“Comparison is the death of joy”
– Mark Twain
“I don’t know how her house is so clean when we both work full time. My house is constantly messy.”
“How did he manage to land that job with [big established] company? I’ve been sending out so many resumes. It just seems like he’s more successful.”
“She always looks so put together and dresses so well. I feel like such a slob next to her.”
“Their children are so well behaved. How come my kids can’t sit still in restaurants?”
Do any of the above sentiments sound familiar to you? In each scenario, the speaker has fallen prey to the comparison trap. By nature, we humans are a social and curious bunch, wired to rate our performances against others’. A bit of competition can even be a good thing, as it spurs us on to do our best and reach our potential. However, comparing yourself to others becomes a problem when it a) impacts your self worth negatively b) becomes your default way of thinking c) causes you to feel anxious d) causes you to feel jealous.
Let’s take a closer look at all the ways in which comparisons rob us of feelings of adequacy and accomplishment:
- You are comparing your worst to someone else’s best. In the example above, woman A compares her lousy housekeeping skills with woman B’s supposed excellent ones. It’s not a fair or valid comparison because woman A may be genetically or environmentally wired to be more organized or efficient. Woman A and woman B did not begin the race at the same starting point. There are other qualities that woman B has that surpass woman’s A’s (like her fancy baking skills for instance), but generally speaking people do not compare their successes with other people, only their (perceived) shortcomings.
- You choose to prioritize differently. It may be true that woman B is a better homemaker, but woman A has much better relationships with her children because instead of worrying so much about her home, she is spending quality time with her kids. This very important perspective, however, gets completely lost in the tunnel vision of comparison.
- There are too many variables to make a fair comparison. We were all born into different circumstances, we possess different genes and we represent different socio-economic levels. We all have different levels of support, intelligence and resourcefulness. We all have our own unique blend of character traits, strengths and weaknesses. How then, can we ever possibly isolate all of these variables to make a truly fair and revealing comparison?
- Comparing diverts your attention to the wrong person. Spending your mental energy focusing on other people’s strengths, achievements and successes leaves less mental energy for you to focus on building on your own strengths, furthering your achievements and increasing your successes. Since the only person you can exercise a measure of control over is you, it makes sense for you to put your energies into a place where you can affect change.
- Comparing puts you in a lose-lose situation. How does it benefit you to compare yourself to others? What do you gain and what do you lose? When was the last time you caught yourself comparing yourself to someone else and came away feeling good about yourself? Usually, comparing leaves you feeling depressed, anxious and defeated. Chances are, comparing does not add value, meaning or fulfillment to your life. If the costs outweigh the benefits, it may be time to stop.
So, if humans are naturally wired to make comparisons, how can you stop comparing yourself to others?
- Instead of competing with others, appreciate them. Resist the urge to compete and instead, join others in appreciating their own successes and accomplishments. A side benefit to this is it makes you a better friend.
- Gratitude. Being focused on the blessings bestowed uniquely upon you leaves less room to ruminate about how someone else is doing it better/has it better.
- Compare yourself to you. Most importantly, instead of comparing yourself to everybody else, shift your focus to comparing yourself to YOU! Do you want a neater house? Take stock of what your home looks like today and envision what you would like it to look like. Then set small, realistic and attainable milestones until you reach your ultimate goal. Do you want to land a better job? Instead of eating your heart out over your neighbors career, make it a goal to find a more fulfilling job yourself. Then focus on outlining the steps you need to take to reach that goal. The questions you want to be addressing are, “Am I doing a bit better today than I was last week?” “Am I further along in my goals this month than I was last month?” If not, trouble shoot, learn from your mistakes and start again. If yes, continue on your way.
By Heather Feigin
Heather Feigin, LCSW is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Passaic. For appointments call 973-348-5279. Have a question for Heather? E-mail [email protected].