There is a natural human tendency to compare ourselves with others. Many of us habitually engage in this practice as a way of getting some feedback on how we are doing. The ego side of us likes to measure where we are in the pack—“Am I leading? Am I falling behind? Do I need to run faster? If I take a break will I fall further behind?” Our ego thinks this kind of vigilance is helpful. However, constantly comparing ourselves with others is a dangerous endeavor that can suck the joy out of life.
The comparison game is an addictive, destructive habit that eventually catches up with us. With any addiction there is usually a short-term payoff but a long-term downside. Addictions keep us scanning for our next “fix” to help us feel better, but over time we find that it takes more and more of the “drug” to make a difference. To add insult to injury, every time we make a comparison we reinforce the false belief that our true worth is based on how we stack up with others.
Another insidious aspect of the comparison trap occurs when we pick out the most attractive quality that we envy in another and then beat ourselves up for not having that same gift. It is important to realize that when we make such comparisons we are usually using an inaccurate and irrelevant measuring stick. Think about the futility of this endeavor. Take Julie for example, an introvert who feels energized after periods of alone time. Now, Julie compares how she acts at parties with Holly who is a bubbly extravert who gets bored by an hour alone with herself. There are a number of illogical conclusions Julie can come to by making this comparison such as, “Why can’t I be more outgoing like Holly? She is the life of the party. I get worn out at social gatherings whereas Holly is raring to go well into the evening. Holly is always up for a good time. I’m not much fun. I am boring.” And the downward spiral continues.
Sometimes we take the opposite tact—looking down on others who have it “worse” in an effort to make us feel better. With this approach we subtly deceive ourselves by thinking that we are just “counting our blessings,” but when we look down on others we are still playing the comparison game with all the trappings that go with it.
So, whenever and however we try to play the comparison game it is usually counterproductive and often damaging. Comparing ourselves to others is not the way to inner peace, nor does it help us find our true self-worth.
Social Media Feeds the Addiction
Unfortunately, the social media explosion is not helping the human race get over this comparison addiction. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn actually fuel our desire to compare. Some of us are so caught up in social networking that a day, or even an hour, does not go by without logging on. This pastime has a serious downside. Research studies have shown that reviewing blogs and Facebook pages can actually lead to increased levels of depression and feelings of inferiority. This condition even has a name called “Facebook Depression.”
A recent study conducted by two German universities found that one in three people felt worse and more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting Facebook. The study revealed that vacation photos were the biggest cause of resentment, with more than half of envy incidents triggered by holiday pictures on Facebook. Social interaction was the second most common cause of envy, as users would compare how many birthday greetings they received and how many “likes” or comments were made on photos and postings.
You see, what is subtly self-destructive about comparing ourselves with our friends’ Facebook pages, blog posts and Christmas letter updates is we think we are seeing the whole picture. But really we are seeing just their highlights, and we think, “Why can’t my life be like that?”
Steven Furtick (author of Greater, a New York Times Best Seller) puts it this way: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
How to Kick the Habit
How do we get out of the comparison trap? The first and most important step is realizing that the high costs of playing the comparison game far outweigh the benefits. Here are five helpful tips to consider:
1) Notice how often you are comparing throughout the day. Keep a simple journal and jot down every time you find yourself making a comparison.
2) Become more aware of the negative feelings that accompany your comparisons. Include these unpleasant thoughts and feelings in your journal.
3) Consider the stress and strife that comes from constantly checking your standing with outside measures. Consider the emotional toll you have paid.
4) Realize the insanity in the “yo-yo effect”--up one minute because your last Facebook post got a bunch of “likes,” then down the next when you hear about your neighbor’s family vacation being “better” than yours.
5) Rather than comparing outward, look inward to discover your divine, inherent self-worth and believe—really believe—that you are OK just the way you are. Realize that your true self-worth can’t be measured by the kind of car you drive or the number of toys you own.
Kicking the comparison habit can take some time. Be patient with yourself during the transition. In the meantime, since our conscious minds are conditioned to quantify, rank and file information we need to give the busy mind something to do. So, instead of looking outward for comparisons, why not look inward and redirect the comparison to a past and a present self. For example, next time you find yourself making a comparison with someone else, channel your focus inward and take stock of the growth and progress you have made. Consider a bad habit you have overcome or a self-limiting belief you have let go of. What positive trait or behavior have you allowed to flourish? What rough edges have you smoothed out in yourself? What is the next rough edge you can work on?
When Michelangelo was carving the statue of David he said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. I saw the angel in the marble and carved to set him free.” It is important to realize that we all have an angel inside us called our true self. With that realization we can choose to let go of the need to compare ourselves to others. Instead of playing the comparison game, we can channel our attention on rounding off the rough edges so our true selves can emerge.
John's passion is in helping people get unstuck so they can experience their true potential. Before starting his own practice he spent 14 years coaching, consulting, and presenting to Fortune 500 companies, teams, and individuals on how to breakthrough their barriers and magnify their talents.