Written by Amelia Bishop
It feels almost like human nature in today’s world to compare ourselves to others, our peers, our superiors, and even our family members which means that this habit has become mainstream. Comparing yourself to others becomes much more apparent and prevalent during the teenage years, however, for some people, the habit never seems to go away.
It’s commonplace for almost everyone to think “they look more attractive than me”, “they’re better at it than me”, “my grades are so bad compared to theirs”.
As a young person with Psoriasis, a family on benefits, and (unknown to me at the time) mental health difficulties, these feelings and comparisons certainly did not escape my thoughts growing up.
Throughout school and college, they were my only thoughts which made for a depressing and harrowing experience – as you can imagine.
Still going Strong
Now, as a young adult working for BWi under the kickstarter scheme, I find that these thoughts remain active in my brain.
All I can think of when handing in my work and assignments is “wow, my work looks nowhere near as good as theirs does!”, “they included content more specific to the task, I didn’t include any of that”, and even “they look so much prettier on camera than what I do” …
These kinds of thoughts are exhausting and honestly, really frustrating.
Sure, I’m only in my early twenties and have so much to learn and experience but it’s a real fear for me – I don’t want to spend the rest of my life comparing myself to others because it not only makes for a hard time for myself but it’s also unfair on the people I work and learn with.
Finding the Why: Why do I compare myself to others?
We all compare ourselves to others as a way of determining our successes against our peers.
Studies show that we sometimes do this as a means of motivating ourselves, a way of striving to get to where we want to be in life, which is where our comparison person is already.
This I do understand – I have been putting on weight rapidly in the past few years (yes, even before Covid so that’s not an excuse) and when I see others who are a bit skinnier it sometimes drives me to go out and do the exercising my body needs to look like them.
This of course never lasts long because I’m not doing it for my benefit, I’m doing it to try to conform to someone else’s version of physicality. This is just one of the why’s to the human evaluation complex. We don’t know our own goals so, therefore, try and match them to others’ goals.
A little psychology?
To further expand on why we compare ourselves, let’s look at a theory composed by social psychologist, Leon Festinger. He stated that people compare themselves against others for two reasons:
- To reduce uncertainty in the areas they’re comparing themselves to
- To learn how to define themselves – so we do this as a way of creating a benchmark of ourselves.
This habit of comparison manifests itself as both an ‘upward and downward social comparison – not only do we look up to the people we aspire to be, but we also look down on those less fortunate than us. It’s a way of coping with where we are in this current moment in our life.
So, we’ve established that it’s difficult to avoid as it’s part of the social and psychological wiring of our brains – but how can we work on reducing our comparisons against others?
Finding the How: How do I change this habit?
Whilst, not every method works for each person, there are some primary tips to take on board when overcoming this habit.
The first tip is to simply recognise it.
Being downright honest with ourselves and acknowledging our case of comparisonitis can be tough but sometimes it’s the first kick we need. Consciously and subconsciously being in denial about the fact that you compare yourself to others does not give you the appropriate starting point needed to fix it.
You need to be completely humble with yourself and identify what or who it is you’re comparing yourself to, how it makes you feel, and ensure to avoid the things that trigger it.
The next piece of advice would be to remember that you are only comparing yourself to what you’re perceiving. The work they produce, the way they look, the things they’re seemingly good at, it’s all just what we see on the outside- what they choose to display. It’s an unfair comparison for you to evaluate and compare their outsides to your insides and still worse to hold yourself accountable to someone else’s experience of life.
Sometimes comparison can spark motivation and some friendly competition with yourself is not a wholly bad thing, but when it becomes toxic, unfair, and unkind to yourself – that’s when it becomes a worry.
Re-frame your thoughts
Try going the extra mile by offering a compliment or encouraging and supporting the person you are comparing yourself to.
Now, don’t force yourself to if you genuinely don’t mean it – that’s ingenuine. And don’t frighten anyone in the supermarket… but mentally try to recognize that they have achieved something great and feel happy for them, show them or tell them what a good job they’ve done or compliment them if it’s appropriate.
At the end of the day, all of our insecurities and comparisons boil down to being a psychological complication – our mental health needs to be nurtured and cared for to be able to aid this issue.
Next time you see that woman with the beautiful hair that you always compare yours to, go up to her and say “your hair is beautiful”. It will become a practice that makes you feel proud of the beautiful and loving person you are.
Finding the End Goal: Finding my goals, finding my boundaries, finding me.
To overcome this comparison issue and finally feel free from the shackles of comparing yourself, it’s best to identify your goals and boundaries.
Eliminate the outside contributions, the factors that don’t benefit you and other people completely, and concentrate on you and your life.
What is it that you want, what are your goals, these don’t have to be to climb the highest mountain or to own the biggest house, they can be smaller and less conventional?
These goals are what will remind you to stay true to yourself, as they are yours, nobody else’s.
Sure they might be the same as someone else’s goals on paper but the way you achieve them will not be. You’ll have your methods, your timeframe, your comforts, and boundaries when achieving these goals.
Personally, I don’t wish to own a mansion, have a fast car, own millions of pounds or even understand rocket science. My end goal is to find myself and be proud of my achievements.
I have surpassed caring about what my family thinks of me or trying to impress them. At the end of the day, I want to make myself proud, I want to be able to be in my corner and be my biggest supporter.
For you, it may be different, but that’s the point, we’re not the same, so it’s unfair to compare one another. We have our differences; we have our similarities but ultimately we are both working on what is right for our individual goals.