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The Danger of Comparison: Why it’s Holding Us Back
In a world where social media and a constant stream of images and information, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. There has never been more access to images and stories about the most talented, most beautiful, and most successful people. You might have been the hottest catch in your village 1000 years ago, but now it is almost impossible to be the best.
It’s in our nature to compare ourselves to others, and comparison is part of our evolution. But with such intense access to so much stuff, comparison can damage our well-being. It can hold us back from living a fulfilling and authentic life. Here’s why comparison can be so bad for our brains.
1. Comparison can breed discontent
When we compare ourselves to others, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have or what we perceive as lacking in our own lives. This can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and a sense that we are not enough. It can make us feel ungrateful for the things we have, and generate resentment towards others.
Comparison is often done with people that we see or feel as doing better than we are. It is even worse when the things we value are achieved by others. This can lead us to feel insecure and pretty shitty about ourselves. We might soak up our own self-pity, or use the comparison as an unhealthy motivator.
Even if you’re not comparing yourself to someone who is doing better than you, you might still be generating feelings that aren’t healthy. Feeding your ego by judging others and getting validation from the fact you are outperforming others isn’t admirable. Other people doing poorly shouldn’t be your source of success. The only comparison you should be doing with others is to make sure that they do not need help. Other people’s successes and failures are none of your concern.
2. Comparison can distort reality
It’s important to remember that what we see on social media and in other forms of media is often carefully curated and may not reflect reality. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing our behind-the-scenes lives to others’ highlight reels. We all know that people don’t post their worst moments. So many situations look better on Instagram than they do in real life. The issue is your brain can’t hold this information subconsciously. Even if you know logically that most people are only posting the highlights, it can make you feel bad regardless.
You don’t have to look far to find the behind-the-scenes information that ruins the façade that influencers and celebrities create. Even your own social media might paint a different picture from reality. Again, the important thing here is to understand that even if you are aware that reality is different from the things you see online or in media, allowing yourself to generate negative feelings of comparison isn’t a good idea. Taking yourself out of situations or unfollowing people that make you feel negative about yourself or your life is a good idea. You don’t win the moral high ground by enduring your Insta feed!
3. Comparison can stifle authenticity
When we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, it can be difficult to be true to ourselves. It makes it hard to embrace our unique strengths and qualities. A lot of people engage with content that makes them feel negative emotions claiming that it is inspirational, or motivational. However, this should be questioned. I used the same excuse, but I have found real value in limiting my access to external ‘inspiration’. This is a particularly negative thing to do if the ‘inspo’ is how they look, their aesthetic or their body.
There is beauty in diversity, and it is important to get yourself to a place where you can admire someone else (for any characteristic) without having your own value and worthiness called into question. Appreciating something amazing, beautiful or successful means that they have some cool qualities. It doesn’t mean that you are lacking them. A sunflower doesn’t worry about the beauty of a rose, or whatever that phrase is. If you want to follow someone or consume media because you find it inspirational and helpful, take the time to consider if they are the right person for you to idolise.
How can we break free from the habit?
So, you’ve probably learned that comparison is not always the ideal motivator, and can make you feel a lot worse. One strategy to stop this negative cycle is to focus on gratitude. Appreciation for what we have, rather than dwelling on what we don’t have can have positive impacts on your mindset. It can also be helpful to cultivate a sense of self-acceptance and to remember that everyone’s journey is different.
Most of us live incredibly privileged lives and are surrounded by an abundance of access and opportunity. Taking time to intentionally remember what you have and what you are already good at is a good way to boost your confidence. This can help you feel more stable when those feelings of comparison do arise.
What if I am feeling jealous?
A second thing to think about is why you are feeling negative from the comparison in the first place. Like we said earlier, when we feel negative from comparison it is usually a sign that someone else has something we value. Maybe you can use this to motivate yourself, or as a starting point for working on something that can raise your self-esteem. Self-improvement should be done out of love for yourself, not out of hatred though. Improving out of spite isn’t healthy – even if it gives you results.
If however, you are feeling negative out of comparison and it’s something that is truly unattainable for you, then consider using this as an opportunity to change your values. Maybe you think someone has a desirable trait, and you know that it is truly impossible for you to learn or become whatever it is that you are lusting over. Maybe this is a sign it’s time to change your values.
This is crucial if it’s something aesthetic or visual. There are hundreds of characteristics that are more important than how you look. Maybe it’s time for you to understand that you cannot and will never be the most beautiful person in the room, but you can be the kindest, strongest, healthiest, happiest, smartest, most interesting or most successful. There are limitless ways to improve yourself, and having the cutest nose in the room isn’t the route to the most fulfilling life.
What if I still feel negatively?
If all else fails try to limit your exposure to social media and other forms of media that may trigger feelings of comparison. It might feel like a cop-out to just simply avoid the scenarios that make you feel negative. But, it can give you the mental space to cultivate some self-esteem. Maybe you don’t need to avoid looking at other people’s lives forever. But, a little break to work on yourself and gain some meaningful skills might be what you need to come back a little stronger mentally and physically. ‘Don’t get mad, get even’, can be applied in a healthy way!
By breaking free from the habit of comparison, we can live a more authentic and fulfilling life and embrace our unique strengths and qualities. You don’t have to avoid competition and comparison forever. You just need to build your self-esteem and know your worth. There will always be someone somewhere who has a few more points than you. We can never be perfect. But, we can learn to channel our comparison and negative feelings into a positive outcome, by changing our behaviour and working towards the goals that we have identified as meaningful to us, and building a positive relationship with ourselves.