29 December, 2015

Ask Al: Stay on Your Own 'Mat'

Dear Al, 

I am an acting student at a prominent American conservatory, and one of the things I find so difficult and frustrating is avoiding comparing myself to my peers! For example, I happen to be a little bit more well-read than my classmates, but have two left feet and no singing voice. I get so jealous of their skills, and so down on myself for being “behind!” It often makes me hopeless! Any guidance? I feel like my mind if so full of comparison, I’m losing track of my own journey. 

Thank you! 



Dear Ilana,

I will open with one of my favorite quotes of all time, from our brilliant 26th President Theodore Roosevelt:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” 

[*Mic drop*]

Okay so hold on: what does this mean exactly?

We are creatures of competition—that’s natural— everyone from Darwin to The Amazing Race has displayed countless times that human beings are just fighting to survive and we want to be The Best whether not being eaten by a bear or $250,000 are on the line.

Thing is, MOST of the time we are NOT being eaten by bears or running to the top of an Incan temple for prize money. We are just living our lives and trying to grow. Yet, we cannot help glancing across the lawn at the dude with the fancier car, or sitting beside the couple at a dinner party with the “better marriage,” and the lady at Starbucks with perfect hair. Or perhaps the mom with the better behaved children, the girl in class who can belt a Z without warming up, or the bastard people who stole your career.
You get it.

 Now this is where we get into analogy territory (which I like to call, that’s right, an AL-nalogy…) If you have ever taken a yoga class, you know that it is easy to get caught up in what other people are doing on THEIR mats. As one allows their eyes to stray, you get an upside-down glimpse at that bastard-woman next to you who is doing a perfect triangle pose and you behold your own crappy inabilities and feel a deep twinge of envy and hatred of Perfect-Triangle-Pose-Lady who, now that you look even more obsessively, is also wearing cuter yoga clothes, dammit.

On the flip side, you might see someone struggling with a pose that comes easily and naturally to you, and feel a sense of self-righteous atta-girl pride. Both of these things are completely:

     1. Normal
     2. Unhelpful. 

The beauty of yoga is that it is a space to get away from competition. Yoga recognizes that we all come to our practice (and yes, it is called a "practice" for that is exactly what it is) with different abilities, strengths, and flexibility.

But hold up, wait a minute: why do we have to keep that mentality exclusively for yoga class? Can we not expand ourselves juuuuuuust a touch and take that mindset into the actual freakin' world? Of course we can. We just have to get a grip.

We all compare ourselves to others (yes, even me: who you are asking for advice; and even theatre-famous people, and even really famous people who are Michelle-Obama-famous) Ultimately, the end goal is not to live our lives flawlessly (or to be just like our neighbors), but to listen to our individual bodies, heart and souls, and to find our own pace of growth, learning and expansion. In our careers, as in yoga, there’s a tendency to let our ambition—and our own egos—guide our decisions according to other people’s success.

 If it becomes difficult to stay focused on your own progress and to be present with where you are in your life here are a few things to remember:

1. Don’t Compare 
Did your roommate get a date with the cute guy you like?
Did your boyfriend book the crappy musical you were using to define your entire sense of worth and you did not?
Is your best friend skinnier/more stylish/cuter/better at life than you are?

Don’t panic: you are not a loser, they are on their journey, and you are on yours. It is more than likely that they sometimes look over at you and can’t believe how annoyingly perfect you are at something that you don’t even value because you are too busy being a meany-pants to yourself. Worth, value, marketability, humor, beauty, intelligence, coolness, and pretty much EVERYTHING else are RELATIVE.
In fact, ever heard the phrase “everything’s relative?”
Oh yeah, that would be because it IS.

It’s one thing to look to others for inspiration, but we have to be careful not to measure our entire sense of worth based on others’ accomplishments. In moments like these you must recall (and possibly recite) Teddy Roosevelt’s genius quote like the mantra it clearly is, center yourself and get that grip! If we fill our minds with comparisons we will completely lose out on truly living—the joys of being in the moment, the celebration of our uniqueness, special gifts, and personal callings.

 2. Don’t Judge. 
Listen to me: the more you judge others, the more you fear and feel judgement.
This was a big one for me to come to grips with.
Think about this: what are the insecurities that come your mind right away?
Thunder thighs?
Thinning hair?
Money woes?
Relationship drama?

