Why do humans feel the need to compare? Learn how to stop comparing yourself to others by knowing your triggers better, and changing how you measure success.
You know all too well that you should not be comparing your life with that of others. But you can’t stop yourself from doing it.
What’s more, you keep getting that same advice from your well-wishers too:
You should stop comparing yourself to others.
So, if you’re still trying to figure out how many followers your friends have on social media as compared to you, it’s time you stopped.
Learn how to stop comparing yourself to others and get a happiness boost in your life.
How To Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
Did you know that by comparing yourself to others, you could be killing your happiness? How do you stop comparing to others on social media, and in life otherwise? And what do you do when you feel the urge to compare yourself to others?
Here are 5 strategies to stop comparing yourself to others:
1. Measure Yourself With Your Own Yardstick
Judge yourself by your own yardstick. Measure how high you stand against your own standards.
When you set standards for yourself, you give yourself an opportunity to grow and improve.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own progress and measure your success against your own goals and aspirations.
This way, you can see how far you have come and where you need to go to achieve your dreams.
2. Realize That Life Is Unfair To All
Realize that life is unfair to all of us in at least some respects. No one is given all, and no one is deprived of all.
It’s easy to get caught up in comparing yourself to others and feeling like you are at a disadvantage.
But the truth is, everyone faces challenges in life, and no one has it all. Instead of focusing on what others have that you don’t, focus on what you do have and how you can make the most of it.
3. Avoid Bringing Others Down
Do not bring down others when you’re talking about them, even when you’re gossiping.
Comparing yourself to others often leads to negative feelings and behaviors, such as gossiping or bringing others down to make yourself feel better.
But these actions only harm yourself and those around you. Instead, focus on positive communication and lift others up, even when discussing their successes.
5. Distract Your Mind Purposefully
Distract yourself from thinking in ruminating cycles about other people’s successes. Force yourself to engage your mind elsewhere.
When you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others and ruminating over their successes, it can be helpful to distract yourself with other activities.
Engage in hobbies or activities that you enjoy, spend time with loved ones, or focus on personal development.
By shifting your focus, you can break the cycle of comparison and find fulfillment in your own life.
5. Compare Yourself To Past Self
Compare yourself to your past self. This is the best comparison you can ever do for your peace and progress.
Rather than comparing yourself to others, focus on comparing yourself to your past self.
Look back on where you were, how much you have grown, and how much progress you have made.
This can help you see your own personal growth and inspire you to continue working towards your goals. By focusing on your own journey, you can find peace and progress in your life.
While unhappy people compare with others more often, happy people don’t bother themselves with how well others are doing.
Why Do Humans Compare Themselves
We, as modern humans, tend to compare ourselves to others as a result of biological, genetic, and environmental predetermination following the evolutionary practice of social comparison for survival. The comparison we do is a measuring scale to assess our social value.
Comparing self to others is something humans have been compulsorily doing since the cave-dwelling days.
Early humans compared themselves to others since they started living in groups and tribes. Living in groups was an advantage for our earliest ancestors as they could share the work of hunting, cooking, building homes, care for kids.
But this also came with a disadvantage — who was to do what, and what would be the leadership hierarchy in the tribe?
To decide these, they had to compare each other’s capabilities in each area, and fix the best ones for a particular job. On this depended the safety, longevity, and wellness of the group.
This was so vital a part of their survival that it got hard-wired into the human brains. As evolution continued, those tribes who could do right this part of selecting the best one for a job lived on to procreate the next generation.
Initially, the appointments were more of a dictatorial nature. The tribal supreme leadership, based on their own comparisons and judgment, decided the person for the post.
Later, this took a more democratic form — sports.
They had contests that found out the strongest and the ablest. The tribesmen could now see who their best spear-thrower was, and why he should lead the hunting pack.
Women were fast to catch up. They started their own contests to find out, and socially anoint, the best looking, the best dancing, the best cooking ones among them. Those with the most became trophy wives.
Gradually, this became ubiquitous.
Humans started comparing each other on almost every parameter — wealth, health, physique, wives, children, and more. They got down to putting a yardstick of themselves against all others to find out where they stood in their society, and what their social worth was.
In those days, the women wanted to find out how beautiful they were, and the men wanted to know how strong they stood, compared to others.
With the evolution of our society, comparison turned into competition.
While the basic premise remained the same, however, it became more elaborate in our modern world. Now, think of what we are doing today, and you will see we are not much different from our jungle-dwelling ancestors. Today we hold Mr and Miss Universe contests, don’t we?
This “keeping up with the Joneses” and trying to outdo them is just as good here in India as in the rest of the English-speaking world out there.
It begins early and keeps on till the kids themselves become parents, and carry through the tradition with dutifulness.
Psychology of Social Comparison
But why do we compare, even when we know with our evolved modern brains that we probably should not?
Our comparison habit is quite pervasive. Obviously, this is a problem: social comparison, more often than not, makes us unhappy.
So, what does the research say on why should you stop comparing yourself to others? What is the science behind this comparing habit of ours?
The Theory of Social Comparison says we fix our own personal and social worth based on how we place ourselves against others. It was first proposed (A Theory of Social Comparison Processes) in 1954 by the American sociologist Leon Festinger. He was one of the first scientists to study and write about it in his theory of Social Comparison.
