Why are we spending time on useless emotions that only make us feel worse about ourselves, our situation and possibly even our own abilities to reach our potential?
I think it's because it's easy to do. It's easy to focus on others as opposed to focusing on ourselves, on what we can, need to or could do to make ourselves better in the present and near, or not so near, future. If we could just pull these guys back down in the bucket, we would not have to work on improving our own situation. Unfortunately, that would end up being a lose/lose situation, wouldn't it?
It's easy to play the victim, looking at what others have and feeling it's "not fair"; that life somehow owes us stuff, experiences and achievement. It's easy to look at others and envy their position while choosing to stand still and keep ourselves from moving forward in some positive way. We can even worsen our own outcome by thinking "Why even try?"
So what's the antidote to the constant pangs of envy and jealousy? How can we move this external focus inward and turn frustration and disappointment into a motivating force? I think the seven strategies below help by refocusing thought and (in)action.
Seven strategies to reduce crab-like tendencies:
- Be grateful NOW - change your focus inward to what you have, have access to, or have accomplished so far in your life. We take things and experiences for granted in our own lives when we spend our time looking out as opposed to looking in. We can decide to look at our environment and circumstance in positive or negative ways. It's a choice.
- Support others - Yes, you read right. When someone around you achieves something, be genuinely happy for them (really feel this happiness and support) and offer sincere congratulations. Supporting others increases your own support network and makes it easier to believe you can make the same happen for you. By helping others achieve their hopes and dreams and celebrate their accomplishments, you surround yourself with people more likely to put you on their shoulders when you might need it, without even asking. Success breeds success, and not only at the individual level.
- Seek help and advice outside your immediate network - Given you know that close proximity may result in interacting with others who will make your increased success uncomfortable to them, seek out those who are leaps and bounds ahead of you AND outside your existing network. This way, you can remove much of the discomfort that comes with seeking others' support, at least initially. It also makes rejection easier to take. They don't know you so what do you have to lose? And, they don't know you so they may actually be even more inclined to help! It is amazing how many very successful people look for opportunities to give back when they feel their cup is overflowing. Take advantage of this potential opportunity and reach out. Others are doing it!
- Change how you measure success - Realise your yardstick is flawed. Our focus is almost always too narrow as we zero in on what we don't have or what we want. There are many facets to our lives and rare are those who achieve ultimate success on every front. We are all so different that to reduce ourselves and others to only one or two measures is a disservice to ourselves and to others. No one has it all. That's why we keep working at it!
- See the possibilities that are available in your own life - What is it that you have access to that is unique to you and your circumstances? What is available in your own environment that you are not using to its full potential? How can you create a better version of your current reality?
- Be the big fish - If you find that your focus is often driven externally, you may want to change your environment. Move to a neighborhood where you are the Mr./Mrs. Jones others aspire to, as Thomas J. Stanley suggests in his studies of the successful habits of millionaires. Move to a city or state where your income level offers you more quality of life. Change organizations by selecting one where you are more likely to be one of the top dogs. Start your own business or go back to school. Changing your environment to one where you feel you have more control can even be good for your health!
- Chase real success, not the window dressing - Personal achievements and experiences are far move valuable than the mere external symbols of success: "stuff". They can never be taken away from you. They cannot be sold or stolen...ever. They are also uniquely yours and more difficult to compare to others' experiences and achievements. Investing in yourself (by working on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self) offers the best ROI available, no matter what you choose to explore. This investment does not depreciate, it goes with you wherever you go and it is always available when you need it. Best of all, you can continually build on it by trying and learning new things.
If you are in an environment or in a state of mind where you do not envy others as much or at all (if so, wow - you have arrived!), you can refocus that attention on yourself and make it more likely to achieve more of what you value most, maybe even things you never thought possible. Best of all, what you create and achieve is uniquely yours and that, in itself, has infinite value.
What about you? Do you feel like a crab in a bucket? How are you coping with it? Or, better yet, how are you changing, or have you changed your reality, to feel differently? I want to hear your story.