Comparing Yourself to Others is So Stupid
“Comparing yourself to others is so stupid.”
My little sister told me point-blank as I finished rambling about how insecure I felt compared to my peers. We were having brunch at a small cafe in Karuizawa, a small mountain resort town in Japan. The late lunch rush had passed, and the last of the crowd was just about finishing their meals.
It is a pretty obvious statement, but at the same time it was exactly what I needed to hear.
Yeah, it’s pretty stupid. And it’s making me miserable so I need to stop.
I was growing envious of my peers who seemed to have their lives together, getting high-profile jobs or celebrating long-term relationships. I looked at myself who didn’t have either, and suddenly felt bad about myself. While I’m fully aware that Instagram or Facebook will only show good things about a person’s life, the constant bombardment of celebration still makes me feel insecure about myself. I knew that to compare my life to another person’s highlights was toxic, toxic, toxic— yet I couldn’t stop.
Our need to compare ourselves to others is an awful habit that’s especially hard to beat. You’ve probably heard of this question, “Would you rather make $50,000 a year while your neighbors made $25,000 or make $100,000 a year when your neighbors made $200,000?”
And the most common answer is $50,000 because even if we don’t want it to, we value ourselves against others because we feel an innate need to. Social psychologist Leon Festinger developed Social Comparison Theory in 1954, which relies on the premise that humans have a need to accurately evaluate themselves, and the only way to do this is to evaluate ourselves against others. He proposed that individuals naturally do this to answer questions like, “Who am I and how do I define myself?” and because we can’t intrinsically answer questions like these, we rely on outside measures to create these definitions.
We see ourselves as smart if we’re getting A’s while everyone else is getting B’s, or we see ourselves as athletic is we are faster at running than anyone else in school. We give ourselves permission to define ourselves as beautiful when we have skin as flawless as the models in magazines, or to define ourselves as successful when we’re working high-profile jobs at companies that are notoriously selective. It’s hard, almost impossible, to think you’re smart if everyone else is getting better grades than you, or athletic if your mile time is twice as long as your friend’s. In this way, we use comparisons to understand ourselves better and gain a clearer understanding of our position in the world.
Why Comparing Yourself to Others Will Make You Miserable
Most people kind of already know this, but comparing yourself to others can make you miserable. It’s a dangerous habit because there is always someone else who is doing what you’re doing but better, faster, and smarter. Especially in the age of the internet, where we can read about and celebrate one-of-a-kind talented individuals and gifted minds, there is an infinite surplus of people who are better than us.
I don’t say this to be discouraging, because it’s human to want to be the best and exceptional. But to follow the path of growing and bettering ourselves, we need to let go of this desire to measure our value against others, because otherwise we can never be comfortable in our own body and mind.
Competition can be healthy because looking up to our role models for inspiration and following their footsteps is an excellent way to help yourself become the kind of individual you want to be in this world. But when we do this, we should not be measuring our value against them — it is not a case of they are a better or worse person than I. Instead, we should simply recognize our shortcomings, seek their positive qualities and habits, and work on making them our own. Comparing ourselves can reinforce a damaging habit that can make us vulnerable to low self-confidence. Instead, we should focus on the qualities of the people we aspire to be like and recognize what we can learn from them, rather than envy them.
How to Stop Making Yourself Miserable
So how do we break this habit of comparing ourselves to others when we are naturally programmed to constantly engage in this sort of behavior? I use a strategy called chronicle journaling.
What is chronicle journaling?
Our mind and thoughts, when uncontrolled, can become our greatest liability and damage our psyche in ways that will significantly hurt our daily life, which is why we must train our mind to overcome these unconstructive thoughts.
Chronicle journaling is a daily practice I have adopted to help shape the way I interpret my reality, and frame my psychology to find joy and peace in times of dullness or melancholy. It is a type of journaling that is focused on recounting your past, but through a positive lens. Every day, I write down three good things that had happened to me, no matter how big or small. Events that made me happy, events that made me excited, or events that made me calm and find joy. This mindfulness practice is used to focus on affirming thoughts, and shift my psychology to interrupt anxious thoughts, prevent unproductive stress, and promote meaningful and quality work through calmness.
The Key Takeaway I Hope You Leave With
This kind of writing helps me become aware of my own successes, positive values, and forces me to recognize the many things I should feel gratitude for. Recognizing and reminding ourselves of these values is important because our mental tendencies are like a muscle — we need to train and reinforce positive values into our mind if they are to feel natural. Just like how we can’t expect to become fast at running without actually running, we can’t fight negative habits without actively practicing against them.
Chronicle journaling is an exercise that’s really helped me mentally, and I hope it feels useful to you, but there are other personalized strategies you can develop for yourself to fight the tendency to negatively compare yourself to others. The key is to continue it.
As with any training, it has been a slow process to rid myself of negative comparative thinking, but instead of feeling frustration and letting myself engage in this kind of hurtful behavior, I find patience with my thoughts and find confidence by actively working against it. It’s a small thing that I do every day, but it’s an infinitely important habit for me to continue to feel calmness and reassurance in my own position in the world. Although it’s a struggle that many of us deal with, I hope to empower you with the thought that you can take control of your own wellbeing, and offer you a bit of guidance on how you may be able to help yourself.
If this article was any use to you, please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I love hearing from individuals, learning from them, and the personal stories people have to share. I reply to every single email I get, and want nothing more than to support those who are looking for a bit of guidance and ways to help themselves.