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The Wasted Energy in Comparing Ourselves to Others

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The very first night of our six week series at Deep Roots Dance, we have about a 10 minute orientation. During this orientation, we cover the practicalities such as how to check in for classes, the lay of the land (restrooms, parking, water fountains, etc), and class ettiquette (no shoes in the studio, being on time). We also cover some other important topics, such as how they will need to repeat Level 1 multiple times to reach a level of competency and comfort before moving to Level 2, how practicing at home and/or taking more than one class a week will reinforce and accelerate their learning, and one of my personal most important notes: one should never compare themselves to others in the class.

It’s so easy to do, and a very human instinct, to look at others we perceive to be doing the same thing as us and make little assessments, even harsh judgements, about ourselves and our progress. I remind them that Level 1 is called “Foundations” not “Beginner”, as the skills we learn in Level 1 are not just for beginner dancers–they truly comprise the foundations of all our future work. Because of this, not only do students work at this level for several months to a year or more, but consider that students of all levels return to Level 1 to reinforce their skillset throughout their dance life. So walking into a room of “Level 1 dancers” can mean you are observing dancers of all levels, from students taking their first bellydance class to semi-pro and professional dancers refining their foundations or exploring their dance roots.

Even among beginner dancers there is a vast cross-section of strengths and abilities. In the middle of the classroom there may be a student who has never taken a single dance class in his or her life, and next to them may be a yoga instructor seeking a new way of moving. In the back row may be a classically trained ballet dancer who always wanted to try bellydance, and in the corner may be an auto mechanic who wants to explore feminine energy through dance. Each has different experiences in their bodies, and may have come to the class with very different motivations. Some may practice every day between classes, or attend several dance classes a week, while others love dance class for the brief break from work, family, and other responsibilities which keep them from being able to dance much beyond this single hour we share in the classroom. Should we–COULD we–compare one’s progress to another?

So during our first-night orientation I explain this briefly, and offer that instead of comparing ourselves to others, we should track and honor our own individual progress each week.  Sure, some weeks we may feel highly successful, and others we may feel frustrated. Some weeks we will feel more present in the studio, in our bodies, and others we may feel easily distracted or disconnected. The best we can do is, from week-to-week or month-to-month, consider how much stronger we feel, how much more flexible or graceful…whether we feel more confident, more mentally and physically challenged and joyful in our dance space…all this and more are excellent ways to track our personal progress. Something which looking at other people around us will never tell us.

ZenHabits writer Leo Babauta posted The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others, which applies this concept to our life in general.

“Let’s take an example: I’m out running in the park, and I see someone running past me. Obviously he’s a faster runner, and better than me! Oh, that makes me feel horrible about myself as a runner!

Except I can’t compare myself to that faster runner, because I don’t have all the information. I don’t know:

  • how far they’re running (I might be running 12 miles and they’re running 2)
  • where they are in their training plan (I might be starting out on my plan, while they’re in week 20)
  • where they are in their particular run (I might be warming up, while they’re at the hardest part of their workout)
  • how many years they’ve been running (maybe I’ve only started, and they’ve been running for 15 years)
  • their injury status (maybe I recently injured an ankle while they’re not injured)
  • what event they’re training for (maybe they are training for a mile race, or a bike race, and I’m training for a 50-mile race)
  • what else is going on in their lives (maybe they have nothing else going on, while I’ve been working hard, socializing, and moving to a new house and getting little sleep)
  • what motivates them (maybe I just like the peace of running mindfully, while they want to beat everyone else on the path)

Given these and a bunch of other factors I don’t know anything about, why would I compare my speed at this moment with the speed of another runner? They’re irrelevant to each other. We just happen to be both running on the same path at the same time, but that’s coincidence, and nothing else is the same.

And even if everything else were exactly the same (would never happen), how would the comparison be useful? It would be meaningless even then.”

And Leo sums it all up even more neatly right here, where he says:

“The only thing I should focus on, as a runner, is myself. Enjoy the run. Learn about myself as I run. Keep going, and in doing so, I’ll get better — compared to myself.

And that’s the only thing we should focus on in life — enjoy the walk, learn about ourselves, keep taking steps and drop the comparisons. You’ll love the journey even more.


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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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