Stop Comparing! It’s A Race You’ll Never Win!
Growing up my mum always told me, “Margaret Mary, never compare yourself to others. It makes you either vain or bitter.” It was good advice but, like all good advice, far easier said than done.
Let’s face most of we mere mortals can be a bit insecure in our own worth and can, at times, succumb to our ego’s thirst for affirmation. It drives us to look around us – usually to those we think of as our peers- for a frame of reference to assess how well we’re doing – in our work, wealth, social status, relationships and life. Psychologists have even given it a name: “Social Comparison Theory.”
While making the odd comparison can provide be helpful in boosting a flagging and fragile self-esteem (at least temporarily) or motivating us to improve ourselves (E.g. to work harder at the gym or invest our money more wisely), it can also leave us feeling like we’re just not measuring up on some parameter.
Not accomplished enough.
Not attractive enough.
Not disciplined enough.
Not successful enough.
Not smart enough.
Not wealthy enough.
Not worthy enough.
Not _____ enough (fill in the blank!)
When you’re constantly comparing yourself with others, it leaves you on a ‘comparison treadmill.’ The problem is that this treadmill has only one setting, and that is to keep ratcheting up the speed so that no matter how hard you push yourself or desperately you try, it’s never enough. E-v-e-e-e-r.
The truth is that if how you feel about yourself is determined by how you rate yourself against others, then you’ll never feel good for very long because there’ll always be someone doing better than you on some measure. Always.
The irony is that the moment you stop comparing, is the moment you win. Because as long as you think winning in life is about being better or having more than others, your comparisons hold your happiness hostage. Comparing yourself to others is a race you can never win!
Which begs the question: How can you get off the treadmill of ‘negative comparisons’ and redirect your attention from beating up on yourself to bettering your future? Here’s a few suggestions.
Get off your own back
You may think you’re the only person who ever struggles with feeling like you’re constantly falling short of exp
ectations – particularly your own. But the truth is that many people have made self criticism an art form, habitually focusing on what they haven’t done as well as they’d like rather than on all that they have.
Just imagine the difference it would make if you focused on what you did do well? Imagine how much better you could channel your energy if you weren’t always pulling yourself down and making yourself wrong.
Likewise, don’t beat up on yourself when you do catch yourself making comparisons. That only fans the “I’m not enough” flames higher! Instead try being kinder to yourself, accepting your own humanity, fallibility and vulnerability. The added bonus of doing that is it makes you more forgiving of others failings too!
Recognize your biases
I’ve spent a lot of time on the beach over the years but only recently did I realize that I only ever compare myself stomach (the part of my body I’ve found the hardest to love!) to that of other female beach goers. The fact that I’ve not compared my body parts that I do like points to a bias most people make. That is, we tend to compare our weaknesses with others strengths; our insides with others outsides; what you haven’t accomplished with what others have (including people who have a huge headstart on you!); and what we don’t have with what other people do!
So whenever you notice yourself comparing (a vital first step), take a moment to remind yourself that you are good enough just as you are, even if you don’t have something you see in those around you (business success, academic credentials, home-to-die-for, hot body, celebrity-social-life or high–achieving kids). They are very likely looking at something you have or do well, and wishing they did too! Seriously!
Avoid your triggers
A growing body of research has shown that social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram can trigger depression as people compare their lives with those of their increasingly expansive online network of ‘friends.’ But just as we can add filters to the photos we post, most of us filter the reality we share – highlighting the good and leaving out the not-so-pretty bits. (Last week I posted some photos celebrating my 22nd wedding anniversary. I can assure you not every day of those 22 years were blissful, but I wasn’t going to highlight that fact!) So if scrolling down your Facebook feed only makes you feel miserable about yourself, then do yourself a really big favor and log off, better still, take a social media sabbatical. It may be incredibly liberating!
Focus on your own progress
Research shows that the happiest people aren’t those who only make positive comparisons with others. They are those who don’t make any! What they do instead is focus their efforts to improving themselves. Just imagine the difference it would make if you re-channeled all the energy you’ve expended comparing yourself with bettering yourself? You are your ultimate frame of reference, so track yourself against yourself. Are you fitter than you used to be? Are you budgeting better than you used to? Are you spending more time doing things you enjoy than you used to? Are you making progress toward your goals?
We all have our own fears to conquer, burden to carry and paths to forge. So run your own race and let others run theirs. The rest will take care of itself.
Admit your envy
Emotions that we don’t own, will own us. So if you’re wrestling with the green monster, the best way to loosen its grip is to acknowledge and verbalize it. Sure, you may feel a little foolish admitting that you’re jealous of someone else’s success, talents or attributes but having the courage to admit it can be liberating!
Not only that, but by having the courage to confide to the person you’re actually envious of, you can forge bonds in ways harboring hidden envy never can.
Many times after I’ve laid my pride on the line and shared my envy to someone they’ve reciprocated by sharing the ‘underbelly’ of their success. “I work out two hours a day,” said the woman with the amazing body during my recent beach holiday in Bali after I complimented her on how fabulous she looked. Other times they will share something they admire about me (which, of course, I just hate.) By being honest with ourselves and open with others we get present to the futility of our comparisons and the gifts in each other.
As I wrote in Brave, “We human beings are really ‘human becomings.’ Sometimes two steps forward, one step backward.” So if you trusted that you are more than enough just as you are right now, how might that free you to live more authentically, more creatively, and more bravely?
The truth is that we all have our own fears to overcome, burdens to carry, gifts to share and lessons to learn. So run your own race and focus on doing the best you can with what you’ve got. The rest will take care of itself.
If you found this article helpful and you haven’t yet got yourself a copy of my latest book Brave, then I hope you will. It’s now available as a hard copy, for e-reader AND as an audio book (narrated by me!) Learn more and find links to book retailers at www.TrainTheBrave.com