You’ve likely heard hundreds of times that you should try to avoid comparing yourself to others. Yet, that’s often easier said than done… We do, after all, live in a highly competitive and comparative society.
From an early age, we learn to compare ourselves with others in terms of the toys we have, our grades, how well we perform on the athletic field, how many friends we have, and so on, and so on. And, while the ways in which we compare ourselves to others may change over time, they certainly don’t diminish as we move from childhood into adolescence and on into adulthood.
As adults, we often compare ourselves to others in terms of our looks, material wealth, social status, intelligence, and even our relationships.
It can be argued that these competitive and comparative character traits are instinctive or even natural for us as humans. And, as far as we’re naturally social animals, there’s definitely some truth to this. Comparing ourselves to others can help us learn from one another, define ourselves within a group, and help motivate us to live up to our full potential.
However, none of this is to say that these types of social comparisons are innately healthy. Fighting and violence may be natural or instinctive, too, but it doesn’t mean we haven’t developed better ways to solve disputes!
Yes, sometimes comparing yourself to others may seem like it helps to motivate you or make you feel better about yourself. But, even when you feel better about your circumstances, situation, or abilities in comparison to someone else’s, that “positive” comparison can still be a negative or defeating experience.
Because ultimately, when you’re making comparisons between yourself and someone else, you’re basing how you feel about yourself on someone else… on something external to you. Just because you feel better off than John or Tom or Ann or Amy, doesn’t mean you actually feel good about yourself where it counts… on the inside.
When all is said and done, another person’s “outsides” have nothing to do with your “insides.”
So, even “positive” comparisons leave a lot to be desired when it comes to facilitating positive self-esteem and self-worth.
And, those of us recovering from codependency already have enough of a struggle trying to reclaim our self-worth from others without adding the negative consequences of unhealthy comparisons to the mix!
Then there are the “negative” comparisons, in which you compare yourself to others whom you feel are better off than you.
Think of social media…
Even a quick review of the numerous studies that have been done shows that all that time we spend scrolling through the status updates on sites such as Facebook and Instagram that make us feel envious or that our lives pale in comparison to someone else’s lead to increases in anxiety and depression and decreases in well-being.
If we feel stuck in situations or we constantly make negative comparisons in which we believe we lack the skills, knowledge, expertise, abilities, physical attractiveness, wealth, or social status of those around us, then we may well feel hesitant to do or say anything… to take any action whatsoever. I mean, what’s the point of saying or doing anything if someone else knows more, has greater talents or abilities, or can do whatever it is better, right? It can be a very negative and defeating experience.
Of course, most of the comparisons we make of ourselves versus others tend to be less extreme. We may look at another person and feel less important, less desirable, less attractive, less well-off, or less accomplished in terms of the number of friends we have, our job title, the types of houses and cars we own, and so on.
But, regardless of the type or severity of the comparisons we make, as Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Comparing ourselves to others all too easily leads us down the path to unhappiness by causing feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and inferiority, along with increases in anxiety, stress, and depression.
The truth is that there is always going to be someone who seems to have more going for them and there is always going to be someone who seems to have less, and neither has anything to do with you!
So, given this, now it’s time to ask yourself…
What kind of changes do YOU want to make and why?
Are you looking to create change in your life because you think you should be healthier, in better shape, smarter, wealthier, and so on, because you see other people who are? Or do you want to create change that’s personally meaningful to you and not based on what other people have or do?
I hope the difference between the two is clear, as you’ll likely never be able to create the first kind of change… Trying to create changes in your life because of something someone else has or does is like trying to live someone else’s life. It’s YOUR life that we’re talking about, not someone else’s. 😉
How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
When you’re ready to stop comparing yourself to others and create change that’s personally meaningful to you, here are some steps you can take to get started:
- Practice Self-Acceptance – Before you can successfully create change, you have to accept yourself where you are and for who you are, right here and right now. To practice this kind of self-acceptance, start each day by looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m not talking about looking at your hair, or your abs. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else or entertain negative thoughts about yourself… just look at yourself and accept the beauty in the image you see. Look into your own eyes and accept who you are. Tell yourself that you accept yourself for who you are as you start the day.
- Humanize Your Idealizations of Others – It’s important to remember that we’re all human beings and we all have strengths and weaknesses. I’m not suggesting you should knock other people down or belittle their accomplishments. Rather, you need to make every effort to see other people in a balanced light as opposed to seeing others from some idealized point of view. When you view others, make sure your perceptions are realistic and not based on some illusion of who you believe or think that other person is.
- Eliminate “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” Language – Don’t waste your precious time and energy thinking about what you should have, could have or would have done differently or better. You cannot rewrite the past. Instead, consider what you’ve learned and be clear about what you want to do today and in the future. For example, “I should have applied for that job” can easily be turned into “I want to apply for the next supervisory position I find.”
- Unplug – Take a week or two (or even better a whole month!) off of social media. Stop looking at the photos of people’s exotic vacations, pictures of their “ideal families,” or the other idealized snapshots of their lives they choose to share with the world. Remember, people only post on social media what they want others to see, which is often a very different version of reality than they live on a daily basis. And, as we’ve discussed in the past, many people post all of these idealized snapshots of their lives on social media because they’re looking for acceptance and approval. But, we know that it’s ourselves we need to learn to accept!
- Get Clear on Your Goals – What do you want in life and why is it important to you? I’m not talking about tangible items like a car or a house, but rather what such things might represent. Are you looking to create a feeling of freedom and accomplishment, a sense of security, or a connection with the world around you? Why? Make sure YOUR deepest desires, not the desires of others, are what matter most you and serve as the basis for the changes you want to create.
- Keep a Journal – Write down one thing that happens every day that has either taken you one step closer to your goals or simply makes you feel good about you. This could include taking a class, applying for a new job, meeting a new person, taking up a new hobby, keeping a promise to a family member or friend, or simply catching yourself making a comparison and putting an end to it… whatever you do that is replacing something negative with something positive.
These are all strategies you can start practicing TODAY to help you overcome the knee-jerk comparisons so many of us make and put an end to the stagnation, dissatisfaction, and personal unhappiness such comparisons cause.
No matter how comparisons may make us feel, they cannot help us to truly appreciate and love ourselves.
Fortunately, we can all learn to turn our focus inwards, discover what’s most meaningful to us, and then acknowledge and put our own strengths, talents, and abilities to work creating the change we seek!
Remember, you can only move forward and create change by first understanding and accepting where and who you are. And, it is only by understanding and accepting yourself that you’ll know what you want to achieve, why, and then be able to find and create the opportunities you seek.
When have you compared yourself with others? What were the results? How did the comparison make you feel? When have you stayed on your own path and not compared yourself to others? How did that make you feel and what were the results of doing so? What do you want to create most in YOUR life and why? Be sure to share your thoughts and questions using the comment section below so we can all learn from and help each other…