11 Ways to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Comparing yourself to others is like stepping into a black hole. You can always find someone who can outdo you in some way or other so that you end up on the bottom.
There’s nothing good or healthy about this. It’s an exercise to confirm that you’re not good enough.
Here’s how to stop doing this, and what to do instead.
#1 Engage in a social media detox.
Looking on social media can easily trigger feelings of inadequacy, scarcity, self-doubt, envy, and distorted thinking.
What people post is a very small slice of their lives, often exaggerated or taken out of context. Even if what’s posted is authentic, it still only represents a partial picture.
It’s easy to think that everyone else is doing well, or that they have a lot of friends and support, or that they’re happy.
If you’re prone to thinking you’re not good enough already, then hanging out on social media is a perfect way to confirm that and make you feel worse.
Take a vacation for a couple of weeks, or better yet, a month. It’s relieving. You’ll be able to focus on yourself without the constant harassment of feeling left behind or less than. A quick way to do this is remove all social media apps from your phone. You’ll be surprised at how much less you look at it, and how little you miss it.
#2 Accept and appreciate where you are right now.
All of us are works in progress. There’s no end-point.
We set goals to guide our activities and growth, but once a goal is reached, we set a new one.
The point is to grow and evolve, not arrive.
Appreciate the growth you’ve achieved as of right now. Then evaluate where you want to go and pursue it. Don’t lament what you haven’t yet achieved.
We all have our own time and our own process. Step into yours and own it.
#3 Make use of your history.
History is important for two reasons:
1. History helps shape who you are.
How you were raised, the experiences you’ve had, and the people with whom you’ve been closely involved all have a significant impact on who you are. Everything you’ve gone through brings you to where you are now.
It’s up to you to use it to your benefit and continue to evolve. If you feel stuck, then seek help to work through issues that are causing problems in the present. What’s important is to make use of your history in a way that will allow you to evolve and not be held back.
One of my favorite symbols in Buddhism is the lotus flower. If you’ve seen a picture of one (like this one below), it’s usually blossoming and floating serenely on water.
The significance of it is that the flower is perfect, beautiful, alive and calm, yet it blossoms and floats on murky, muddy water. Life can be this way too. You may have murky, muddy experiences, but like a lotus flower, you can make use of the mud and transform it to grow and evolve into the person you want to be.
Your history is your own. Don’t compare it to someone else’s, although you may find help from others who have had similar experiences. The important thing is to look at where you are, take what you need from your history, work through things that are hanging you up, and consciously and deliberately go forward.
2. History teaches you lessons.
Your past, present and future are all intertwined and part of a continuum that is your life. Don’t focus on someone else’s continuum. Step into yours, take the lessons you’re given along the way, and try not to repeat mistakes. Evolve forward.
#4 Operate from a place of gratitude.
Gratitude helps you be aware of and appreciate what you have and what’s been given to you. There are always people who have less, as well as those who have more. Be grateful and truly value what you have.
You can do this best by developing a regular gratitude practice. It can be something you do mentally like thinking about three things you’re grateful for before bed every night or in the morning when you wake up. Or, you may want to do something more formal like writing out a gratitude list daily. I prefer the second one because writing it out seems to give it more impact.
Daily gratitude helps keep some balance in your perception of your world. It’s easy to default to the negative. Just remembering what’s going well or what’s given to you or what you already have, inspires you toward growth, and diminishes the need to compare with someone else. It also paves the way for more opportunities.
#5 Invest in yourself.
Work on your stuff, nurture your creativity, and take care of yourself. This means physically, emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically. Treat yourself kindly, firmly, and with great care and love. Like you would your own child. If you find this to be difficult, read this. It’s about how to be your own best parent.
Pursue something of interest, read something, learn something new, get training for a new occupation, eat right, get enough rest, exercise . . . whatever you can do that says to you, “I’m valuable and I have a lot to offer.”
#6 Mind your company.
We’re strongly influenced by who we’re with.
The more intimate a relationship is, and the more time you spend with someone, the more you’re influenced by that person.
Instead of focusing on wishing you were more like someone else, ask yourself if that person is a good influence on you? Is the relationship a reciprocal one? Is there real friendship and empathy? Are you able to maintain your values and principles in that relationship?
One of the great discoveries about the brain is the existence of something called mirror neurons. When we watch someone throw a ball, the same set of neurons become activated in our brain as in the brain of the person throwing the ball. These are called mirror neurons and they’re what’s behind the phrase, “Monkey see, monkey do.” Mirror neurons are what allow us to imitate behaviors.
But, it goes a little deeper than that. They also allow us to internalize someone else’s emotional states. Daniel Siegel explains it like this:
Mirror neurons may allow us not only to imitate others’ behavior, but actually to resonate with their feelings. We sense not only what action is coming next, but also the emotion that underlies the behavior. For this reason we could also call these special neural cells “sponge neurons” in that we soak up like a sponge what we see in the behaviors, intentions, and emotions of someone else. We don’t just “mirror back” to someone else, but we “sponge in” their internal states.
This has a lot of implications for the influence that those close to us have on our own psyches. For example, we may find ourselves using the same phrases, having similar reactions to situations, thinking along the same lines, approaching things the same way, developing the same habits, and so on.
It happens sometimes even when you don’t want it to. This was recently driven home to me.
My husband has the habit of leaving the refrigerator door open while he’s fixing food for himself in the kitchen. I usually open and close it as I go so the cold air won’t escape, and I won’t waste energy. This habit of his drives me a little nuts!
