I added swimming into my workout regimen. The last time I "swam" intentionally was over 20 years ago. And by "swam" I don't mean well, or professionally, just enough to get a good workout in, and enjoy it. When it stopped being as fun, and other workouts were more pleasurable, I stopped.

Over the last few months, my body has been craving being in water. When I travel, I've found that the first thing I want to do after I drop my bags is get into water; lake, pool, ocean, doesn't matter. Water. Full immersion.

I'm finding it even more pleasurable than I remember. Not only is it a great workout, I've found it to be an excellent exercise in presence; if I lose presence I lose my form, break my breath, gag on water.

I've been measuring my progress every swim -- against myself. "This day I increased by X laps, X speed, X less stops, and X feeling of ease." Those have been my metrics. Delightful.

It's been lovely.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, doing my thing in my new happy place. Outside with the sun sunning and the water just right, I noticed a man in the next lane. He was doing his thing. Swimming beautifully. He had nice form. He was fast. I admired his skill. And I kept going.

And then... I noticed myself going faster and trying to match him. And then faster. And then I lost presence. And my form started to break down. And then it was not fun anymore.

Now as I sucked in water, swimming kind of sucked too.

"Matching" him at first -- because he was inspiring me -- was nice. It was that moment, that very sneaky ego moment, when I switched over to matching him, not because I was inspired, but because I wanted to look good too.

That was the beginning of the end of my joy.

My thoughts had gone from presence and admiration, "Wow, beautiful form, good job dude", to judgment, "Show off, he's not that great, probably a snob..."

Of course, minding his own business, in his own zone, he knew none of this (except maybe that there was a chick in the next lane who seemed to be getting faster, sloppier, and kept ending each lane gasping for air), but I knew. And the more I stayed in this place in my head, the less present I was to the magic of water, and the less enjoyable my new game became.

This went on for 2.5 laps. And then I had the "moment of magic". The moment where I catch myself creating my own reality and misery. The moment of choice and reboot. The moment where I became aware of my thoughts and the impact they were having on my generosity and physiology. And I stopped and reframed back to my original state of noticing, curiosity, and admiration.

In that very instant. Breathe. Reframe. The world looked and felt different. And so did I.

The next time he came up to the end of the lane and took a break, he said "hi!" And we had a conversation.

Of course, you know how this ends. He was super nice (not the monstrous "show off" I'd made him out to be), super helpful (he gave me tips on timing, stroke, and the flip), and then he went the extra lap -- "Would you like me to watch your stroke and give you feedback?"

And that was it. My stroke was better. I'd made a new friend. And more importantly I learned a lot. The least of it about swimming.

Which of course I bring to business and life and the awesome -- or deadly -- power of comparison.

The moral of the story?

  1. Compare yourself and your team/company with/against yourself and your team/company. (Benchmark may be a better word. Use whatever feels good for you.)
  2. The stuff you find "bugging" you the most, or that you envy hardest, use it as an indicator of desired results and purpose. (It's information baby!)
  3. When this comparison moves to the dark side (judgment, you feel like crap, you start to make them wrong), stop it. Breathe and reframe.
  4. Use the comparison to appreciate what they're doing, honor the brilliance, acknowledge them, and learn what and how you can do things even better.
  5. Acknowledge the heck out of every step forward in performance, results, and awareness. (Oh, and by the way, have fun with it all -- or what's the point?)

Bottom line? Use envy and comparison for good, not evil, in a way that everyone wins, learns, and feels honored.

And wear sunscreen.