Comparison-itis is one of the more common mental hang-ups out there. Often occurring alongside other conditions such as anxiety or depression, it can spell disaster for those who suffer from it.
Comparing ourselves to others is a character trait that very few of us can claim not to possess. Most of us are guilty of looking at those around us and feeling like we don’t measure up.
Whether it’s work, love, finances, looks, material possessions, family relationships, or any other aspect of human life, comparison-itis creeps in unbidden and weighs on our minds.
It often starts at a young age, perhaps when we’re at school and eyeing up our friend’s backpack that’s far trendier than ours, or seeing their string of ‘boyfriends’ or ‘girlfriends’ and wondering why we haven’t got a queue of admirers.
Even once we theoretically have our ducks in a row and are full-blown ‘adults,’ we’re often guilty of comparing the way we live with the people we know. Though this tendency gradually fades for some, comparison-itis isn’t something we all become immune to when we grow up.
Comparing ourselves to others can be what prevents us from taking leaps of faith and trying to better ourselves. Convinced that we’ll never be as good as those around us, we don’t take that trip, make that move, start that hobby, ask that person out…
Why Do We Do It?
It’s thought that our drive to compare ourselves is part of a very basic desire we have to understand ourselves and our place in the social sphere. It helps us to add context to the world and communicate better with those around us.
The Problem With Comparisons
Comparing ourselves with others isn’t always a negative thing. Provided it’s done with the right mindset, it can even inspire us and motivate us.
On the other hand, it can be fuel for envy and low self-esteem. Unfortunately, more often than not, these comparisons will prevent us from trying anything new or taking risks, destroying our confidence in ourselves.
We never give ourselves even the slightest chance of winning when we’re comparing ourselves with others, as we’re mentally pitting our worst traits against the best traits we imagine other people to have.
That means we’ve got nothing to gain as a result of comparisons; no value or meaning. Yet, we do stand to lose a fair amount, including our pride or our drive.
If you’re reading this, I wouldn’t mind betting that comparing yourself to others is a significant problem for you. If you totted up the total amount of time that you spend brooding on other people’s lives rather than focusing on your own – which, by the way, is the only life to which you can actually make a difference – you’d be shocked at the number of days you’ve thrown away, to absolutely no end.
Don’t pretend to yourself that the day you achieve success you’ll stop this pattern of behavior. There will always be someone or something that you don’t have that someone else does. That’s life!
A Modern Problem?
Humans have been comparing themselves to their peers since the dawn of time. It’s not a modern phenomenon. Theodore Roosevelt himself observed that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
However, in the past, it wasn’t quite so easy for us to wallow in self-pity. Instagram wasn’t a thing. Although social media is a blessing in many ways, it’s also a curse.
None of us are honest on Instagram, or whatever our social media channel of choice happens to be. We all fashion a carefully curated picture of our lives and share the good stuff. We present the photos taken from a good angle or the exotic holidays we go on.
We’re not so keen to share how we look first thing in the morning or the endless days we spend trapped in an office dealing with our difficult boss.
Although we’re all guilty of doing this, we often don’t remember that when we see other people’s seemingly thrilling and glamorous social media feeds, they’re not telling the whole story.
We start comparing the way things are going for us with the way things appear to be going for them, with no idea what the context actually is, and quickly fall down into a comparison hole.
As Steve Ferrick so eloquently puts it, this makes us so insecure because “we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
Even after a lifetime of negatively comparing yourself with others, there are still ways that you can disrupt the thought process and change the way you think about things for the better.
It’s about making an effort to alter the way your subconscious mind operates and the beliefs that dominate it so that, eventually, you’re no longer so prone to doing yourself the disservice of constantly comparing yourself to those around you.
Here are a few exercises you can try and some things to focus on that will help change the way you perceive comparisons.
1. Reflect On The Harm Comparison Has Done In Your Life
Is there a risk you didn’t take as a result of your low self-esteem? How might your life have been different if you’d never been affected by comparison-itis?
Sure, comparisons might have tripped you up here and there, but there’s an awful lot to celebrate.
Whoever you are and whatever you do, you’re unique, special, and have an amazing set of gifts.
You’ve achieved incredible things in your life. Make a list of the things you have achieved, however tangible or intangible, and use that as your motivation.
If you must compare with someone, compare the YOU of today with the YOU of the past, and marvel over how far you’ve come.
3. Reduce Your Social Media Time
Do yourself a favor and ration the time you spend on social media. Give yourself ten minutes a day to check your accounts. Take the apps off your phone. Unfollow those people that trigger thoughts of comparison.
4. Focus On The Things And People That Matter
We tend to compare ourselves to people we don’t really know that well and whose lives we only get glimpses of on social media.
Stop giving those people so much of your attention and so much influence over your thoughts and life. Instead, refocus on your close friends and family; be more present in your interactions with them.
Get out and about, exercise, read, or sign up for that class you’ve been wanting to start. The busier you are, the less time you’ll have to worry about what everyone else is doing.
Conquering comparison-itis is a process that takes time. You won’t be able to simply stop overnight. When you do find yourself looking on in envy at others, ask these questions:
Is it important to me? Do you really want what that person has? A flash car? An expensive wedding? A backpacking trip around the world? Why do you want it?
Where am I going? Would it fit your life plan? Your friends might be out every night, but if you’re saving up for a long-term plan, remind yourself of your focus when you find yourself getting jealous.
How far have I come? Remind yourself of that list of successes you wrote down. Wish everyone else well, accepting that their successes don’t make yours any less worthy, and get on with ploughing your own furrow.
Katie splits her time between writing and translation. She writes about travel and self-care and never stays in one place for too long. She’s currently based in beautiful Cornwall, England, after long stints in Brazil and Mexico. She spends her free time trail running, exploring and devouring vegan food.