Comparison is a human thing to do.
It highlights the gap between where we are, and where we want to be. But being single and surrounded by couples can be frustrating and upsetting. Developing great habits can help.
Being with a group of friends is mostly a life affirming experience. As we go through life, certain patterns to experience emerge. In my particular socio-economic group, I went to school, we went to university, relationships were established, houses bought, people started getting married, and they started having children…and so on.
In these gatherings, we inevitably compare ourselves with our peer group. What becomes most apparent are the similarities and the differences. The similarities make us feel part of the group. The differences can inspire and empower, or frustrate and depress. As a successful, committed, self-aware, well-read woman, the comparisons can be a trap. They can set up all sorts of negative patterns. It is possible to insulate yourself against these patterns by using good habits.
Habits are fascinating. Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit details how powerful this cognitive structure is. It’s primary purpose is to save energy. Obama wore the same suit to save energy and ensure he made better decisions. Creative, challenging problem-solving requires more focus and energy.
Psychologists call this the cognitive load – because we are cognitive misers. Our brain is all about shortcuts and saving energy – because the brain itself uses so much. Catching and altering habits can help insulate you against the negative patterns that might appear when you’re with a group of non-single friends.
Duhigg’s book explains the components of a habit loop as a cue, a routine, and reward. The cue might be feeling tired in the afternoon, the routine is going to the coffee machine and getting a coffee, and the feeling good from the caffeine hit is the reward. By identifying and catching the cue, we can create a different routine, to achieve the reward. Taking the previous example, feeling tired in the afternoon is the cue. The routine is going to the coffee machine – but we could replace the coffee with green tea. From this, we can still feel good.
Duhigg’s goes on to explain the golden rule of habit change. This lies in identifying the cue, and altering the routine. This requires a little thought and self-reflection. But the simple structure of a habit can be applied to anything – including your experience of being with friends. For example, the cue might be arriving at a restaurant and greeting your friend and seeing her wedding ring. The routine might be to dominate the conversation by talking about work only. The reward is avoiding any uncomfortable relationship conversations.
Catching our very human behaviour to compare, by noticing the cue, creating a positive routine, and embracing the reward sounds simple. And it is. But it requires repeated practice. Routines to replace negative thought patterns include: finding and expressing things for which you are grateful, or offering a compliment.
All this might sound a bit mechanical – reducing our behaviour to simple actions seems to limit our humanity. And yet, our brains are designed to make the most of shortcuts – so we are freed up to use our limited resources in creative and powerful ways.
- Identify any cues that relate to the area of relationships. Do you find yourself reacting strongly to conversations with friends?
- Create a list of uplifting routines you could use in response to any cues you notice.
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