Breaking Free From the Comparison Trap
Picture this: You are lying on your bed, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. As you swipe from picture to picture, each of which displaying everyone’s seemingly perfect lives, you notice yourself beginning to feel more and more down. Shining up at you from your phone are people smiling with their friends or significant others, dressed in their best outfits, embarking on thrilling adventures, and photographed at the most breathtaking destinations. They are happy, beautiful, successful, and living their best lives. They are everything you want to be, yet at the same time, they are everything you're not. At the back of your mind, the little voice you have come to despise asks, Why can’t I be like them? Why can’t I have it all together? In the same instant, your mind falls into a dreaded negative thought spiral, and eventually, you arrive at the same question that manages to pester you time and again: Will I ever be good enough?
If this story feels in any way familiar to you, you are not alone. After all, many of us have compared ourselves to others and experienced insecurity as a result. With that, let’s talk about the dangers of comparison and finally find out how to break free from its trap.
First, what is comparison?
Simply put, comparing is the act of evaluating two or more objects, ideas, people, or things to note similarities and differences.
In a world so heavily saturated by social media, we live in a time where it is becoming increasingly hard not to feel the urge to compare ourselves to others constantly. In fact, according to certain studies, as much as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind. Nevertheless, people have evaluated themselves and others in areas such as physical attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success since the beginning of time. As a result, people often determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others. Leon Festinger, a psychologist, first introduced this concept in 1954, which is now formally known as the social comparison theory today.
So, is comparison healthy or unhealthy?
In truth, there is no black and white answer to this question as the act of comparing ourselves to others can be beneficial in particular cases but detrimental in others. On one hand, comparison plays an integral role in personal growth and can be a crucial key to finding motivation. That is because, when used accordingly and appropriately, comparison can serve as a driving force that encourages us to work harder, aim higher, and dream bigger. For instance, by viewing our peers as role models instead of rivals, we can put ourselves in a position to learn from and be encouraged by them. In fact, many professional athletes thrive off friendly competition and use it to bring out the best in one another.
On the other hand, comparison can cause feelings of deep dissatisfaction, inadequacy, envy, and self-doubt to arise. Unfortunately, in some situations, these negative emotions can potentially damage relationships or cause people to engage in destructive behaviours. As Derek De Rosa, an advocate for self-improvement, explained, "The more you focus on other people, the more you begin to question your own path, decisions, and state of affairs. As a result, your confidence is compromised and those stepping stones that lead to your goals turn into mountains. A domino effect ensues as you focus on everything going wrong in your life instead of everything that’s right. You focus on the impossible instead of the possible. You see the glass half empty instead of half full." The reality is, when we spend most of our days solely looking at other people's lives, there will eventually come a time where we stop living our own. For the above reasons, it is crucial to recognize when comparisons are helpful and when they are harmful.
How can we stop ourselves from engaging in negative comparison?
It is undeniable that the pressure to compare, that is, to evaluate our lives in terms of where we think we stand relative to others, can be difficult to escape. However, the key to conquering unhealthy comparison begins with coming to important realizations. Firstly, we must recognize that someone else’s success does not equal our failure, just as someone else’s failure does not equal our success. Life is not about putting others down to build ourselves up. It is about understanding that we rise by lifting others. Altogether, we are all on different paths, and it is vital to remember not to compare our beginning to someone else’s middle nor our behind-the-scenes to somebody else's highlight reel.
As a wise woman once said, when we spend our days comparing ourselves to others, we tend to forget that the people we want to be like face struggles and obstacles themselves daily. That girl you wish you could look like? She most likely wishes she could look like someone else, who wishes they looked like someone else, and so on. Sometimes, we become so wrapped up in wanting what other people have, we forget that every person deals with challenges, insecurities, and doubts of their own. Nobody is perfect. No one has it all figured out. Nobody has it easy. In truth, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone goes through ups and downs. Everyone is trying their best with what they have. So, when someone has done or is doing something we wish we could accomplish, instead of bitterly comparing ourselves to them, let us allow their actions to inspire us and serve as a reminder that we, too, can achieve great things.
In the end, there is only one thing that we are better at than other people: being ourselves. Being ourselves is the only game we can win because everybody else is taken. In all honesty, trying to be the champion of another person’s game is futile and unrewarding. We only get one life. Therefore, work toward being the winner of your own game. Altogether, by accepting this piece of knowledge and choosing to believe in it, we can change our lives for the positive. After all, when we learn that the most valuable things in life come from the inside, not the outside, life becomes about being a better version of ourselves. We let go of the false belief that our success, value, and self-worth are relative to somebody else's. We redirect our focus and energy towards what we are capable of and how we can improve ourselves. We learn to compare ourselves to the person we were yesterday rather than comparing ourselves to who someone else is today.
In closing, I invite you to picture this: You are a star twinkling in the night sky. Although millions, if not billions, of other brilliant stars, are surrounding you, you understand that your purpose is not to compare your light or brightness to the other stars. Your duty is not to change who you are or worry about how others see you. Your mission is to shine your light as bright and as beautiful as only you can. Your job is to celebrate the light and beauty of other stars without questioning your own light and beauty. After all, you have learned that lighting up an entire night sky is only made possible when everyone embraces themselves and shines their unique lights together.