In a world of brand names, popular culture, cliques, and the fear of missing out, the habit of comparing ourselves to others really takes hold.
“Comparisons are odious,” states a 15th-century proverb quoted by Cervantes, Marlowe, and others, and humorously misquoted by Shakespeare as “Comparisons are odorous.” In other words, they stink.
And yet I constantly make them.
Either I’m prone to comparing myself to others in a way that helps me feel superior: “Wow, I’d never wear that!” “I’d be a blimp if I ate what she’s eating!” “I would never deal with my kids that way!”
Or I compare in ways that denigrate and belittle myself. I watch a decorating show on TV and decide that my home is comparatively ugly and outdated. I glance at a fashion magazine and decide that I’m hopelessly fat, unattractive, and unchic. I follow someone’s Instagram feed and feel stupid and uncreative compared with their perfect-looking posts.
These comparisons leave me feeling needy and unworthy, and our culture steps right into that emptiness to sell me a solution. That’s right, all of us are constantly being told that we can buy our way out of such negative feelings.
The right clothes, shoes, hairstyle, car, fitness equipment, or furniture and housewares will make up for the ways in which we’re lacking, and all credit cards are accepted!
Comparison is fine if I’m trying to make a choice between two or more options. And sometimes comparison inspires me toward self-improvement. But the habit of comparing myself with others is almost never productive. It usually leads to jealousy, dissatisfaction, and dislike.
If I want to be happy, dropping this habit of comparison is a step in the right direction. Far better to accept differences and learn to make the best of what I have, to find my strengths and build on those.
I don’t know anything about video, and would have no idea how to go about creating a podcast (besides, I don’t like to look at myself on camera). I don’t come close to measuring up in that way. This could make me feel hopeless or depressed, like a failure as a blogger. But if I look at my strengths, I see that I’m a pretty good writer, and I regularly produce useful, honest posts. I actually have a lot to offer, and plenty to be happy about.
Comparisons usually make me unhappy, even if I have enough and should be happy with what I have.
More Negative Effects of Comparison
• Most often, when I look at others’ strengths and achievements, I lose, because there is always someone who is doing “better” than I am.
• When I compare myself with someone who has less than I do (fewer possessions, less personal attractiveness, less career success, etc.), I get a short-term ego boost that is easily knocked down as soon as I look at someone “above” me on the competition ladder.
• I end up resenting others for doing well or disdaining those who don’t look successful by my standards, even though I don’t know those people. I’m judging and ranking people without real evidence.
• I may openly criticize people (maybe not to their faces, but to my companions) or brag about my own accomplishments. Neither behavior is attractive.
So how can any of us break this cycle of comparing ourselves with others? I have a few thoughts.
8 Ways to Stop Comparing and Competing
1. Become aware.
When any behavior is a habit, we do it without thinking. So to overcome the habit of comparison, we have to be on the lookout for this behavior. We have to acknowledge that we have this tendency, and pay attention when it occurs.
2. Stop yourself.
Once we realize we’re making a comparison, we must choose to stop it. Don’t beat yourself up; simply take a pause and change your focus.
3. Remember your limited perspective.
On TV or social media, we only see the tip of the iceberg. We see the best versions of people’s lives, not the details. As Steven Furtick reminds us, “The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
4. Count your blessings.
Gratitude really is a life-changer! I try to remember to count what I have, not what I don’t. I think about how many benefits and opportunities I have, and give thanks.
5. Turn comparison to inspiration.
If looking up to someone, admiring who they are and what they’ve accomplished, inspires us to set goals and work to achieve them, then that’s beneficial. Striving to emulate a mentor or an idol can help us do our best.
6. Pay attention to your strengths.
All of us have gifts and talents which we need to discover, develop, and practice using to make our own and others’ lives better. Without bragging, we can feel pride and satisfaction about our God-given abilities.
7. Accept imperfection.
Imperfection is another trait we all share. We won’t reach perfection, but we can achieve self-improvement. We can compare ourselves to where we were yesterday, last week, or last year. If we stop making life a competition, but rather see it as a journey, we can appreciate how far we’ve come.
8. Be happy with enough.
If I always want what others have, I will never have enough. I’ll always feel a lack, and I will never be happy. No matter how many clothes I buy, how big my house is, or how fancy my car, I’ll never be satisfied. I need to realize that I have enough. I have shelter, food, clothing, education, medical care, people who love me – it’s definitely enough. More than that – and most of us can admit that we have more than that – is abundance.
I know I’ll find more joy when I stop comparing my life to everyone else’s. I think you will too.
About the Author: Karen Trefzger is a writer, singer, teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother who has been choosing a simpler life for over 20 years. She is the author of Minimalism A to Z, and blogs at MaximumGratitudeMinimalStuff.