As humans our go-to way of processing information is defaulted to understand based on our own experience. This happens through comparing what's being shared to what you know -comparison, recognising yourself in what's being shared - recognition; or filling in the blanks with a belief or something you've experienced -presume, or suppose something to be the case based on 'knowing' - assume.
This is usually a subconscious process and happens without your awareness. But what if you began to notice this. What if you wanted to change that moment of habit where you compare yourself, your situation or what you have to someone else?
In order to be able to break or change a habit, we first need to understand what that habit is. What does comparison look like as a habit?
So what is comparison?
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
In a nutshell, comparison is where we are looking at the similarities and differences between two items, objects or people. Typically, it occurs when we see/read/hear something that makes us feel one of two things. Firstly, we might feel less than as though something is missing from our lives or alternatively, we might feel smug or better than another person.
Comparison has also been seen as a drive or motivation, in similar ways to thirst or hunger. By itself, comparison is not a bad thing as it can be helpful at times. But most frequently, comparison leaves us feeling discouraged or down on ourselves, our lives and/ or our abilities.
Take a moment to reflect right now.
In the last 24 hours have you compared yourself to anyone? It could be done in the most seemingly innocent way of scrolling through your Instagram or Facebook feed. What were your reactions or responses to the posts you saw? Did you feel like you are better than this person or that person? Did someone else’s posts make you feel worse about yourself in some way? These are all effects of comparison.
In the process of cultivating awareness of our responses, it is possible to recognise where and when we are getting stuck in the trap of comparisonitis!
When is comparison unhelpful?
One of the biggest problems associated with comparisonitis is that we are often comparing two different things to each other and wondering why we (usually) are lacking.
We compare our journey with their results.
We compare our middle with their end.
In doing this, we often overlook their journey, their struggles and challenges along the way. We primarily focus on their outcome. We also fail to acknowledge our own journey and reflect on how far we have come.
Looking at comparison in this way makes it easy to see that comparison is pretty quick route to unhappiness. Continual comparison keeps the focus on what we do not like or have about ourselves or our lives - our lack.
When is comparison helpful?
There are times however when comparison can be a helpful and powerful tool. This is especially true when we use it as a tool for self-reflection and evaluation when in the context of a growth mindset - or willingness to grow and change, instead of using comparison as a self-whacking stick. Comparison for growth might look like when we reflect on our lives and ask ourselves the following questions:
- Where was I/how was my life/what did I want to change
- Where am I now/how is my life now/what have I changed
- Where do I want to go/how do I want my life to change
In this example, comparison is being used on yourself in the time continuum. You are looking at how you are changing and evolving. You are comparing you against yourself. With this information you can reflect on your life and see whether the things you are doing are helping you to realise your life goals or what you want out of life or not.
Strategies for Reducing "Comparisonitis"
There are a number of key strategies you can put into practice immediately that will help you minimise the negative after effects of comparing yourself to others. They include:
- Focus on Yourself and Your Strengths
- Acceptance and Being okay with Imperfection
- Accept your Past
- Social Media Detox
- This isn't the End, focus on the Journey
- Gratitude or appreciation
Gratitude or appreciation we talked about becoming aware of your thoughts, reactions and responses. By bringing conscious awareness to our thoughts we are able to observe what we are thinking. In this momentary pause, we can then consider how to most effectively respond in that moment. When we realise we are comparing ourselves to others, simply pause. Observe your thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge what you are doing and gently change focus.
It was worth noting that there is a difference between a reaction and a response. Typically, a reaction is emotional and instinctive, without thought or consideration. A response on the other hand, is objective, rational and generally calmer. When you respond, you are taking time to consider the other person, where they are coming from and also how to most effectively address the matter at hand. The bridge from a reaction to a response is a pause. The pause can be a second or two or it could be longer, depending on the situation you are facing.
2. Focus on Yourself and Your Strengths
From a young age, we have been taught either directly or indirectly to look at what others are doing, to see their achievements. The subtle comparisons continue throughout childhood and through to adulthood and potentially to the next generation. What many of us have failed to learn is how to actively focus on ourselves and see our strengths. It is as though seeing ourselves as we are, is something which many of us have been denied. We look to others and make harsh judgements of ourselves and our lives when seeing what others are doing.
