If you’re a dancer that uses any type of social media, you probably deal with something like this scenario almost daily: you start scrolling and see a friend’s post of an exciting-looking film set or backstage photo, and you realize they must have been hired for what looks to you like an amazing dance gig. If seeing a post like that makes you feel a simultaneous burst of excitement for them, but also some envy that YOU weren’t hired for that gig, just know you’re not alone. According to Social Comparison Theory, those conflicting emotions are actually very normal, and while there are benefits to seeing how you stack up against others, comparison can also be the thief of joy, leading you to deeper issues with low self-esteem and self-criticism.
By reframing your thoughts about envy [...], you can work on turning what was a negative emotion into a positive one.
For dancers in this digitally connected day and age, it might seem like social media and mental health don’t go hand in hand; and the only solution to ending comparison envy is to curate your feed by unfollowing and muting people who trigger those feelings. But the truth is, it’s still going to be near impossible to avoid seeing or hearing about someone else getting an opportunity you wanted. Instead of trying your hardest to avoid those inevitable moments, learning how to respond to them in a more positive way can help you take better care of your mental health. Here are a few ways to cope when the green monster rears its head:
Understand where the feelings come from
It can feel shameful to be envious of a friend, but you’re actually more likely to feel that way because you know them personally. Dance Psychologist Lucie Clements explains on her blog that you’re more likely to see a friend’s success as threatening rather than motivating because, “The fact that we know that person… shifts us from seeing a ‘Dancer I admire and want to be like’ to a ‘Dancer I know well and I am not like,’ leading to a perception of ‘failing’ to meet goals.” Clements writes that comparing ourselves to each other is in fact normal, but that act can become negative or detrimental to your mental health when it leads to feelings of failure rather than inspiration and motivation.
Work on shifting your mindset
So how do you help curb comparison’s more negative effects on your mental health? First, know that “your mind is tricking you – your friends’ successes do not equal your failings,” Clements says. The fact that your friend got booked on a gig does not mean you won’t book a different one, and connecting the two separate events is a false equivalence. When you get that pang of envy, try repeating the mantra: Other people’s successes don’t equal my failures.
Another way to work on shifting your mindset to a more positive place when comparing yourself to others is to give yourself some credit. In a moment of jealousy, write down or go through a list in your mind of at least three things you’re grateful for about your own dancing or all the successes you’ve had in your dance journey. This act of self-love can help to build your confidence so when you see another dancers’ success, you already feel successful too.
Reframe your relationship to envy
To borrow a quote from the neural manifestation company To Be Magnetic: “When you’re envious of someone, thank them. They’re showing you what you want.” How would it feel to thank someone in your mind when you see them do a gig you wish you were doing? By reframing your thoughts about envy as illuminating instead of shameful, you can work on turning what was a negative emotion into a positive one. The person you're envious of has actually shown you that what you want to do is possible, and this knowledge can help you feel more motivated to go after the next gig, instead of leading you down a path of self-criticism.
“your mind is tricking you – your friends’ successes do not equal your failings” - Lucie Clements
Ultimately, when comparing yourself to other dancers, and especially your friends, “Accepting that your lives, successes, and ‘failings’ ebb and flow, sometimes together, sometimes in opposite directions will support your mental health and allow you to keep the jealousy as a momentary pang, rather than a long term self-critique that impacts your self-esteem,” Clements writes.
After years of competing with other dancers for trophies and roles, it’s no wonder dancers may often experience the more negative feelings associated with comparison to others. It will always be our natural impulse as humans to compare, but with consistent reflection and self-awareness, dancers can build better mental habits that help turn envy into motivation.