Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and yet, we continue to compare ourselves to others all the time. Why is that, when doing so is likely to damage our confidence, increase our anxiety, and erode our self-esteem?
Making comparisons is a normal part of brain function. According to Social Comparison Theory, seeing how we stack up against others is a way we determine our self-worth, and we use comparisons to drive self-improvement and self-motivation. However, too often, the effect of comparing ourselves against others has a negative effect, especially for those with already low self-esteem. Comparisons often make us feel insufficient in some way, when the truth is, the comparison had no merit in the first place.
Besides making us feel bad about ourselves, this is why comparing yourself to someone else just doesn’t sense.
1. Everyone has a different starting point
You might be just learning to play golf, but your friend has been playing for 10 years. Or perhaps you are a student who is comparing their B grade in Math with your classmate’s A+ who happens to be the child of two Math professors. You can’t compare progress, results, or success unless the starting points are the same, and they never are.
2. Everyone is unique and has a different level of talent
Some people are born with a high IQ. Some people naturally have amazing hand-eye coordination. Others have a natural knack for music or math or art. We are each individual beings with unique strengths and talents of our own. Judging yourself by another’s is an apples-to-oranges comparison.
3. The resources available to you and another person are different
If you want to play the violin and your father is a wealthy concert violinist, you have a huge advantage over someone born into a financially challenged family that has no experience in music. So often, we don’t even know what advantages someone may have had that helped them get where there are.
4. There’s always someone better
There are only a handful of people that can make a reasonable claim to being the best at anything. There are nearly eight billion people in the world. That’s a lot of people you have to surpass to be the best, so what’s the point of comparing yourself to your friend, the person standing next to you, or anyone else?
Since comparing yourself to others doesn’t provide useful information, let’s try something more productive.
1. Compare yourself to yourself
Pay attention to your progress over time. Notice your improvement. As long as you’re making headway, you have a good reason to be excited. Strive to become better each day and use that as your motivation.
2. Limit your exposure to social media
In theory, social media exists to connect people. In reality, it can do just the opposite as “friends” show you only what they want you to see and not necessarily the whole truth. What you get is the “highlight reel” and it can appear that everyone, except you, is living a spectacular life. They aren’t, so look away.
3. Use the success of others as a source of inspiration, not comparison
Study how the best people, those at the top of their game, got there. See what you can learn from their success and work to become the best you can be.
It is important to remember that even someone who is the best at something has their struggles and failures. We are all unique and the most we can be is our own best selves. As Japanese monk, Ogui (Sensei) said, “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms.”
Amy Kan is a leadership coach, with a focus on women’s advancement and authentic leadership.