By: Dr. Tyler Fortman
We’ve all been there. Some of us live there. You log onto social media and see the “fantastic lives” of your exes, your high school classmates, and your co-workers. Maybe you walk through the Southport Corridor and find yourself jealous of the beautiful, thin, woman that just parked her BMW. You look into a mirror and compare your current body to your body at 25. Or, worse yet, you’re constantly evaluating if your looks, intelligence, or sense of humor lives up to your partner’s. The comparison trap can be never ending.
So, here’s the thing – comparing ourselves to others is perfectly normal. It’s even normal to feel envious of others and to want what they have. The problem is that this tendency, however normal, is that it can deteriorate your self-esteem, lessen your motivation, and cultivate depression.
When you compare yourself to others you say, “one of us has to be better and one of us has to be worse.” You establish a hierarchy and then rate yourself and others on it. The inherent problem is that neither outcome of the comparison feels very good. If you perceive yourself less favorably than you feel worthless. But, if you perceive yourself more favorably than you feel icky for making the comparison (or, maybe it’s worth evaluating ways in which your behavior is narcissistic).
There is another inherent flaw in your ability to compare too. Your perception is biased; because the outcome impacts you, you can’t see it objectively. Other’s people’s choices feel more exciting and interesting because they come from their personality, judgement, reason, and unconscious – all of which are, or course, totally unknown and mysterious to you.
If you recognize that comparisons aren’t serving you and you’re ready to make a change, consider these tips:
- Practice celebrating others. They are different from you; that’s okay. Try silently complimenting others on their successes. Use your envy as a guide. When you feel envious, use the feeling as your cue to celebrate the person’s success.
- Acknowledge that you don’t know it all and remind yourself often! We don’t know the whole story (remember that contributes to our distorted perceptions of others’ intrigue). You only know what others show you. So, assuming that their life is so much better than yours is as bad as assuming it is so much worse.
- Differentiate other’s assets and strengths from your own value. Others are not an extension of you. In fact, assuming that other’s are is an error of narcissistic thinking. So, be aware that when another person succeeds, this is no indication of you and your value. Just because another person is attractive, rich, or funny doesn’t mean that you aren’t. Consider the situation in which you are hanging out with people and one person constantly “one-ups” everyone else. Annoying, right? The person is falling into the comparison trap. They are affirming a belief that another person’s success, worth, or experience diminishes their own. If you catch yourself being “that guy” remind yourself of your strengths. Take a break if you need it and remember that your strengths aren’t less valuable because others have strengths too.
- Take time every day to reflect on what you are grateful for. Consider keeping a gratitude journal. Practicing gratitude is essential to remind yourself of the really awesome things in your life.
- Live in the moment! Comparisons are just thoughts. If you are truly living in the present you are aware that your are comparing and that the comparison is just a thought. You’ll also be able to bring yourself back to the present faster (and not get carried away in the foxhole of the comparison trap). This isn’t easy, so practice mindfulness!
- Get physical. Exercise is valuable to your mood, but it can also keep you in the moment. Spoiler alert: exercise also increases self-esteem. Improved ability to be in the moment, increased self-esteem, and upbeat mood reduce the likelihood you will fall into the comparison trap.
Let’s be clear – not comparing yourself doesn’t preclude you from self-improvement. Reflect on yourself and set goals. These are healthy behaviors. But, make sure you are your benchmark for comparison and not someone else. Your mood, motivation, and life will benefit as a result!