Recently, I wrote on Instagram about how when you compare yourself to others, you lose. I quoted Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I consider this to be true, but it doesn’t mean I don’t fall into the trap of comparing myself to others. Comparison is a natural human instinct, but that doesn’t mean it’s always helpful to us. So, let’s talk about comparing ourselves to others, how that leads to unhappiness, and how we can stop doing it.
Comparing Yourself to Others Is Normal
Humans are pattern-seeing machines. This makes sense from a biological perspective. We can’t compute every piece of information in our environments one at a time, so when there’s a pattern found, we can predict other items in the pattern, generalize, and save brain cycles. It’s why brain games often rely on seeing patterns.
Humans are categorizing machines. This is also biological. We put things into categories to more successfully see patterns and to save brain cycles. (Once we learn one thing about a category, we can generalize it to everything in the category.) But in order to see patterns, we have to look at the environment and categorize what we see. This means comparing things in our environment. Is one thing like another? Can we put those things in the same category?
In short, comparing yourself to others is just a function of biology. The fact that you are doing it (the fact that I am doing it) is completely normal.
I Compare Myself to Others, and I Lose
Allow me to quote my Instagram post:
Last night I was out. Like, out, out — in the world, in the evening, and everything. And there were people around me, of course, including a lovely friend. And I couldn’t stop comparing myself, even to my friend, who I love and who loves me. And, of course, I always fell short. I can see all the ugliness in me so clearly. I can see how I don’t stack up against anyone else.
Talk about a thief of joy. It’s hard to enjoy anything when all you can think about is how you don’t measure up. Your own faults. Your own ugliness.
And this wasn’t a one-night-only event. I have found myself comparing myself to others over and over, every time I leave the house. Part of it is having gained weight. I wasn’t thin before, by any means, but having gained more weight, I’m extremely conscious of how I look and of how other people just look more beautiful. I feel like my fat, ugly self just shouldn’t be in the world with all the pretty, normal people.
I’m aware that this thinking is not helpful, nor is it even accurate. I also know that depression influences it greatly. It’s depression whispering negative, hateful lies to me. But this insight doesn’t stop it from happening.
You Need to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Again, allow me to quote from my Instagram post:
But life isn’t one giant comparison. There will always be people smarter than you, more beautiful than you, more successful than you, etc. That’s not what life, or certainly, a night out, is about. It’s about getting out of your head and getting over your damn self for a minute.
Remember, no one is nearly as interested in that comparison as you are. Others aren’t judging you that way, only you are.
People don’t judge us nearly as harshly as we do. In fact, many other people are looking at us and thinking they don’t measure up. They’re putting us in a category that they can’t get into. We’re wrapped up in our shit, and they’re wrapped up in theirs. That’s normal too.
But for the sake of joy, for the sake of peace, for the sake of contentment, we need to learn to stop these unhealthy comparisons. Because while comparing items in our environment is normal and even helpful, doing it centering around ourselves in a way where we only find our flaws and believe that everyone else is above us in some way, just isn’t helpful.
As I mentioned in the post, there are plenty of things outside of us that will try to put us down. We can’t control them and they may be harmful. Let’s not add to that harm our own thought patterns, something we can actually influence.
How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
There are many ways to curtail the natural impulse to want to compare yourself to others. I, of course, suggest self-talk techniques to deal with it. Try something like this:
- Forgive yourself for being normal. As I said, comparisons are normal, biological, helpful patterns. They only become unhelpful because of us. Forgive yourself for this natural instinct — it just makes you like everyone else.
- Thank your brain for trying to help. You may want to thank your brain for actively looking for comparisons. Sure, it’s overdoing it and laying on unhelpful, negative overtones, but comparisons are actually trying to help you, however unsuccessfully. We should be grateful that our brains are trying to do their job even if it isn’t perfect.
- Look for mental comparisons. Watch your thoughts and be aware when you are actually making comparisons to others. You can’t address this thought pattern unless you can identify when it’s happening.
- Stop the thought. If you can, stop the comparison as soon as possible. It’s not helpful, and continuing the thought won’t help you. Say, “Stop!” out loud if you need to.
- Use compassion. Give yourself a mental hug and say to yourself, “I understand I’m comparing myself to others. This is natural and okay. But I know I don’t deserve negative comparisons.” Remind yourself that different is not better.
- Switch the thought. Start thinking about something safe. Focus on this thought. You can make a list of safe thought topics before you need them. (Another option is using the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise.)
- Repeat as needed.
Remember to practice this coping technique in low-stress times at first.
And to avoid getting into a comparison thought loop at all, try working on being mindfully present. The reason we get caught up in comparisons is that we’re not being present in the moment. If you’re focused on the moment, your brain is busy to make these harmful comparisons.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
One more post quote:
Don’t let this psychological tendency steal your joy . . . Embrace yourself. Embrace what’s going on around you. Really be present. Feel the joy of the moment.
And remember, you are never less than, only different. And that’s what makes you stunning.
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