So what do you think has happened? I find myself automatically doing the same thing! And I totally don’t like it, but that’s the effect of mirror neurons, and this is one example of just how powerful they are! Fortunately, he has a lot of great habits that rub off on me too:)
As you can see, it’s quite important to choose good company, and that means not only people, but what you read, watch, and hear.
Choose your friends and partners carefully, and make sure they have qualities you wish to emulate.
#7 Ditch envy.
Envy is a toxic emotion. It comes from a place of scarcity and lack. It assumes that someone else has something you don’t, and likely can’t get.
When the feeling arises, challenge it. Just because someone has something you want or admire doesn’t mean you’re diminished. You can learn to be happy for someone else’s fortune or success by empathizing with them, and at the same time feel good about where you are.
If you’re inspired by someone else’s success, that’s great! It may give you ideas about where you want to go or what you want to pursue. By all means do that, but do it with a sense of excitement rather than from a place of jealousy, envy, or worse, feelings of vindication.
Being happy for someone else’s success opens you up to more opportunities and successes of your own. It’s based on a belief that there’s enough for everyone, and we all have our own talents, ideas, assets, and drives.
Empathy moves you forward. Envy takes you backwards and keeps you stuck.
#8 Focus on your strengths.
Everyone has their own unique talents and strengths. Identify yours. If you haven’t done this, then get very deliberate about it. Make a list of your strengths. Take your time and really sift through your personal assets. Focus on both things you can do and characteristics that define who you are.
People often have trouble with this exercise because they either think it’s sort of cheesy and rah-rah, or they’re used to focusing only on deficits and are more comfortable doing that.
If the latter is the case, then you really need to learn to see your strengths so that you can build on them and make use of them. There’s nothing rah-rah about that!
If you’re having trouble with this exercise, then look into taking the Myers-Briggs Inventory, Enneagram and/or the Clifton Strengths Assessment (formerly Strengthsfinder). You can access them online and take them for a fee. All these give you information about your natural tendencies and assets as well as areas you could improve upon.
#9 Make comparisons to yourself, not others.
Use yourself as the comparison stick. Make improvements that best your previous performance. If I decide to write 50 words a day, and one day I write 60, then I’ve made an improvement and I consider this to be a success. It doesn’t matter that I don’t write 2000 words a day like writers I admire. I’m using my own yardstick, and I’ll keep improving on it.
Stay in your lane, and keep widening it.
The other thing to remember is that when you compare yourself to others, you almost always compare your worst to their best. You put all your energy and focus into making sure you come up at the bottom.
What’s the purpose of this? Does it help anything? At all????? NO! It’s just a way to set up a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s nothing of value here. In fact, it’s almost self-indulgent. Let this practice go right now!
#10 Go for effort over outcomes.
Life is evolution. Goals and results are milestones along the way to mark your progress, but as you reach one goal, you create a new one, and then another. It’s the process that’s the steady thing. We mentioned this already above, but let’s take it a little further.
Seeing the process as the main thread of life is a subtle shift in thinking that has a big impact. It allows you to make use of stumbling blocks along the way rather than becoming mired in disappointment or a sense of failure when something doesn’t go well.
The process is sometimes winding and rocky, and sometimes smooth and straightforward, and sometimes totally unpredictable. Making friends with the process while also exerting effort and rising to challenges is what allows growth.
When you value yourself in terms of outcomes only, then you easily fall into all or nothing thinking. When the outcome is good or rises to your expectations, then you’re valuable. When you hit a snag and fail to reach the goal, you’re a failure.
What a painful way to live!
It keeps you in a perpetual state of anxiety with moments of relief happiness when a goal is accomplished, but then it’s right back to having to prove yourself again as you reach for the next outcome.
Focus on your process and pepper it with goals, but identify with your growth rather than your outcomes. See yourself as someone who reaches for excellence, but isn’t defined by it. By the way, we usually learn the most from failures, not successes.
#11 Develop compassion.
This one may seem a little off the subject, but it actually lies at the heart of the subject. If we have true compassion, then we recognize that life is not easy for anyone.
Regardless of circumstances, we all experience ups and downs. We all experience loss. We all have insecurities. Anyone can have periods of loneliness, isolation, depression, or overwhelm and anxiety. Even the most secure people feel these things.
Next time you’re out in public, look around. Imagine that each person you see has their own share of difficulties, losses, worries, or challenges. Even those that look happy and at ease. No one escapes the challenges of being a human on this planet. Some are more fortunate than others, absolutely, but if you really look, you can see the fragility as well as the strength in human beings.
Developing this kind of compassion for others creates compassion for yourself. It doesn’t mean wallowing or lamenting or self-pity. It just means recognizing that we’re all in this together on some level, and we each have emotional challenges.
When you really know that, you stop comparing. You feel connection. Comparison with others is isolating. It’s a one up. Someone is better than someone else.
Compassion is connection. It’s give and take. It doesn’t exclude. It’s inclusive and accepting. It creates and nurtures relationships.
If you’re prone to negative comparisons with others, read this blog again in a week, and if you like, again in another week. Let these eleven things sink in. If you want to do something more concrete, focus on one at a time. Choose one each week and actively work on it. Review your progress at the end of the week and start on the next. If some are more stubborn than others, spend more time on them until you feel you’ve made some progress.
Please leave your comments below. I’m always interested in your ideas about the subject, and any practices you’ve used to help that you’d like to share.
Siegel, Daniel J and Bryson, Tina Payne (2011). The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. New York: Delacorte Press.