Let’s be honest. We all do it. We compare our lives, our businesses, our bodies, our families, our kids, our houses. And even though we hate how the comparison game makes us feel, we do it anyway.
For many of us, the comparison game has become almost like second nature.
Let’s look at what the comparison trap is, how it affects us and how to overcome it.
I have a friend who ran a marathon when she was 50 years old. A marathon. She crossed the finish line at 6 hours and 20 minutes, way faster than a few thousand other people. Filled with pride about this incredible bucket list achievement, she posted her finish line photo and finishing time online.
Some minutes later, she saw the finish line photo and finishing time of a few of the women she trained with and realized they had finished (together), and faster than her. Embarrassed by her time (and not wanting them to see it) she deleted her photo, the joy of her day and her incredible accomplishment stolen by comparison.
Now, I don’t even run, so in my mind, the fact that she ran a marathon is crazy amazing, I have no point of reference on her time or what is good or bad. My guess is 99% of people are just like me; they would see the picture and be amazed that she did it. But she was caught in her own comparison game, measured her success by the wrong thing and ruined her own happiness.
Comparison is a liar who says our best won’t ever be good enough. Measuring your success through comparison is a recipe for unhappiness.
Let’s discover what comparing ourselves to others really does to us and exactly how to stop playing the comparison game.
I think about the parable of the worker in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. Here was a guy who was getting paid a great wage to work in a field. He was excited about his good fortune and couldn’t wait to tell his friends and family all about it.
That is, until a few more workers showed up hours later, and he discovered they were getting the same exact paycheck for half the work.
He went from celebrating his good fortune to being disappointed and angry, all because of comparison.
His life was not in any way hurt because of the other workers’ paychecks, but the trap of comparison sucked the celebration right out of him.
I confess; I want to be happy when good things happen to the people I love (or even like), but all too often, I compare my life to their good fortune, and I find myself resenting them instead of celebrating with them.
That behavior ruins my own day instead of living the life I’m meant to.
Comparison can make us bitter and jealous, ultimately damaging great business and personal relationships. It’s important for all of us to admit that, because we are human, we will often fall into the trap of comparison.
Learning to tame the comparison tendency is crucial for long term success and happiness.
Research has shown that people who constantly compare themselves to others suffer from depression and lower self-esteem.
This is especially common thanks to social media, where we can compare ourselves to others 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the click of a button.
According to this in livescience-
“When asked how they felt about their place in life and their achievements, people with lots of Facebook friends gave themselves lower marks if they’d just viewed their friends’ status updates, compared with people who hadn’t recently surfed the site.”
Comparison makes us feel worse about ourselves and social media can kick it in overdrive. I love Social Media so don’t think that I’m knocking it, we all need to handle it with care.
Another thing that happens to us when we compare ourselves to our friends on social media is we fall in love with the perception of their reality and hate our actual reality.
We need to keep in mind that while Betty’s kids are all on the honor roll and her husband brings her flowers every day, she might be living a different real life on the other side of that screen. Chances are, unless she’s a really really close friend, you only have a perception of the life she lives.
Don’t fall for an ‘InstaSham’ version of other’s lives. You know the InstaSham updates, the house is perfect, the kids are knitting scarves for the homeless and the parents just finished a lovely 5 course meal, but in reality it took an hour to clean up the room and make the kids stop playing video games long enough to pose for the picture.
There is a big difference between healthy competition and comparison, and it’s fairly easily defined.
Healthy competition can be good! It drives you to be the best you can be. My boys never run faster in the backyard than we they are trying to outrun their brothers!
Comparison is just flat out bad. It makes us feel bad about ourselves from the get-go.
Imagine that the young man in the parable from above had celebrated with the workers that joined him near the end of the workday, instead of feeling cheated and angry.
Just picture the scene with them all leaving the field, high-fiving each other and talking about all the things they were going to do with the money they had earned.
Not only would he have not wasted his day being miserable, he would have been happier just by changing his perspective.
There is a great amount of power that comes with not ruining your own happiness and by celebrating the win of someone else.
When we start hearing the voice of comparison in our head saying “You’ll never be as good as her,” or “Your business won’t ever be as successful as his,” shut it down and replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
When you notice someone else reaching a certain level of success, don’t even let those thoughts creep in.
Do this exercise every time you feel tempted to compare:
Notice what is triggering you to compare and start negative self-talk
Example thought- “He gave a terrific presentation. Mine will probably be terrible.”
Be gentle with yourself and remind yourself you are done with the comparison trap
“I’m being negative comparing again. Here’s another step in breaking that bad habit.”
Flip it around by being positive.
“His presentation was great. Luckily the audience is now happy and warmed up for my talk. I’m excited to teach today!”
Something as simple as being mindful and noticing when negative self-talk is happening will start retraining your brain to stop comparing.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
I saw this statement in an article I read recently. It said,
“Whenever you find you are comparing yourself to someone else, you should go right up to that person and compliment them on the very thing you’re jealous of or comparing yourself to.”
I really like this idea because it takes the focus off of comparison and puts it right back into celebrating (see #2), which is a win-win.
There is only one you. And you alone were created to do incredible things on this earth. Your path may include launching a business, or caring for a family, or moving to the other side of the world to build wells.
Whatever you are meant to do, and whatever path you are on is uniquely yours and the paths that other people are on are of no significance to yours.
Remember, you have a special set of gifts, personality traits and talents that are unique to you. Comparing your life, your personality and talent is a waste of your gifts.
Guard your time because it’s precious, minimize your time spent on Social Media where you find yourself falling prey to the lie of comparison and give negative self-talk the boot.
Measuring your success with someone else’s yardstick leads to frustration, and living a life free from the comparison trap will lead to happiness and success.
Alli is the COO for Propel Women and helps people be more successful in business and life. Gifted with a knack for identifying trends early on, a voracious reader and self-taught businesswoman, Alli’s influence extends from Fortune 500 companies to international humanitarian organizations to small business owners and entrepreneurs. Her dynamic style and expertise in productivity, marketing, branding and digital strategy make her sought after counsel. And her insights on balancing motherhood, career and marriage have led to appearances on Good Morning America and The Today Show multiple times. Alli lives outside Nashville, TN with her husband, Mark, their five sons, and their rescued dog. Most flat surfaces in their home have one or more of the following on them: books, sports equipment, legos and, quite possibly, a little dog hair. Connect with Alli on Twitter @Alli, Facebook and Website.