There have been times when I look through Facebook and see my friends having good times at parties. Or I talk to an old friend and find that they’re doing really well for themselves. Better than I am, even. Yet, instead of just being genuinely happy for them, I find myself becoming frustrated with myself and ask all sorts of questions.
Why am I not as sociable as them?
Why aren’t I doing more?
Why can’t I just be as happy as them?
Or if I’m on the other side of the see-saw looking down I might become judgemental in an effort to validate my own position.
While these questions may not be expressed explicitly, they definitely capture the attitudes felt at the time. What’s wrong with them?
The Highlight Reel
The habit of comparing yourself to others is one of many negatives where positives can be found in other, much healthier habits.
The comparisons we make tend to be unfair. Very rarely do we compare every part of our lives with every part of the other person’s life. We simply aren’t presented with everything the other person does. A tweet can’t explain a whole 24 hours in detail. However, we have access to all the exciting and boring things we might do.
With this simple imbalance of information we end up comparing our seemingly mundane lives to the highlight reels of others.
We see the parties, smiles, peacefulness and fun that others experience and see ourselves sitting down staring at our computers looking at other people. Of course we’ll feel bad after that! Who wouldn’t?
Now, what if you compare your best moments to the best moments of others and still feel bad?
The comparison remains useless. The happy moments of others in comparison to your own needn’t matter to you as you can only experience the things you do. Spending time appreciating them instead of becoming disappointed that you haven’t done more does disservice to the good things you’ve experienced in the past. It’s like saying “I don’t deserve to be happy because other people are happier”. Do you think that’s true? I truly hope not.
What about competition?
An oft-made point about comparison is that it’s healthy because a bit of competition is healthy. And of course, you need to compare yourself to others in order to compete. Therefore, some comparison can be healthy.
With this I agree and disagree. But mostly disagree.
Competitiveness can be healthy in an environment where it’s regulated and furthers development of the people involved. Places like this include: rugby matches, board games with younger siblings and spelling bees.
Comparing yourself to others in endless (and difficult to measure metrics), does not fall into the category of healthy competitiveness. We’ll always find something else to compare ourselves to meaning we’ll always lose and feel bad. It’s a waste of time, energy and only moves us further away from feeling better about ourselves for the things we’ve done.
Instead, look to find inspiration in others. If you see someone doing well, take the time to be happy for them. Then ask how you can incorporate the good things they’ve done to better yourself. When I read my favourite writers, I find it futile to complain they’re doing better than I. Rather, I ask how I can make improvements to my own writing and value their contribution to writing. After all, I wouldn’t view them as role models otherwise.
The difference between finding inspiration and competing with others can appear slight but the difference is important. One comes comes from compassion and the other results in negativity.
How do I stop comparing myself to others?
- Understand that it’s harmful. It makes us feel less satisfied, and worse about ourselves. Or it can make us far too judgemental.
- Focus on your own victories. The victories we focus on do not need to be huge. They can be as small as making lunch for ourselves or as large as completing a long-term project
- Watch the urge. The urge to compare ourselves to others sneaks up on us quietly. When you do catch it, stop and remind yourself you don’t need to compare yourself to others to find satisfaction with yourself.
- Focus on yourself. Comparing yourself to others takes time away from yourself. The things you want to accomplish will continue to be put on hold because you’re spending time feeling bad about not being as far ahead as another person.
- Breathe. Slow down and take time to appreciate yourself.
Ending the needless comparisons will help us get closer being content with ourselves. Then we can move forward with more compassion for ourselves and others. Removing comparisons and focusing on ourselves does not mean we should become self-centred and shut off everyone else.
It means we should shift our focus and find value in our own accomplishments, however big or small, and use that to grow and celebrate progress.
Here are some links you might find helpful/interesting:
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of comparing yourself to others.
Facebook makes us sadder and less satisfied: 1 2
As always, thanks for reading :)