Comparing ourselves to others is a destructive habit that can have lifelong damaging effects on our emotional well being. Here medical doctor and psychotherapist Dr. Tara Weir (@drtarasunshine) provides seven tips on how we can move away from self-deprecating and punishing comparisons to embrace our own lives. Read on to learn how to stop the negative comparisons and appreciate your own life and journey.
We are all uniquely beautiful creatures. Yet for whatever reason, we have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to one another. The real problem with this unfortunate habit is that it is a fast-track route to unhappiness. If we look, we will most certainly find someone who is smarter, more successful, more attractive. Whenever I get sucked into making comparisons, I quickly find myself in a downward spiral of self-doubt, self-criticism and self-sabotage.
In addition to deepening our personal insecurities, comparisons can exacerbate negative feelings of jealousy and resentment. Some of the most insecure people I know have a hard time celebrating the success of others. This is not how most of us want to be. It is wonderful to be able to interact with strong, smart, successful individuals. They should help us feel empowered, not threatened.
It’s up to us, and only us, to shut down this negative comparison game for good. Here are some tips on how to move away from punishing ourselves with self-deprecating comparisons and move toward making healthy personal connections.
1. Be self-aware
Yes, awareness really is the first step. So just by reading this very article, you are already off to a good start. Whenever you find yourself feeling anxious or jealous, ask yourself: are comparisons partly to blame for these negative feelings? Then try to hit the pause button and remind yourself of the following points.
2. Be grateful
In our struggle to keep up with the Joneses, we become fixated on all the things we don’t have (or think we don’t have). Shifting our focus to the things we are grateful for can make all the difference. Instead of feeling deprived, we learn to live with a sense of abundance. An attitude of gratitude overrides our tendency to look for the next “big thing” to make us happy. It instead empowers us to count our blessings and treasure the simple pleasures of life. Check out my blog “The Practice of Gratitude” for some practical tips on developing your own gratitude practice – it takes training to change your mindset!
3. Don’t compare what cannot be compared
The old adage, “it’s like apples and oranges” is used whenever comparisons are drawn between two things that are, in fact, incommensurable. They simply cannot be judged in relation to one another because they are different in fundamental ways. And, like apples and oranges, people are so special and unique that there’s really no point in even trying to compare them.
We have our own distinctive traits and personalities. We have our own strengths and foibles. And yes, we have our own successes and frustrations. We shouldn’t compare these things, however. Comparisons are inherently unfair. The cards are stacked against us when we contrast what we see as the best of someone else with the worst of ourselves. We are setting ourselves up to feel bad.
4. We don’t know the full story of someone’s life
Everything is filtered. Looking at social media, in particular, people post the pick of the litter: the photo they want you to see, with a message that contains the info they want you to read. It is completely orchestrated and planned for your consumption. Is this wrong? Of course not. It’s what we all do, but the point is that we need to remember that it is indeed what we all do. Don’t fool yourself into believing that what you see on someone’s social media is their true life. These are just plotted snapshots and highlights.
It is important to continuously remind yourself that each and every one of us has a side unseen. We can never truly know anyone else’s full story. Instead, we are viewing well-edited clips through our own often distorted lens. As the Roman philosopher, Phaedrus once said, “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”
5. If you’re going to compare, compare yourself to you
Yes, you read that correctly. If you feel a strong urge to compare, turn the attention inward. Look at your present self in comparison to where you have come from. Focus on what you have learned and how you have grown from your experiences. Be honest with yourself about your challenges, but, more importantly, give yourself permission to celebrate your strengths and accomplishments. Never forget them.
6. Change your negative feelings into something motivating
There will, of course, be times where you still get sucked into comparing yourself with others. When this happens, take notice of when it brings about feelings of anxiety and envy. Pause to acknowledge these feelings, and then ask yourself if there are any changes that need to be made in your own life. This is a great way of turning those negative feelings into something that inspires you to be more productive.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. It can be easier to complain and wallow in jealousy and self-pity than to stop and actively work toward your own goals. But try to focus on an actionable plan. Do you secretly loathe your colleague for appearing so in shape, even after three kids? Then stop and look at your own current level of fitness and set yourself an action plan. Similarly, if you envy your friend’s big new house and fancy shoe collection, perhaps there are some positive steps you can take to improve your own financial security – maybe this is the start of a better budgeting plan? The key is to disconnect your self-worth from the equation. You can be “good enough” while still striving to learn and challenge yourself. Make sure the goals you set are appropriate and doable for you (see the resource “Setting SMART Personal Strategies”), and remember to celebrate your progress along the way. Give yourself the credit you deserve.
7. Revisit the Serenity Prayer
Many of us have heard the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
There truly is no point in spending so much energy struggling to change the things that just are. Our time and energy are finite and need to be invested where they can make a difference in our lives. What really is key, though, is the wisdom piece in the prayer. There have been times in my life when I did not put effort into things that I erroneously believed to be unchangeable. We can’t change where we were born, our family of origin, our natural hair colour, or our biological age. But we can build our own community, find our “chosen” family, develop our own style, and improve our fitness age. We can also look for that new exciting job, end that toxic relationship, leave that unhealthy marriage, ask for what we want, write that book, eat healthier, have more fun, and learn how to be more patient, more kind, more grateful, more compassionate, and more joyful.
Whenever you find yourself thinking that you don’t measure up, stop and remind yourself that there is no one else in the world quite like you. No one who can do what you do exactly the way that you do it. Know that things are not always what they seem and that everyone has their own hardships to bear. Be grateful for what you have and what you have learned. Stop comparing yourself to others, and start bettering yourself. You are much more than just adequate. This is your journey.
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