Whatever it may be I’d wager that a part of your consciousness goes through life silently (or sometimes not-so-silently) picking apart, envying, and ultimately judging eeeevery skinny bitch in a magazine, every girl in an ill-fitting dress on the subway, assessing every head of hair, picking apart every belted D, everyone else’s relationship, wardrobe, GPA, income, or whatever.

Come on...
... Am I right?

I’ll own that this used to be me. Until one day I had a major epiphany, took stock of my inner dialogue and and had to admit it: I had lost DAYS OF MY LIFE thinking about how other people’s asses look in a pair of jeans [*sad trombone*]. I vowed to snap out of it. 

Now think about the things you are confident about (or, if you are really messed up, the things that are “fine” about yourself so you basically don’t really give them a lot of thought).
Do you have really pretty straight teeth?
Great legs?
Did you win the hair lottery?
Are you talented at stuff?
Are you #blessed with great skin/nails/style AND YOU JUST FORGOT ABOUT THAT?

Here’s the thing: I guarantee you that the things you don’t focus on (like your banging legs you never have to work on) you NEEEEEVER judge about other people. If you have great skin, you often don’t even notice other people’s skin—it is not on your mind, it has no currency for you. Am I right?

Thus, you can assume that most people don’t give a hoot about your jeans size or acne scars or the fact that you don’t have a boyfriend. Most people are too busy obsessing over their own bad hair day.

Now look: some people are judging, just like you were— but screw em. They don’t need to be scolded, they mostly need a hug, and frankly, so do you. Hug that hug and move on.

The lesson: The less you JUDGE, the less you FEEL JUDGED. If you take that ticker tape of judge-y nasty-talk out of your own head, you simply become accustomed to a life in which that kind of internal dialogue is not a part of your existence, and you also come to assume it is not a part of anyone else’s.
That is called inner peace.
It is a crucial component of acceptance.

The challenge: for the next week, try to be aware of every single time you internally judge another person based on your own insecurities. Just take note of how often you do it. The following week, note it, and consciously change the internal dialogue to something neutral or positive.

Keep that practice up and before long, that ticker tape of negativity will be neutralized and TA DAAAA! You’ll have your brain back.

3. Practice a Lil’ Self-Compassion 
On the mat, the body is boss. If our hamstrings are screaming out in pain, we don’t go all “mind over matter” on that sh*t. We listen. We accept our body’s limits. We must show ourselves the utmost compassion when it comes to growth. Yogis accept that the body knows best, and therefore don’t attach to the yearnings of the ego, which can often sound a little something like this:

     “Why the hell did you get into that handstand?… You were thiiiiis close to nailing it!!”

Translated? Don’t worry about:
1. What Perfect McBlondiePants has achieved
2. What you achieved yesterday
3. What you hope to achieve today
4. What any of it mean for your uncertain future

 It is all about what you are capable of right now—accept whatever that is completely.
So, Be kind to yourself.
Release all expectations.
Honor yourself for simply showing up.

4. Focus on YOUR practice/ process, Focus on YOUR mental and physical experience/growth 
Yogis use the sensations of their body to guide their practice. Bringing awareness without judgement to all that we see, feel, smell and hear helps to focus our attention on the mat, back on the Now.  So… when you feel yourself all up in yo’ head – Stop. Look around. Listen to the sounds. BREATHE. Focus on your breath. Take a big whiff of your surroundings. Take stock of what you are feeling, experiencing. Respect and appreciate it all. When you focus on the basics, your psyche gets right back into alignment. The “Crazytown bus” takes a detour back to Sane-ville.
Inhale… exhale…
Welcome back to the mat, my friend.
Your mat.
Your life and journey and no one else’s.


  1. What a great sentence: Comparison is the thief of joy!
    That I wrote down for me to look back onto.

    The older I get, the more I try to not look so much left and right. I learnt that everybody has its own battle to fight. Also your tips are not only for other actors but for people in general.


  2. as a yoga teacher, I couldn't LOVE this or you more. My biggest moment was when I learned the sutra that talked about your own mat

  3. Jennifer DiamondFebruary 13, 2017

    Love this @alsilbs ����❤️



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