If you are like me, you probably catch yourself frequently falling into the ever-alluring yet emotionally-dangerous trap of comparing yourself to others. According to social comparison theory, we do this in an attempt to make accurate evaluations of ourselves. But at what cost? While comparison can be a valuable source of motivation and growth, it can also spin us into a tail-chasing frenzy of self-doubt. With the explosion of social media giving us access to continuous material upon which to compare ourselves, our attempts to keep up with the Joneses have moved beyond the neighborhood and onto the web. This makes it especially important, now more than ever, to think about the downside of using others as a benchmark for our own worth.
Here are three reasons why you should stop comparing yourself to others.
1) It’s Damaging To Your Sense Of Self
Mark Twain said that “comparison is the death of joy,” and the science agrees. Research has found that comparing breeds feelings of envy, low-self confidence, and depression, as well as compromises our ability to trust others. While downward comparison, comparing ourselves to those less fortunate, can provide some benefit to one’s sense of self, even this form of comparison comes at a price. It requires that we take pleasure in someone else’s failures or misfortunes in order to feel adequate, which can fuel mean-spirited competitiveness versus collaboration; jealousy versus connection. When comparing leads you to devalue yourself or others you’ve entered dangerous territory.
2) What You Are Comparing Against Is Inaccurate Information
Let’s face it: What people present to the outside world is usually an edited version of their reality. When someone asks you how you are doing, how often do you respond by saying, “my husband is driving me crazy, I’m feeling like a failure at work, and I’m just about ready to lose my mind”? Instead, you probably bite your tongue and say “things are really great!” A recent study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin confirmed that people are less likely to reveal their negative emotions than their positive emotions. Additionally, the study found that people tend to overestimate the presence of positivity in the lives of others, while they misinterpret or fail to detect negative feelings in others. So not only is what’s being delivered an incomplete picture, we tend to distort the information we do receive — a double whammy. So next time you find yourself comparing to someone else stop and ask yourself if it is really fair to compare when you don’t have all of the information. As Steve Furtick explains, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
3) It Doesn’t Actually Help You Accomplish Your Goals
Ruminating about how someone else is better looking, has more friends, or is more successful than you is both time-consuming and ineffective. Being hard on ourselves actually zaps motivation and decreases goal completion. If you really want to live a life that feels fulfilling you need to dedicate your time and energy to your own values. To get your focus in the right place ask yourself the following questions: When you imagine yourself at the end of your life looking back at what you’ve done, what will be the experiences and accomplishments that will have been most important to you? What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of relationships do you want to have? What do you want people to remember about you? Use these personal values as the barometer upon which you compare, rather than the accomplishments of those around you.
It’s A Losing Battle.
If comparing is how you evaluate your worth, you will always be losing. In this game of life you will never reach a point where you are better than others in every way and why would you want to be. Part of what makes life awesome and interesting is learning from the talents of others. Instead of trying to be as good as or better than others, focus your energy on being the very best version of yourself. So next time you catch yourself using someone else as a benchmark for your own worth stop and remind yourself how ineffective this strategy really is. Instead, compassionately redirect your energy and attention to your own goals and what is required to achieve them.