We are all guilty of it.
“She is more successful than me”. “He is more popular than me”. “They are having more fun than me”.
Sound familiar? Comparisons cut through the wires in our brains, creating fissions where happiness can seep out.
I recently participated in a psychology experiment at the University of Toronto – the study is still running so I won’t give away too many details – but their aim was to examine our social perceptions. Specifically, how do we compare significant others in our lives to other people?
I was required, for a week, to answer questions sent through an app on my phone. Questions like ‘have you made any person-to-person comparisons today?’ They were interested in hearing about reports of comparing your friend, or romantic partner to another – and most importantly, “how did that make you feel?”
I am not sure what the conclusion from their study will be.
What I learned during the week was that I make very few person to person comparisons. What I do however do a lot, is compare myself to other people.
And often the outcome of these comparisons can leave me feeling pretty negative about myself.
This, of course, brings me to the big question: how to stop comparing yourself to others? And, consequently, how to live a happier and more content life?
1) Turn Negatives Into Positives
This starts with mindfulness. You must first be present enough to notice these things as they creep into your field of awareness. Every time you feel a negative comparison invading your thoughts, stop it in its tracks and turn it into a positive comparison instead.
For instance, rather than thinking, she is so much better at singing than me – think she is great at singing – but I am really good at playing the guitar.
2) Discover Who You Are
And don’t try to be somebody else. After all, you are the only person who can be you.
Every block of stone has a statue inside it & it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. ~ Michelangelo Click To Tweet
The idea is it doesn’t matter what everyone else is up to – focus on what your own statue is going to be.
3) Spend Less Time On Social Media
And not just social media – spend less time looking at all media where you may make comparisons, such as magazines and adverts, or work to become more conscious as you’re doing so, noticing how it makes you feel.
Scientific research suggests that social media can expose individuals to “highly idealized representations of peers… [which elicit] feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives.”
Keep yourself busy doing other things you enjoy. And if you know you are prone to making comparisons, try to limit how many times you access social media throughout the day.
4) Keep a Success Diary
Keep a dairy. Write an entry whenever you are feeling particularly positive about something you have achieved.
Then, on days when you are feeling low or are comparing yourself to others, you can look back and see how much you have achieved over the past week, month or year.
5) Be your Own Comparison
Rather than thinking, ‘they are so much better than me’; think ‘I am so much better at this than I was a year ago!’
Work hard to self-improve. For instance, let’s take the example of learning to swim. You’ve been swimming for six months and have just swum your first length. Don’t negatively compare yourself to others by weighing up the one length you can swim to the fifty they can. Instead, take pride in telling yourself – ‘I can swim so much better than I could a year ago.’
“There’s nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ~ Hemingway
6) Surround Yourself With Supportive People
Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself. People who boost your self-esteem and encourage you to strive.
If you are feeling down, find someone you can talk to about your concerns.
You will probably find that nobody else has even noticed whatever criticism it is you have of yourself!
7) Be Kind To Yourself and Others
As the old saying goes, nobody is perfect.
Stop trying to make yourself perfect, and instead appreciate your flaws. Understand that they reflect your uniqueness.
Express gratitude for what you do have.
Compliment others on what they can do well.
8) Set Yourself Goals
Rather than worrying what everyone else is up to, set yourself your own goals. What do you want to achieve in the next year?
Whether it’s starting a class, running a marathon, or learning to cook – everyone’s ambitions are different.
Look at your own unique possibilities and opportunities.
Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. ~ Professor Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard University Click To Tweet
So many of us struggle with the constant, niggling need to compare ourselves to others. And it may not be a habit we can instantly switch off.
Therefore, I should probably throw the word patience into the mix.
Have patience. Start applying the above points as regularly as possible. Over time the conscious effort of turning negative comparisons into positive thoughts will become a subconscious process.