Dr. Tara's Sunshine Tips: Ending The Comparison Game

*Pre-read the blog “Make Connections, Not Comparisons

“You are the finest, loveliest, tenderest, and most beautiful person I have ever known -- and even that is an understatement.”

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

We are all uniquely beautiful creatures.  However, as I discuss in “Make Connections, Not Comparisons”, we have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others.  Unfortunately, this is a fast-track route to unhappiness.  If we look, we will always find someone who is smarter, more successful, more attractive.  Whenever I get sucked into making comparisons, I quickly find myself in a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-criticism.

In addition to deepening our personal insecurities, comparisons can exacerbate feelings of jealousy and resentment.  Some of the most insecure people I know have a hard time celebrating the success of others.  This is not how most of us would like to be.  It is wonderful to be able to interact with strong, smart, successful individuals and feel empowered, not threatened.

I used to think Monopoly was a long game, but it’s got nothing on this.  The Comparison Game has no end.  It’s up to us to shut it down.  Here are some strategies we can use to move from punishing ourselves with comparisons to making healthy personal connections.

1. It starts with awareness.

Yes, awareness really is the first step.  So just by reading “Make Connections, Not Comparisons” and this resource, you are already off to a good start.  Whenever you find yourself feeling anxious or jealous, stop and ask yourself if comparisons are partly to blame.  Then try to hit the pause button and remind yourself of points 2 through 7 below.

2. Gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving.

In our struggle to keep up with the Joneses, we become fixated on all the things we don’t have (or think we don’t have).  As I explained in “The Gift of Gratitude”, shifting the focus to what we are grateful for can make all the difference.  Instead of feeling deprived, we learn to live with a sense of abundance.  An attitude of gratitude overrides our inherent tendency to look for the next “big thing” to make us happy and instead empowers us to count our blessings and treasure the simple pleasures of life.  Check-out “The Practice of Gratitude” for some practical tips on developing your own gratitude practice.  

3. Think apples and oranges.

The old adage, “it’s like apples and oranges” is used whenever comparisons are drawn between two things that are, in fact, incommensurable.  And, like apples and oranges, people are so special and unique that there’s really no point in even trying to compare them.  We have our own distinctive traits and personalities, strengths and foibles, successes and frustrations.  Furthermore, comparisons are inherently unfair.  The cards are stacked against us when we contrast what we see as the best of someone else to the worst of ourselves.

4. #Nofilters?!?  Call it BS.

Everything is filtered.  Looking at social media specifically, people post the pick of the litter: The photo they want you to see, with a message that contains the info they want you to read.  Is this wrong?  Of course not.  It’s what we all do.  But we need to remember that it’s what we all do.

Remind yourself that each and every one of us has a side unseen.  We can never know anyone else’s full story.  Instead, we are viewing well-edited clips through our own often distorted lense.  As the Roman philosopher Phaedrus once said, “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”

5. If you’re going to do it, do it with you.

If you feel a strong pull to compare, turn the attention inward.  Look at your present self in comparison to where you have come from, focusing on what you have learned and how you have grown.  Be honest with yourself about your challenges and give yourself permission to celebrate your strengths and accomplishments.

6.  Use the feelings for insight & motivation.

For the times you still get sucked into comparing yourself with others, take notice of when it elicits anxiety and envy.  Pause to acknowledge these feelings and then ask yourself if there are any changes that need to be made in your own life.  

Unfortunately, it can be easier to complain and wallow in jealousy and self-pity than to stop and actively work toward your own goals.  Do you secretly loathe your colleague for her did-you-seriously-have-3-kids body?  Then stop and look at your current level of fitness and set yourself an action plan.  Similarly, if you envy your girlfriend’s big new house and fancy shoe collection, perhaps there are some positive steps you can take to improve your own financial security.  The key is to disconnect your self-worth from the equation.  You can be “good enough” while still striving to learn and challenge yourself.  Make sure the goals you set are appropriate and doable for you (see the resource “Setting SMART Personal Strategies”) and remember to celebrate your progress along the way.

7. Revisit the Serenity Prayer.

Many of us have heard the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”  

There truly is no point struggling to change the things that just are.  Our time and energy are finite and need to be invested where they can make a difference.  The wisdom piece here really is key, though.  Thinking back to my blog “Baby, Don’t Box Me In”, I am reminded that there were times in my life I did not put effort into things that I erroneously believed to be immutable.  We can’t change where we were born, our family of origin, our natural hair colour, or our biological age.  But we can build our own community, find our “chosen” family, develop our own style, and improve our fitness age.  We can also find that new job, end that toxic relationship, leave that bad marriage, ask for what we want, write that book, eat more healthy, have more fun, and learn how to be more patient, more kind, more grateful, more compassionate, and more joyful.  

Whenever you find yourself thinking that you don’t measure up, stop and remind yourself that there is no one else in the world quite like you.  No one who can do what you do exactly the way that you do it.  Know that things are not always what they seem and that everyone has their own hardship to bear.  Be grateful for what you have and for what you have learned.  This is your journey.