In many ways, jealousy and inspiration are fundamentally opposite emotions. They are yin and yang. Why does one story of success make us feel inspired to do better ourselves, while another makes us feel jealous and say, “what the hell – why them, not me?” The success can be the same, but the interpretation yields two different feelings. A story first, then three steps and three questions you can use to turn jealousy into inspiration:
One of my clients has been making significant strides towards being more mindful of his eating habits – less alcohol, more fruits and veggies, and smaller portions. As a result, he’s been reaping the rewards of his habits, to the tune of nearly 15 pounds of weight loss over the past five months (plus an extra 30 pounds he lost before we started working together). People who saw him every few months were making comments – “wow, you look so great!” Others who hadn’t seen him in a couple of years barely recognized him. Awesome. But then he recounted a recent time he went out to dinner with some friends.
He told me that they went to an artisan pizza place and rather than indulge in many slices of pizza like most of his friends, he had one slice and ordered a couple of salads. In a moment of strong social eating temptation, my client held true to his priorities and habits that have been getting him results, satisfaction and compliments. He told me that, after ordering the salads, a few of his friends asked him if he was “anorexic.” If you asked his friends why they said it, I’m sure they’d say it was just a joke – but behind every joke is a twinge of truth. Most of his friends are battling with weight issues as well – and were not mindful enough to have less pizza and more salad (or any salad, for that matter).
The people who congratulated my client over the past weeks have recognized his efforts and encourage him to continue his positive path. His friends at the pizza place, however, were not so positive. Why weren’t they positive? It’s probably not my client’s fault – he didn’t force them to eat the salads. So what was going on within the minds and feelings of my client’s friends when he ordered those salads. Anger at the rejection of their “usual” habits? Jealousy that they don’t have the strength to make a similar choice? Sadness that they aren’t getting my client’s results?
Here’s an equally viable situation that could have happened: What if my client’s decision to order salad inspired his friends to all order more salad and less pizza instead? And not call him anorexic (which for the record, he is not – he’s fit and has made great strides to eat balanced in a world that doesn’t promote balanced eating). It would have been a positive reinforcement for my client’s improved eating habits, and would have likely been a step in the right direction for his friends’ eating habits too. But alas this did not happen and it got me thinking, “What makes a situation, such as my client’s weight loss and healthy eating decisions, inspiring for some people, but jealousy-inducing in others?”
My thoughts boiled down to three primary variables (I’m sure I missed a few things, please tell me so I can make this post better!):
- Do I want that person’s result? Do I want to accomplish a similar goal?
- How similar is that person to me? Do we share certain traits or circumstances in common? History, friends, desires. Do we share a similar story?
- I can vs. I can’t: Do I feel that I have the ability or control to accomplish that goal for myself?
In a lot of ways, the first two variables mainly dictate whether we care about the person’s accomplishment. The more we want someone’s result, and the closer we are to that person, the more we tend to care about it. Most of us would like to have more money, yes? How do you feel about the founders of Google or Bill Gates being a billionaire?
Now, how would you feel if your colleague created a start-up that made him or her tens of millions of dollars and you were working with them at their old job, knew practically as much as they did, but they were the one who made it big. Would you be happy for them and inspired to do similar? Or would you be wishing that their start-up crashes? (Btw, that’s called schadenfreude)
As you can see from the example above, once we care about an accomplishment – how we perceive it makes all the difference between inspiration and jealousy. Those who have an “I can” attitude, feel inspired by a friend’s or colleague’s success and will give encouragement or ask for help and support to do similar. Those that feel “I can’t” tend to land in the jealousy-zone. And jealousy can rear its ugly head in many ways: comments, “jokes”, keeping unhealthy food around, pressuring people into less healthy decisions, etc.
Nothing positive can come from jealousy. If something bad happens to someone else, you’re rarely better off. And even if you are, your feeling of jealousy is not what caused the bad thing to happen to them. You may feel smug for a moment, but once that feeling dissipates you end up back at square one, and all that’s left is a hurt friend, acquaintance, colleague or family member.
So the question ultimately becomes, how can we recognize jealousy and turn it into inspiration? It’s about turning the “I can’t” into “I can.” I came up with a three step, three question process:
- Recognize the jealousy as it’s occurring. Inspiration tends to make you feel light and happy (like after a good workout or restful sleep). On the other hand, jealousy feels heavy, in the pit of your stomach. You’ll likely feel a mixture of anger, sadness, confusion and loss of focus.
- As soon as you recognize you’re feeling jealous, ask yourself three pivotal questions:
- Question One: Ask Yourself Why? Why am I jealous of this person’s situation or accomplishment? Is it something I wish I achieved? Do I feel that I can’t reach a similar goal? Rather than focusing on the person, focus on the situation – the results. Look for the reasons behind the feeling to uncover the root of the jealousy. Just keep asking “why?”
- Question Two: Ask Yourself How? When you find the root cause of the jealousy, such as the person is losing weight or has become successful, ask yourself how they’ve gone about doing it. Odds are it didn’t happen overnight. Appreciate that getting results is often the consequence of weeks, months or even years of effort. If you can, try writing down how you think someone went about accomplishing their results. Better yet, you can ask them yourself if you reach out to them, via email, phone or even across the table.
- Question Three: Ask Yourself What? This is where “I can’t” becomes “I can.” Upon reviewing how your friend, colleague or acquaintance achieved their results or success, consider one action you can take to start down a similar path to achieve your own desired results. It doesn’t have to be a big step, nor the exact same step as the other person. It just has to be a forward step.
- Take action on your what as soon as you can. Order a salad. Reach out to your successful friend and ask if they can mentor you. Take a class to improve a related skill. Or just call the person and tell them how genuinely happy you are for them. With action comes inspiration.
Jealousy can be a good feeling – it means inspiration is just a why?, how?, and what? away.
Tell Me: What’s inspired you today? Comment below.