Ideally and ultimately, you are the only person you can compare yourself to. Your experiences, challenges and triumphs are unique to you. No other person has or will ever have exactly the same journey in life as you. Acknowledging that, why would you compare yourself to another?
Right now, pause and take 15 minutes to list all your strengths. Take note of the following:
- challenges you have overcome
- triumphs you have enjoyed
- the skills you have
- the things that make you you
- the abilities you have
- the goals you have accomplished
If you have time, look at where you were five years ago. How is life different now compared to then? What have you achieved in that time frame?
Often, we seek external sources to validate our worth, yet it is inside us all along. We simply need to take the time to acknowledge it. By seeing our strengths or seeing ourselves as others do you will help you truly believe your own inherent value and worth as a human being. Additionally, it may help you to stay motivated and committed to creating and living life on your terms.
Each time you focus on others, you are giving your time and energy away to others rather than focusing on working/living/being you. Maintaining a healthy focus on you is key!
3. Acceptance and Being okay with Imperfection
Acceptance is a critical aspect of personal growth and development. Part of the process is to accept your quirks and flaws whilst also recognising your strengths. With this awareness and acceptance comes the knowledge that you can make different choices that can have a significant impact on your future.
Perfectionism and perfectionistic tendencies are the downfall of many of us. We seek to be the best, we try to be the perfect mother/lover/friend/daughter/business person. What we often neglect to accept is that perfection is an illusion and unobtainable. It is a social construct that makes us feel less than. Acknowledging that we are imperfect and that no one else is perfect can be a huge game changer.
4. Accept your Past
Often we think that mistakes are bad and things to be avoided at all costs. Generally we avoid mistakes as they make us feel bad about ourselves. Yet in reality, mistakes are a part of life. Making mistakes demonstrates that we are trying. Mistakes often provide invaluable opportunities for growth, for learning and acquiring new knowledge.
Making peace with our past is incredibly important part of the process. When we accept our past, we can start healing. We can look back on the person (or child) we were and hold them gently and compassionately. Through this process, we can then see that we did the best we could at that point in time with the knowledge and resources we had available to us at that time.
5. Social Media Detox
As we journey through into the 21st century, we are now looking at the impact of technology on our lives. There are many wonderful aspects of technology as there are problematic aspects. Mindless scrolling through our social media has become a time suck for many of us. When we need a hit of something to make us feel good, we tend to turn to our phones and scroll through our favourite social media platform.
The concern with social media consumption comes when we find ourselves feeling triggered by the content we are exposed to. If the posts we see leave us feeling bad about ourselves, then it is perhaps wise to consider either unfollowing accounts or having a detox entirely from social media.
We need to critically examine how we are using social media and be in charge of how we use it. Instead making mindful and intentional choices about our social media engagement. In doing this, we are then able to reduce the negative impacts of comparison.
6. This isn't the End, Focus on the Journey
Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it. - Greg Anderson
If we view life as a journey, we can reframe our lives in potentially healthier ways. At various points in time, we have all no doubt made questionable choices or behaved in ways we have later regretted. When we look back on our past, we can recognise those parts of ourselves and treat our younger selves with kindness and loving compassion.
Our past does not dictate or even determine our future. And where you are right now does not predict where you are going either. Mindset, attitude and intention are extremely powerful in shaping our lives. It is the hundreds of small choices we make every day that shape our days, our months, our years and our lives. These small choices are part of the journey, they are not the final destination. The choices we make on a daily basis can either lead us closer to, or further away from our purpose in life. Look at your personal choices and evaluate them in terms of helping you realise the life you want. Using comparison as a tool for inspiration enables us to make choices that can enrich our journey.
7. Be grateful
Gratitude and appreciation are often cited as being vital towards improving our well-being. When we take time to notice what we do actually have, we notice a perceptible shift in our minds. When we look to see what others have, we fail to acknowledge all that we do actually have. If you focus on what you do not have in life, you will never have enough. Focusing on the good and focusing on what you do have, will offer feelings of having plentiful and always enough when you need it most.
Take a few minutes now to note 5 things you are grateful for or that you appreciate. This could be as simple as your cat purring on your lap, the way the sun shines in your window at a certain time of day. It could be for finding a coin when you were at the supermarket. Each day we are gifted many opportunities to see what we do have, all we need do is take the time to acknowledge them.
Share with us in the comments below, which of these strategies you have tried and whether you have noticed a difference in your life and well-being.