He believed this desire to compare is a biological urge in us that is as strong as thirst and hunger. He suggested we do so because humans have an innate drive to find out their exact worth in society.
There exists, in the human organism, a drive to evaluate his opinions and abilities.— Festinger
As suggested by psychologists, the real reason we compare is to gain greater self-knowledge. Once we have gauged our qualities and abilities against others, we can find out how well we are doing in life.
By comparing, we:
- Get to become more certain of our abilities and performance.
- Find out how our feelings and opinions hold against others.
- Build a truer picture of our strengths and weaknesses.
- Come to know of the standards to judge ourselves.
- Motivate and make ourselves feel better.
Once you can benchmark your qualities and abilities against others, you can find out where you stand on a scale of abilities. With this knowledge, you can pinpoint the areas to improve yourself.
For example, you may find out you have poor speaking skills compared to your colleague who just bagged a better promotion. But after you improve your speaking prowess, you can keep or build your superiority and authority.
And we all want to become superior in some aspect because we all are born with a primary inferiority complex. If we were to believe Alfred Adler, the Austrian psychotherapist, “Everyone… has a feeling of inferiority.”
In one line, you compare because you want to find out on what counts do you have to perform better to reach the top.
One thing here: As an unwritten rule, you compare most with those who are like you. You compare yourself against those from nearly the same age, gender, and social status.
Look close, and you find you never even bother to compare with people who are not similar to you. Why? Because their worlds are far too different from ours, and so, in our minds, they become incomparable.
That is why you and I rarely compare ourselves to Richard Branson of Necker Island or the Jarawa tribesmen of the Andaman Islands.
3 Reasons To Stop Comparing Yourself
How do feel when you come across the happy, radiant faces of your social media friends all over your Pinterest and Instagram? How do you feel when you see pictures of your Facebook friends holidaying in Machu Picchu, Bora Bora, or Ice Canyon?
Don’t answer the obvious. Instead, read on.
Comparing has a dark, negative side. Here are three reasons you should stop comparing yourself to others:
What has happened over the recent years is this: We have mistaken our Facebook friends for the ones we hang out with. And we are comparing our lives with theirs.
In the real world, we might never have compared ourselves with them as they are way too different from us. This creates the problem of comparing with the incomparable.
This comparing yourself to others who are better off is an upward comparison. It is a lousy way to measure your progress.
Even if you had similar early lives, those you compare with may have grown into different situations and personalities. It’s a self-defeating exercise when we compare our abilities and belongings with others. It discourages us.
Of course, we often tend to forget that our friends post the best of themselves on social media. We do not see their defeats and failures. Often, they do not even share with us the trials and pains they went through to reach that happy stage and that cheerful face.
So, stop comparing yourself to others because it discourages you.
While comparing may not include gossiping, in large parts, gossiping is comparing.
A big part of our conversation is “small talk.”
We small-talk about others’ advantages, disadvantages, mishaps, failures, personal lives, and relationship status.
Gossip, on the whole, is talking about absent people. It always carried a terrible reputation.
According to Wert and Salovey, 2004, around 60% of our talks with others involve gossip. They further say that all gossip involves social comparison.
Gossipers often compare for putting others down.
Aggressive gossipers, as a rule, compare themselves with less fortunate people to feel better. This is a downward comparison — comparing to others who are worse off. It makes people feel better as they see they are in a superior position.
In personal lives, gossip is thrilling, but not without some element of malice. We hate gossipers, even though we all gossip to some extent. We sometimes use it to deface and defame others. Gossip can also be a tool of manipulation.
At the workplace, gossip is often the reason for premature resignations, leadership failures, and rampant animosity, as investigated by Hallet, 2009.
Stop gossiping, because when you’re doing that, you’re likely comparing yourself to others less fortunate than you. And feeling superior this way is so wrong.
By comparing, we can harm our relationships and alienate our close ones from us.
Frequent comparisons can destroy our ability to trust in close relationships. Also, it can breed feelings of worthlessness in them.
Negative comparisons can make you feel (episodic) envy, which can then lead to anxiety, anger, hostility, and a negative mood. A habit of comparison may even bring on depression.
Researchers Judith White and Ellen Langer in their paper The Dark Side of Social Comparisons say that people who compare themselves often are more likely to experience —
- defensiveness, and
- more unfulfilled cravings.
The frequent ‘comparers’ also tend to tell lies and blame others more. So, stop comparing yourself to others.
How to deal with comparing yourself to others? Simple – focus on being happier.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, positive psychology researcher, and author of The How of Happiness, points out, happy people pay less attention to social comparisons. This then gives them a further happiness boost.
Meanwhile, unhappy people linger on comparisons. This dents their self-esteem and makes them even more unhappy.
A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it, it just blooms.– Zen Shin
So, finally, how to not compare yourself to others:
- Practice self-compassion and be kind to yourself.
- Focus on your own strengths and accomplishments.
- Set personal goals and work towards achieving them.
- Surround yourself with supportive and positive people.
- Limit exposure to social media and such sources of comparison.
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Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy, an experienced medical doctor and psychology writer focusing on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and Stoic philosophy. His expertise and empathetic approach have helped many mental abuse survivors find happiness and well-being.
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