Have you ever felt great about a skill, only to have it downplayed by someone who you perceived as doing it better than you? Felt inadequate because a classmate or a coworker would always outshine you? The tendency to compare ourselves to others is completely human. Looking at life through a lens of comparison is a slippery slope, and it can become a bad habit. We can never become truly self-assured and comfortable when we are so “others focused” when it comes to our skills and circumstances. Comparison leads to resentment of ourselves, resentment of others, discouragement, and suffering of our global self-concept (to name a few).
How can we break free from this habit?
- Be aware of the negative aura of comparison: While in some cases, we can use comparison to motivate us to be better, it is most often not the case. Comparison most often robs us of joy and positivity, and can leave us languishing with guilt, annoyance, hopelessness, or even depression. We compare ourselves to perceived “ideals” that we see in others. On the other hand, we may use downward comparison to inflate ourselves and feel better about our strengths. This boost is merely artificial, fueled by negativity. It is short-lived and does not secure positive affect. When we are aware of the negative nature of comparison, we can understand how crucial it is to remove it (or minimize it) in our lives.
- Inspiration versus comparison: Yes, you can be motivated by looking to other people. Rather than judging your performance based on theirs, you are inspired to continue working toward improvement. Learning the difference between these two scenarios is important. Take notice to when admiring others leaves you feeling inspired and motivated to take positive action versus when it leaves you feeling discouraged, not good enough, and frustrated with yourself.
- Acknowledge and reframe: Be aware of when your self-esteem is dependent on your relativity to others. Once you are conscious of when you compare yourself, don’t beat yourself up about it or try to repress it. Acknowledge that you are negatively comparing yourself to someone else, and reframe the situation. Shift your focus to yourself, which brings us to the next step…
- Focusing on what you bring to the table: Everyone has a unique set of skills, abilities, and traits that is unlike any other. It’s so important to recognize your own personal strengths and how they work together to make you extraordinary. In addition to our different skills and assets, we all have different resources available, different support systems, and different circumstances. Focus on and be grateful for what you have within you and within your life that facilitates your development and enriches your life. This is fundamental to being self-assured and confident. You’ve got a lot to offer, don’t let your authenticity go to waste! Be proud of what you’ve got, and strive to continually utilize your strengths to become a better version of yourself. What do you want to achieve? Break it down into mini attainable goals and take pride in your milestones.
- Remember that nobody is perfect: When we compare ourselves to someone we envy, their strengths are often more salient than their weaknesses. However, everyone is struggling to overcome their own obstacles that you may or may not see. Remember that people only choose to display the pieces of their life that they want others to see (especially on social media). You are comparing your entire existence to another person’s external self. Nobody is perfect and you shouldn’t pressure yourself to be perfect either.
- We’re all on our own journey: Everyone is on a personal journey to grow, learn, become something, etc. Your life is your journey, not a competition. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Your own journey is completely independent of how “perfect” others’ lives are or how well (or not so well) things are going for others. All you need to worry about is where you’re going and what you’re doing. That’s what counts.
It is impossible to be completely free of influence from others around us, and to remove influence is not the goal. Our peers and the people we surround ourselves with are so important for our development and enrichment of our lives. It is important to try our best to surround ourselves with the people who offer something positive to our lives. Being genuinely kind to others will even further bolster our confidence. Compare less, empower ourselves (and others) more. That’s what makes all the difference.