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  • Writer's pictureFrancis Merson

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Updated: May 3

Everybody does it... even though it's a sure-fire recipe for feeling inadequate. Here's how to get off the comparison train and walk your own path to self-worth.


Comparing yourself to others is a normal human behaviour, but it can also be a powerful trigger for feelings of inadequacy. And in today's hyper-connected world, where social media provides constant exposure to the apparently fabulous lives of others, the tendency towards negative social comparison has only intensified.

 

There are two big problems with the way most people engage in social comparison. Let’s first identify these toxic forms of comparison and then we can start exploring how to turn it into a healthier, more constructive practice.

 

Problem 1: People only compare upwards

The first problem with social comparison is its inherent bias towards upward comparison. People often choose a quality that matters to them—such as intelligence, wealth, or success—and then compare themselves only to those they perceive as superior in that area. This creates an illusory and often harshly critical view of one's standing.

 

I remember an interview with basketball legend LeBron James a few years back, where he voiced his dissatisfaction with his accomplishments on the grounds that he compares himself only to Michael Jordan. This comparison is unlikely to be very helpful, as it obscures the fact that LeBron is better than nearly everyone else at basketball. This biased approach to comparison ignores where you stand on a spectrum of achievement, leading to skewed perceptions of one's own value. If you’re only ever looking upwards, it always seems like you’re at the bottom.

 

Problem 2: Comparison is only a relative measure

Another fundamental issue is that comparison, by its nature, only provides a relative measure of how one stands against another individual, not an absolute assessment of your qualities. For example, if I tell you that Jeff Bezos is much wealthier than Bill Gates, this tells us nothing about Bill Gates's financial status in an absolute sense. If Bezos has more money, this doesn’t mean Gates is poor. Similarly, comparing any of your own traits to those of a friend, say, can lead to similarly misleading conclusions. Just because your friend is very successful, this doesn't imply that you're a failure. Just because they're funny doesn't imply you're boring, just because they’re attractive it doesn’t mean you’re ugly, etc.

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Just because someone seems superior than you in some way, this doesn't imply there's a problem with you. If you're only ever looking upwards, it is always going to seem like you're at the bottom.

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The combination of upward comparison bias and taking comparison as an absolute measure can lead to spirals of shame and feelings of inadequacy. This cycle can affect anyone, no matter how wonderful you might be, as you can always find someone who is better than you in some way, and engage in upward comparison. It's ultimately nothing to do with who you are, but really about the extent to which you engage in social comparison.


Turning Comparison into a Useful Tool

 

Despite its pitfalls, comparison can offer valuable insights if approached correctly. Here are some healthier ways to use comparison:

 

1. Self-Comparison: Comparing you to you

One of the most constructive ways to engage in comparison is to reflect on your own progress over time. This self-comparison involves asking, "Am I getting better at this?" and evaluating how your skills, habits, or accomplishments have evolved. This approach grounds you in your own journey, celebrating personal milestones and growth rather than being distracted by external benchmarks.

 

2. Value-Based Comparison: comparing yourself to who you want to be

Another effective approach is to compare yourself to your values and goals. This involves questions like "Am I behaving in a way that's meaningful and true to me?" and "Am I moving in the right direction?" This shifts the focus from external validation to internal fulfillment, emphasizing the importance of living authentically and pursuing goals that resonate with you.

 

By aligning comparison with your values and goals, you create a framework that fosters growth and self-awareness. This can steer you away from unhealthy comparisons and toward a path of genuine self-improvement. In doing so, we transform comparison from a recipe for self-doubt into a catalyst for personal development, allowing us to navigate life's challenges with confidence and clarity.

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