How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Our brains are biologically wired to care about what is normal in society. We want to fit in and secure our place within the social hierarchy; this drives us to compare ourselves to other people constantly. We compare our material possessions, attributes, circumstances, past, income, relationships, results, and many more.
Why Do We Compare Ourselves to Other People?
Why Do We Compare Ourselves to Other People?The first reason that we compare ourselves to others is that we use it as a form of measurement of our self-worth. For example, comparing your exam results with your friend’s results or comparing your car to your neighbour’s car. By making this comparison, you get a sense of satisfaction from knowing you’re doing well relative to someone else. Or maybe you’re doing worse than them, in which case, it encourages you to study harder or earn more money at work. As humans, we like to know where we rank in the social hierarchy. We want to know how much value we have.
Another reason why we compare ourselves to others is that we fear the thought of not fitting in. We want to ensure that our behaviours and choices fit in with what society tells us is normal. This could be the way you dress, the music you listen to, the number of friends you have, owning a house by a certain age. This fear originated from the days of being part of a tribe, where it could place you in a life-threatening position to be an outcast from a tribe. This fear sticks with us throughout school, continues through university and in the workplace, and continues through the rest of your life unless you work towards changing it.
We also compare ourselves to others because of envy. When someone else has something you want, like an amazing relationship, a big house, or a muscular body, you feel you won’t be fulfilled until you get it. So you’re constantly comparing yourself to others to assess whether they also have these things. If everyone around you has the things you desire, it makes you feel worse about yourself because you feel like you’re deficient in some area of your life. For example, if all of your friends have big houses and you don’t, you feel like they are more valuable in society to you. But if your friends have the same size house as you, you feel like you fit in.
Motivation is another reason that people compare themselves to others. This strategy is used in sports, politics, business, and many other domains. There is a drive to be the best, but being the best means constantly comparing yourself to your opponent. This fuels many people; they believe it gives them a great source of motivation to perform at the highest level.
The last reason that humans compare themselves to others is because of insecurity. When you get to a certain place in life, let’s say you become one of the best players in your football team, or you earn a lot more commission than all of your colleagues at work. On the one hand, it’s comforting to know that you’re performing better than the people around you, but on the other hand, it can also be stressful. When you have this top position, you’re always looking out for potential threats, looking out for people overtaking you. It’s like you’ve got a throne that you’re defending, and you can never fully relax because other people want to get to your position. So you constantly have to compare yourself to others to check that you still have the top position.
Most comparing comes from low self-esteem or having a scarcity mindset. You feel that other people’s success minimises your own, and you see life as a zero-sum game. If you’re winning, someone else has to be losing, and if you’re losing, someone else is winning. This mentality can cost you because it ensures that you’re always on edge, looking out for threats. As a result, you never get to fully enjoy life because you’ve always got one eye looking at what other people are doing.
When you’re focusing on other people, it inhibits you from focusing on growing yourself. Even if you’re motivated by competing with other people, that motivation dissipates when you surpass other people because your entire motivation was to beat them. You feel empty once you achieve that. Your goal shouldn’t just be to become better than the people around you. Your aspirations should be to become as good as you possibly can. If all of the greatest inventors, CEOs, scientists just wanted to surpass the people around them, society would be very mediocre.
The Flaws in Comparing Yourself to Other People
You cannot compare two human beings because we are too complex for comparison.
There is an endless list of factors that shape us into who we are. We are impacted by our childhood, parents, economy, environment, personalities, the area we grow up in, genetics, and innate characteristics. Yet, when we compare ourselves to someone else, we tend to forget all of these factors.
Even if you’re comparing yourself to someone in your family, with whom you share many commonalities, you still cannot make a fair comparison. Even though you have the same upbringing, countless external sources shape your beliefs and characteristics. No two people experience life in the same way.
And that’s for people growing up in the same family, so when you’re comparing yourself to someone who grew up in a different family, or in a different town, or a different social class, how can you ever make a fair comparison?
And this is if you compare every aspect of your life with someone else, but we don’t consider all aspects when making comparisons. What we do is compare a particular facet of our life with someone else’s. For example, comparing your annual salary, or the amount you can bench press, or the number of countries you’ve travelled to. Your entire comparison is based on this one specific facet. Can you see how flawed this comparison is?
Our brains use these heuristics and cognitive biases to confirm what we already believe, especially if we have low self-esteem. For example, let’s take someone who dedicates their time to working hard in their job, progressing their career and trying to earn as much money as possible. However, since they spend all of their time working, they don’t get to meet potential partners and improve their dating life.
When this person sees couples together, it makes the person feel envious. It makes them feel unwanted since everyone else appears to be in relationships except them. They don’t consider that people in relationships aren’t dedicating all of their time to their careers. Their time at the weekend is spent building and maintaining a relationship rather than slaving away at the office. If this person had also factored their bank balance and career prospects into the equation, this comparison would balance out, showing that both people have their strengths in different areas.
But our minds don’t factor in all of these different facets; we pick one facet to focus on and conduct a comparison based on this one facet. So if you have low self-esteem, your brain will pick out situations that validate that by comparing yourself to others. Someone with high self-esteem would recognise that even though their dating life isn’t where they want it to be, there’s a lot of great things happening for them in other areas of their life. They would also recognise that if they want to improve their dating life, they’ll be able to build an amazing relationship if they start investing more time into it.
A Biased Comparison
You’re looking at all of your weaknesses so closely, but a lot of other people’s weaknesses are hidden from you. People don’t tend to share all of their flaws with you because they want to portray as much self-value as possible. So when you’re comparing yourself to other people, you’re comparing all of your characteristics to the favourable characteristics that the other person is choosing to show you. People fall into a dangerous trap of doing this via social media, comparing themselves and their qualities to some pictures that people cherry-pick to post online.
When you first meet someone, you’re unaware of the problems or dysfunctions that they have. As you learn more about them over time, their problems and dysfunctions become clearer. It’s important to recognise this trend because the people we compare ourselves to are those we know the least.
You’ve known yourself for as many years as you’ve been alive, so you see all your problems and dysfunctions with perfect knowledge. Whereas most people you’re comparing yourself to, you have no idea what problems and dysfunctions they have. All you get is a very surface-level indication, which is controlled by how much of their problems and dysfunctions they want to share with you.
How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People
When comparing yourself to others, ask yourself how much of the overall picture is being captured in that comparison. If you’re comparing your garden to your neighbour’s garden, this might be 1% or 0.5% of your life. If you’re comparing your career, this might be a 5% or 10% comparison. Think about all the different facets that make up your life; your relationships, hobbies, family life, material possessions, and attributes. Within each of these categories, you’ve got hundreds of aspects. For example, within your attributes, you’ve got your sense of humour, attention span, and memory.
This technique is an effective method for overcoming the habit of comparing yourself to others. You can go from being completely unconscious of comparing yourself to other people, to being semi-conscious of comparing yourself to other people, to being fully conscious of comparing yourself to others.
There might be times in your life when you realise it’s wrong to be comparing yourself to someone else, but it’s a bit of a weak realisation. You realise that it’s a flawed comparison in the back of your mind, but that’s drowned out by the desire to confirm your status within society. Whereas when you tell yourself to think of a percentage figure, it prompts you to think about the flaws in the comparison you’re making. As you continue to do this, you’ll learn to accept that comparisons are useless and are not serving you in any way. When you form this realisation, your mind will let go of the desire to compare yourself to other people.
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