Mindfully stopping the habit of comparing

Breath Drawings.Take a look at these drawings, how delicate, energetic, sensitive, expressive, bold, confident, natural and blimmin GORGEOUS they are! They’re drawings done by 4 different people in one of my classes using a creative mindfulness exercise that allows the breath to guide the pencil.

We shut our eyes whilst doing them – so that we could relax into an instinctive, natural mark-making. No comparing, no trying to make it look like another person’s, no need to try to be perfect or ‘good’ at drawing – just drawing.

What I love about this exercise is the beauty that emerges as people just breathe, relax and move a pencil. As you can see each drawing is completely unique in subtle and sometimes in not such subtle ways. I always get people to compare their drawings after this exercise, everyone’s always amazed how they come out, how surprising, instinctive and unique they look.

But why are we surprised by this? We are all completely unique – not one of us is like the other, so why do we expect or want our drawings to look like someone else’s? Why do we spend so much time trying to draw the way we think we should, the way we think our teacher wants us to, or our parents wanted us to? Why are we always striving for artistic innovation or originality, when the only innovation we need is that of being ourselves and we already intrinsically possess the capacity to draw in a way that expresses with originality who we are?

Mindful drawing is extraordinary, because it offers a way of drawing that allows us to relax and let our uniqueness emerge effortlessly on paper. But it’s also extraordinary because it offers the opportunity to become mindfully aware of the self-criticism, inner doubt, low self-worth and lack of confidence that makes us compare, make us feel we can’t just draw as us – for us – but have to strive to be better, more original, more perfect.

When we’re mindfully drawing we keep a light mindful awareness on our experience of drawing, checking-in, which means we notice when the comparing thoughts, the I’m-not-as-good-as thoughts, the look-what-they’re-doing-it’s-better-than-mine thoughts appear. And because we’re drawing mindfully we notice our reaction to these thoughts, the emotions that arise, and the capitulation, the sudden acceptance of these comparing thoughts as a truth. And because we’re drawing mindfully we notice that in the space after the comparing thought there is the opportunity for choice, the choice to breathe, feel the pencil or piece of charcoal in our hand, to connect with our heart and not compare.

Again, I say – take a look at these drawings, how delicate, energetic, sensitive, expressive, bold, confident, natural and blimmin GORGEOUS they are! See how each mark expresses something, shows the passage of the hand, the sweep of the breath. Notice how personality almost seems to emerge from what could – in an unkinder frame of mine, perhaps – be called scribbles. This is all in you too. It’s YOU. Why would you want to draw like anyone else? Why compare?

2 thoughts on “Mindfully stopping the habit of comparing

  1. Comparison is a fundamental cognitive process involved in most if not all intelligent activities – it is not possible to ‘turn it off’ unless you want to stop functioning properly. Indeed, Tajfel and colleagues’ theory proposes that ‘social comparison’ is one of the three core components of group psychology (along with social identity and group membership). We can become aware of our cognitive and socio-cognitive processes, but we can’t modify them structurally any more than we can modify how we perceive colour or store information in memory.

    • Very true David. However mindfulness does open up a window of opportunity to choose how much importance we place on these comparisons, and in my personal experience, through forming new cognitive habits, it has actually prevented me from making certain socially conditioned comparisons, especially in relation to art. There’s no doubt that some processes of comparison are very beneficial, whilst others seem to have very little benefit at all to the individual. Who or what decides what a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ drawing is, for instance – and how then should we make a comparison based on these criteria? If we are an art critic or Turner Prize judge this comparison may be useful, as a participant in a drawing class, it might not! Ellen J Langer has some interesting thoughts on the process of evaluation in her book On Becoming An Artist.

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