- Samantha Fogel, Student Therapist
How To Stop Playing The Comparison Game
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “the grass is always greener on the other side?” For those who frequently find themselves making comparisons to others, this phrase has probably popped up at least once or twice. It entails the notion that we always assume others have it better than us, whether it be wealth, an attractive partner, popularity, a good physique, etc. With the addition of social media over the past 20+ years, it is getting harder and harder for us to avoid being bombarded by people constantly sharing about their lives in “highlight reels,” and it becomes incredibly difficult to not make comparisons.
As human beings, it is natural and normal to make comparisons to other people’s lives, whether that be in real life, or online. At times, making comparisons can act as a powerful motivator for those of us who are naturally more competitive and thrive off of that energy. However, when comparing ourselves and our lives to others gets out of hand, it can have a really negative impact on our mental health, self-worth, and self-esteem. As such, I will share with you a few important things to remember when it comes to not letting the comparison game impact your mental health and the way you view yourself.
Reminder #1: It is very unlikely for people to share their negative experiences or failures online
Imagine this: you are scrolling through Instagram, seeing smiling face after smiling face, pregnancy announcements, this person just graduated from their master’s program, this person just got engaged, this couple just bought a house. Oh, look at that: wedding photos! After about 10 minutes of scrolling, you notice your own smile starting to fade. The little voice in your head starts asking you what you are doing with your life, why you haven’t achieved what these people have, and you start to feel really bad about yourself. Now you are in a horrible mood for the rest of the day, you’re envious, but you can’t seem to get off of social media, and the cycle continues.
The next time you might find yourself in this situation, try to remind yourself that what you are seeing online is only a glimpse of what people want you to see: it is not always a true and accurate reflection of their lives. At the end of the day, social media presences are edited, curated, and filtered. People are typically not going to display images of themselves feeling insecure, feeling unattractive, or failing at something, despite the fact that every single one of us experiences these things at some point throughout our lives. So, when you find yourself getting stuck in the social media pity party “hole,” try to challenge whatever negative thoughts arise by reminding yourself that what you are seeing is just a highlight reel.
Reminder #2: Other people’s successes do not mean you are not succeeding or that you are failing
It is important to remember that just because it may feel like someone is doing better than you, or doing more than you in life, it doesn’t mean that you are any less of a person. Of course, you can allow yourself some space to feel bad, or jealous, but at some point, you need to be able to let go of that envy and resentment, and re-focus your energy on your own goals and the improvements you want to see in your life. It is counterproductive and damaging for your mental health to spend so much time ruminating over what other people are doing; instead, try your best to reinvest that energy into taking the necessary steps to giving yourself the life that you want and deserve. Remember, you can cheer on other people’s happiness or success while still believing in your own happiness and success.
Reminder #3: Everyone has their own timeline, and no one path is better than the other
When playing the comparison game, it is important to remember that everyone has their own timeline and path. Some people may get their dream job in their early 20s, whereas others may get their dream job at 40. Some people may be getting married and having kids before they’re 30, whereas some people may find their soulmate later in life and be just as happy. Some people may be lucky to find their passion very early in life, whereas others may try and try again until something finally clicks. The truth is, we all have vastly different wants, goals, interests, and needs, and so life is going to take a different shape for each and every person. Therefore, comparing your timeline to someone else’s is not going to serve anything except making you feel miserable and stuck, thereby hindering yourself from focusing on how you can achieve the life you want. It is okay and normal to feel lost and confused sometimes, but the next time you find yourself comparing your timeline and life path to someone else’s, try your best to be gentle and patient with yourself, and remind yourself that your path is as worthy and as valid as anyone else’s.
Reminder #4: You are not alone, and likely you encompass something that someone else wants
This reminder can act as a helpful perspective shift. A lot of the time when we are comparing ourselves to others, there is an assumption that we are the only ones “lacking” something, that we are the only ones not feeling completely happy or fulfilled in life, but this is completely untrue. As you are going throughout your life comparing yourself to friends, family members, coworkers, celebrities, or even strangers, it is easy to forget that you probably represent something that someone else could be looking for or feeling inadequate about. While it may make you feel uncomfortable for a moment or worried about getting too big of a head, reminding yourself that there are likely people out there who are comparing themselves to you can help you to re-identify your own strengths, positive qualities, and successes. When you find yourself comparing, try to take a moment to really reflect on your own life and how you’ve gotten to where you are, and give yourself the space to acknowledge your victories big and small, and your blessings.
Reminder #5: You are allowed to re-direct your attention and give yourself a break
This is one of the simpler and more straight-forward reminders. If you find that there is simply too much stimuli to fuel negative comparisons, put yourself on time out! Turn your phone off for a while, or schedule yourself 10-15 minutes a day to allow your concerns and insecurities to come up, and then once the time is up, close that door for the day and move on to more productive uses of your time. Re-direct your attention and energy to something that will bring you joy, comfort, and calm. This may be a good time to practice some self-care, whether that is journaling, listening to music, going for a walk, or spending some quality time with family and friends. Our minds are constantly being inundated with content and it sometimes feels impossible to escape it, but sometimes we just really need a break, and that is okay!
All in all, when we compare ourselves to other people, we allow them to have control over our lives, minds, and behaviours. As I mentioned before, comparing ourselves to others can serve as a motivator towards achieving our own successes, but too much of it without any critical reflection of the content we are consuming can become destructive. When we compare ourselves to others, we end up focusing all of our energy on bringing ourselves down, and lose the ability to raise ourselves up. So, the next time you catch yourself heading towards a comparison-fuelled downward spiral, think of all the things big and small that you are proud of yourself for, and all the things you have had to overcome to get yourself to where you are now. When you learn to adopt this mindset, you take back your control, becoming happier, more present, and free from the shackles of false comparisons.