Strategies to Subdue Comparison
From an early age as musicians, we are trained to compare ourselves to others.
You’re 6th chair in orchestra and your best friend is 2nd.
Your piano teacher's students all perform in the same competition and everyone knows each other's scores and who won.
You auditioned for a summer festival and someone younger than you got in.
Your fellow classmate was given the big solo in orchestra.
Your friend advanced in the audition and you didn't.
We have taken work that is inherently subjective and created measuring sticks to determine our ranking and where we fit into the pack.
It’s natural, right? As humans, we do this All. The. Time. We find security in concrete, objective assessments. Salary, home value, career success, grades, winning games and competitions. These all show us our place in the world, where we fit, and unfortunately for some, how valuable we are.
The result is humans who ceaselessly strive for more. Humans who:
sacrifice their own well-being to move to a higher place on the measuring stick;
have conflated their own personal value with what they have accomplished;
find personal worth only within the context of where their achievements fall compared to others.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Teddy Roosevelt
OF COURSE IT IS! Because there will always be musicians who are better than us and there will always be musicians who are worse than us. Not to mention the fact that - NONE OF US ARE WALKING THE SAME ROAD! Some people have roads that are relatively straight and flat. Most of us (like me!) walk on life roads that are windy as hell. That go back and forth, up and down, and periodically in circles. What is the point in comparing yourself to someone on a completely different life path than you? It will either disproportionally inflate your ego or crush your motivation.
8 Strategies to Try When You’re In The Comparison Trap
When you think someone is higher on the measuring stick than you, and you find yourself tangled in a knot of comparison, give one of these tools a shot. See which one resonates best for you!
1. Think about their story.
Try activating your empathy muscles. Maybe this musician came from a very stable family that taught them the value of hard work, believed in them, and taught them how to deal with failure. OR, maybe they came from a family that only offered love and affection for achievement and they felt deep shame every time they failed. Maybe they had amazing teachers early on or had parents hold them accountable for practice. Or maybe they were neglected and had to develop self-determination to carve their own path at a very young age. You don’t know! You don’t know what their internal, emotional world is like, what advantages or disadvantages they experienced that influenced them. Humanize them in your mind rather than boxing them into their achievements.
2. Make a list.
Take 10 minutes and write a list of the people you compare yourself to AND how it negatively affects you. Do you have someone from your studio who seems to effortlessly win everything? They get into NRO and Tanglewood or they start advancing in auditions before they’re even out of undergrad.
How does that affect you?
What do you think about yourself in relationship to them?
How do those thoughts impact your motivation? Your practice sessions? Your internal dialogue? How you treat them?
When you write down how the comparison influences your self-confidence, you become acutely aware of its impact on your mindset.
Gratitude moves your heart from a place of scarcity to abundance. Comparison wants you to believe that you have to scrap and fight your way to the top for a piece of the pie. Gratitude helps you understand that there is space for everyone. There actually is an abundance of musical and creative opportunities, an abundance of need for the music you make, and an abundance of connection you can find when you approach your work with compassion and joy.
4. Reconnect to your values.
You get to decide how you walk through this world as an artist. You are not required to measure yourself against the stick. You can create your own! Maybe your own personal stick has values like resilience, work-ethic, compassion, vulnerability. What are the things that you value, the ways that you want to walk through this life? Use those as your guide rather than culture’s arbitrary measurements of achievement or success.
5. Determine where that voice comes from. We all have that voice inside that tells us we’re not enough. And, we all have a negative mental bias that looks for confirmations of that negative voice. Enter: comparison. When you look at the outside achievements of others it gives your brain the evidence it wants to support that negative voice. Rather than focusing on the other person, try to understand where that voice comes from and how to release yourself from its hold.
6. Track your “successes.” Keep a little notebook and write down times throughout the day when you operate in alignment with your values.
Were you kind to a child?
Did you encourage a colleague after a performance?
Did you apply a new practice strategy?
Did you persevere in the face of disappointment?
These are all things that we forget when we are in the trap of comparison, and these are all the things that really matter in your life. There is a place to celebrate your achievements - of course! But, you need to balance that with celebrating your character. It’s both/and, not either/or.
7. Talk to a loved one. Hopefully, you have someone in your life who looks upon you with unconditional positive regard. [If you don’t, connect with me - that’s literally my job as a life coach (and something I’m really good at!)] Comapiron festers in darkness and silence. It spins around and around in your brain, elicits all sorts of painful emotions, and makes you believe that the only way through is to be better. Instead, open your heart to a loved one. Take those dark thoughts and shine a light on them. Allow your person to shower you with truth and choose to believe them!
8. Remember that we are all on the same side. The side that we’re all on is making the world a more beautiful and connected place through our art. Repeat to yourself my favorite mantra: I am enough, and so is everyone else.
As musicians, it takes a concerted effort to rewire our brains to choose compassion (for ourselves and others!) over comparison.
We need to defiantly operate with a mindset of abundance in a field that screams scarcity.
Be gentle with yourself. It’s a better way.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Here at The Musician's Mindset, we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is a certified life coach dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.