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  • Estelle Curry

Why do we compare ourselves to others?

At this time of year, many of us are trying to keep our New Year resolutions. Striving to improve our habits, behaviors or situations. The beginning of the year provides us with great motivation for change and improvement because so many others are doing the same thing. We have strength in numbers. Enthusiasm is high, for a while, then it becomes tough to stick to our commitments. When you break your resolution and give up, it’s very tempting to look at others and wonder, “How can they so easily do what I am struggling to?”

Let me say right away, that this is normal human behavior. Leon Festinger proposed a theory in 1954 that suggested that people have an innate drive to evaluate themselves, often in comparison to others. The American Psychological Association reports that this comparison happens subliminally and automatically. So, don’t fret, you are not alone.

Are you conscious that you compare yourself to others? If so, how does it make you feel? Studies show it rarely makes anyone feel better when they compare their situation to others, regardless of whether they are of a lower standing or higher. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of comparisons and you can decide if you want more or less of it in your life.

What can be good about comparisons?

  1. The Comparison Theory suggests that we compare ourselves to others to gather information, to assess how we’re doing. This can help us do a reality check and self-assess.

  2. When we compare ourselves to people who we believe to be more fortunate than us, we can use this as an opportunity to learn.

  3. When we compare ourselves to people who we believe to be less fortunate than us, we can use this as an opportunity to practice gratitude and drive ourselves to help others.

  4. Acknowledging and respecting someone else’s achievements can be a source of motivation for us to work harder to achieve our own desires.

What’s not so good about comparisons?

  1. The majority of times we compare ourselves unfavorably to others, we don’t do it with a learner’s mindset, we do it to see how we stack up against them. This has the potential to damage our self-esteem and we run the risk of becoming jealous and bitter.

  2. When we compare ourselves more favorably to others, we risk elevating our egos to the point of smugness at the expense of others.

  3. Comparing ourselves unfavorably to others often leads to mimicking the actions or behaviors of the person we see as better. This can cause us to lose sight of who we are, the unique qualities that make us individuals. It can steer us towards a path that was meant for somebody else and is not in line with our personal values.

  4. We compare ourselves against our perception of how someone else is. This perception is not reality. There are many times when we fail to consider important information that is not available to us. In short, our comparisons are too subjective to be accurate.

What can we do to yield the best of comparisons and avoid the worst? Enhancing our self-awareness is the very first step in combating the pitfalls of comparison. Once we realize that we are doing it we can take appropriate measures to ensure whatever comparison we are making is positive. When we find ourselves comparing, ask, “Am I doing this with a learner’s mindset?” If the answer is yes, this is an opportunity to learn and grow!

If our intention is not to learn and grow, how will the comparison benefit us? If we are comparing ourselves more favorably, are we boosting our egos rather than counting our blessings? Self-satisfaction will always be short-lived as someone will come along who we believe to be better than ourselves and the smugness turns to jealousy.

If we are comparing ourselves less favorably and we’re using this as an opportunity to criticize ourselves, we need to stop. Instead, be happy for someone else’s success and think of how we can use this as a motivation tool to make positive changes in our own lives.

Remember, whatever comparison we make it’s likely to be overly subjective and unlikely to be realistic. Instead of looking at others and wishing we could have what they have, lets define our own success. Figure out what makes us happy, regardless of anyone else. What do we want to achieve? Instead of comparing ourselves with others, compare our progress against our own goals.

In summary, know that we are not alone when we find ourselves comparing. Be aware that there are pros and cons. Because there are potentially more negative feelings when we compare, it’s important to understand why we’re doing it. Let’s not beat ourselves up, just stop and correct our behavior. And don’t be surprised if it takes a little practice. I know I’m still working on it!

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