Comparison trap is a dead-end street. It always ends with feeling bad about yourself. It leaves you feeling unaccomplished, not good enough and unworthy. It can lead to feeling resentful, angry or jealous. It never leads to positivity, self-confidence or motivation. Theodore Roosevelt is quoted to say; “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So why do we do it? I think part of it is the downside of being a social being. We are hard wired for connection and belonging. We seek interactions and relationships. Sometimes this attention to others for connection and belonging can take an unhealthy turn and lead to comparing and contrasting. By definition, when we are comparing ourselves to others, we are trying to conclude who is better. Comparison often sets us up for failure because we often compare our worst if not imperfect quality to someone else’s good or perfect one. As a result, our comparisons often conclude that the other person is better than us. This can then be used as a “proof” by our negative thoughts. Comparing ourselves to others play a major role in the negative belief that “I am not good enough.” It feeds into the negative belief about our selves as inadequate, incompetent, or flawed. It’s also quite exhausting and draining. Once you get caught in it, it wants to compare more. Often people you compare yourself to compare themselves to other people. There are also other people who compare themselves to you and think negatively of themselves.
Now that you have a change of heart about comparison and understand that it does you no good, let’s talk about how to change and prevent it. Here are some tools to stop comparing yourself to others:
1) Since any change starts with awareness, the first step is to notice when you are engaging in comparison so as to intervene. Maybe you tend to compare yourself to others most often at work, social gatherings or the gym. Notice when and where you are doing this. If you can’t catch yourself doing it, it will be quite impossible to change it.
2) As soon you notice that you are comparing yourself to others, begin to redirect your attention. Comparison can be thought as a misplaced attention. What we want to do is shift our attention to something else that is more helpful and healthy. It is best to redirect your attention onto yourself; after all you can only control yourself. However, in the beginning, if this is too difficult, then use your 5 senses to redirect your attention to what you see, hear or feel in your environment. This will help you practice being in the present moment, rather than in your head where it wants to play the comparison game.
3) Another great tool is to learn to tolerate, accept and even celebrate your own imperfections. In the greater picture, I believe once we are comfortable in our own skin with all of its strengths and weaknesses, we will establish more stable sense of self-esteem and self-love and in turn be less interested in others and what they are doing.
4) One of my favorite skills is to practice gratitude, which is effective in dealing with comparison. By practicing gratitude once a day, through journal entry or in your meditation, you can take a moment to recognize the good things in your life that will bring the attention back to you and elicit a sense of contentment, fulfillment and peace.
5) Lastly, you can create an inventory of your comparison history. Like many others experiences, the act of comparison also has an onset, i.e. a time or an age that it started. In creating this inventory, you can write about your first memories of comparison and explore these questions: Was it at home, at school or in a neighborhood park? Was it something your sibling, parent or friend said that triggered it? How did you continue to engage in comparison through the different stages of your life? Once you create this timeline and inventory, you will also start to understand how the things you compared yourself to others may have changed. For example, during your adolescence maybe you were comparing yourself to others on your look or physical abilities? In your young adulthood, it may have shifted to income, job title and ownership of property such as cars and houses. During our therapy sessions, we will explore your responses to these questions so as to help you resolve them.