Jane sat down next to Lucy at the school’s information meeting. Lucy started to recount details from her family’s latest holiday, “California is so wonderful in the summer and it was great to get out of town for a few weeks”. “I can’t wait until mid-term; we’ll be going to Bali again. How about you?” Jane didn’t want to tell Lucy that she and the kids were experiencing tough times financially, and there were no overseas trips on the horizon. “I don’t know yet”, she lied. To herself, she thought, “Lucy is so lucky; I am such a failure”.
People often appraise their success, their status, and their personal worth by comparing themselves with others, even celebrities. Facebook and Instagram are full of images of beautiful smiling families, exclusive dinners, children’s awards, and personal achievements. Comparing ourselves with others, especially through social media channels, can rob us of joy and happiness.
Invariably, there are will always be someone who is a better academic, speaker, sportsperson, or is taller, thinner, richer, with more Facebook friends than ourselves. When we make these comparisons, we stimulate feelings of inadequacy and bitterness. These comparisons are especially harmful to teens as their sense of self is not as yet fully developed.
Seven reasons to stop comparing
1) When you constantly look at the world through a lens of “winners and losers” you will always find others who have achieved more than you. This is disorienting, and artificially casts you in the role of loser. This is damaging to your sense of self-worth.
2) Comparing people is usually driven by inaccurate information. In the situation described at the beginning of this blog, Jane feels inadequate because she is comparing the value of “holidays”, what that might signify to others and then applying her perceptions to her sense of success. She doesn’t know that Lucy has a troubled marriage, struggles with her children, and suffers with mental health issues. We often compare snapshots and these are often superficial, incomplete and heavily filtered (not to mention photo shopped).
3) Constantly comparing yourself to your friends, and others, robs you of the enjoyment in celebrating their successes with them, and can lead you to see friends as rivals rather than a valuable source of personal support and fun.
4) Comparing yourself with others is a constant losing battle. It never ends.. Striving to compare doesn’t make you feel better and can create a learned compulsory cycle of discontent, feeling “less-than”, and self-hatred.
5) Comparisons with others can distract you from your goals. The ruminations that comparing creates zaps your energy and wastes what energy you have focusing on a perceived deficit in yourself rather than on achieving your goals in life.
6) Comparing yourself with others will only echo the feeling that life is unfair. Some people are born with more advantages such as social connections, wealth and looks. The world is an uneven playing field. When we focus on comparisons we brood on this unfairness rather than focusing on what we have the power to achieve.
7) Comparisons focus your attention on the outside world, rather than your inner state. When you focus on how you look relative to others, you may lose sight of what values you want to represent and who you are as a person.
Break the cycle: compare no more
The first step to breaking the comparison mindset is to acknowledge the thoughts you are having and accept them as they occur. Remember that you have choices. Decide to challenge your thoughts and how you interpret the world. Confront your perceptions. Do you have full and accurate information about a person or a situation? Does it really matter to your life goals?
Be more aware of your own successes relative to your goals. Recognize your achievements and celebrate your success rather the comparing it with the (perceived) success of others.
Appreciate more, compare less. Practicing gratitude about what you have, without looking to see if it is more or less than what others have, will increase your sense of satisfaction.
Give yourself the occasional pep talk. Tell yourself “Nobody is perfect. I deserve kindness from myself.” Rather than focusing on others, explore what you can learn about yourself.
Stop yourself from falling back into the cesspit of comparisons. Celebrate your uniqueness, find yourself a mentor to help you focus on what you want to achieve, and act to make your personal contribution to your world.
You can make your life happier, simply by stopping activities which are associated with diminishing enjoyment of life. Stop comparing, and start celebrating who you are.If you continue to have problems breaking your compulsion to compare, you might like to consider counselling.
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About the author: Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting, family life, parenting SEN children, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce.