How To Stop Yourself From Falling Into The Comparison Trap
You're doing amazing, sweetie! (Honestly. You are.)
Ever since primary school, we’ve been falling into the trap of comparing ourselves to our peers. Then as social media rose to prominence, we were given the ability to scrutinise other people’s lives from the comfort of our own home. All of this has combined to create a narrow, unforgiving metric against which we learn to measure our lives. We look at 18-year-old Olympians, actors, singers, and artists, and wonder what the point is. We see old friends living out the happiest version of their life, and wonder why ours is so bleak.
Constantly comparing yourself to others not only stunts your own self-appreciation, it turns the achievements of people around you into an attack on yourself, rather than something to be celebrated. If you’re in need of a shift in perspective, here are some ways to combat comparison.
The first step to stopping harmful behaviour is to become aware of where it comes from. Take note of any comparative thoughts creeping in, and try to determine where those feelings come from. Is it from seeing your friends succeed faster than you? Is it from academic performance, or romantic success? What is the root of the problem? Which insecurities are at play?
These may seem like thorny questions but knowing why you’re feeling a certain way influences the actions you need to take to ease them. Every plant needs a certain combination of sunlight and water to survive. In the same way, every thought pattern needs to be tended to in its unique way.
The people around you who may look successful and put together also experience failure, insecurities, set-backs, and self-doubt. The only difference is that you have such an intimate knowledge of your own life, but only a surface level understanding of most other people. So you’re comparing your entire life with only a tiny portion of everyone else’s. As Dr Susan Biali Haas wrote for Psychology Today, “Unless you’re really close to someone, you can’t use their outward appearance to judge the reality of their life.”
If you find yourself falling into comparative thoughts, appreciating the complexity of everybody else’s lives can help shift your perspective.
Only Compare You To You
If you must compare, comparing your own journey could do a world of good. Even thinking back to your life one year ago can do wonders. There will always be a time in your life you wished you were living the life you have now. That’s not nothing.
As Matthew McConaughey said in his very confusing 2014 Oscars speech, “My hero is me in 10 years… Every day, every week, and every month of my life, my hero is always 10 years away.”
Yes, he was memed straight away. But the message is pretty neat: Focusing in on your own progress is important. You may not be moving as fast as some, but you’re still moving forward
Deeply ingrained thought patterns can’t be broken without constant maintenance. If you find yourself falling into those comparative thoughts, try and stay on top of them by calling yourself out. Even a simple “wait, this isn’t a productive thought,” sustained over a period of time can help you stay on track.
In the end, there’s always going to be someone better than you. There will always be someone with slightly higher grades, a slightly better job, or more followers than you. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t also killing it on your own journey.
Accepting that is the first step to appreciating your achievements and the achievements of others simply as they are, rather than another spot on the perpetual ranking system of life.