The other morning while I walked to work from the parking garage, I saw a group of four young, fit-looking people in a courtyard area doing an interesting combination of jogging in place, jumping, and pushups. This caught my attention both because of the activity and because it was only 5 degrees out.
A serious of random thoughts ran through my mind in fairly rapid succession:
How can they be doing that in such cold weather?
I suppose the exercise helps keep them warm.
I haven’t been doing much exercise lately.
There’s no way I’d be able to do what they’re doing.
Why haven’t I been doing more? I’m such a slacker.
Have you ever had internal conversations like these? I think they happen to a lot of us, but this type of comparison isn’t particularly useful.
Here’s a look at why you might want to get away from the comparison game, and five tips to help you get started.
Why Avoid Comparisons?
It’s all too easy to look at someone else and say, “They’re better/prettier/more talented/more accomplished than me.”
Our society contributes to this, with lots of focus on being “the best” at different things and ranking people for their achievements. (Although somehow, we don’t seem to give awards for things like being a good listener, giving excellent huts, or being generous.)
Social media just makes it that much easier to compare as we see carefully selected images that theoretically represent someone’s life. But those images don’t generally show the challenges and complexities we all face.
And that’s part of the problem with comparison. It’s not based on reality. We never know what someone else is going through, or exactly why they prioritize the things they do.
For example, perhaps those people out in the early morning cold were training for some kind of event that I’m not, which makes that kind of activity more important for them. Or maybe some of them have severe stress or anxiety and know that they need to exercise in that way for their mental health.
There’s also the fact that we’re all different, and some people have more opportunities or have genetics that gives them greater physical ability, or an appearance that happens to fit society’s norms.
All this means that comparing yourself to others has negative consequences:
You can always find someone who’s better than you at something, which can make you feel bad about yourself.
You might resent other people, even your friends, and that can damage your relationships.
You may find that you talk more about yourself to try to boost your ego, or criticize others to bring them down, none of which helps.
You could butt heads with people because you feel like you need to prove yourself, even when you don’t need to.
So if comparison has all these negative effects, what can you do instead?
Getting Out of the Comparison Cycle
If you’re trying to get away from comparing, here are five tips to help.
Tip 1 – Awareness
As with any pattern or habit, before you can change it, you need to be aware of it.
If you don’t already know how much you compare yourself to others, start paying attention to that, and if there are any patterns. Is it related to something specific, like appearance… clothing style… food choices… relationships… finances… or something else?
Does this tend to happen based on how you’re feeling? For example, if you’re stressed or anxious, do you compare more often than when you’re relaxed?
Knowing this will help you start to change those patterns.
Tip 2 – Remember that no one has it all
When you only see small glimpses into someone’s life, especially the parts that they want you to see, it’s easy to think that they have things together and everything is rosy for them.
But that’s never true.
No matter what you see about someone, they have their own problems and issues going on that you don’t see. For example, even those people whose appearance you admire may not feel great about their body or may wish they could change something about their appearance. Or they might have relationship or family problems, work concerns, health issues, and more.
If you can remember that when you start to compare yourself to someone, it may help you let go of that comparison.
Tip 3 – Accept your imperfections
When you acknowledge other people aren’t perfect and don’t have it all, you also have to remember that this applies to you, too. But that doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed about those imperfections.
I know this is easier said than done, but if you can accept who you are wholeheartedly, it won’t bother you as much when you see other people who are in different places in their lives.
Personally, I know that as a detail-oriented person, I sometimes get fixated on things that really annoy other people who aren’t detail-focused, and I can lose sight of the big picture because of the little items.
Knowing this doesn’t make me upset, though. Instead, it helps me remember that I sometimes need to get a different perspective or help from those who see things differently.
Tip 4 – Focus on your own strengths
Following along with tip 3, instead of focusing on your weaknesses, remember what you have to offer.
Too often we ignore the good parts about ourselves and instead look at our weak spots. If you celebrate what you bring, though, it will make you feel much better about yourself.
Another way to think about it is that that no one person can do or be everything, and part of what makes us individuals is that we all bring our own gifts to the table. You can probably do certain things better than I can, and vice versa – and that’s perfectly okay.
And if you know what you’re good at, and you’re willing to admit when you need help in other areas, you’ll be able to recognize that balance – and even celebrate it.
Tip 5 – Turn comparison around
One of the biggest problems with comparison is that it can turn things into a competition when they don’t need to be that way. For instance, you might feel bad about yourself for not achieving something a friend did, without recognizing all the effort that went into the achievement.
But you can also turn this around and tell a different story. Instead of feeling bad about yourself, you could use this as a means of inspiration to get some ideas about what you can do differently. Maybe you won’t focus on the same area as the other person, but if you consider the possibilities, you might find that you’d like to attempt something more.
Alternately, maybe if you find out just how much went into what the other person did, and everything they sacrificed to get there, you could decide that it’s not for you, and what you have is enough. You don’t have to always try to reach that higher goal.
Comparison Isn’t the Only Way
Our society is so caught up in comparison that it’s easy to think you have to play that game. But the good news is, you don’t. You can let go of the idea of comparison and focus on something else completely.
I know this isn’t easy, but if you notice when this comes up, remember that no one is perfect – including you – and focus on your own strengths and what you want to accomplish, you can move away from the downsides of comparison. And you’ll likely be happier.
Have your own stories or thoughts about the comparison game? I’d love to hear them!