“Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another.” - Marquis de Condorcet
If you took the strengths of others, and compared them to your weaknesses, how do you think you’d size up? And do you think this would make you feel good?
The funny thing is, this is what most of us do at one time or another — and some of us do pretty often.
It’s a sure-fire recipe for a drop in self-confidence and for unhappiness. It’s also not that useful.
Let’s say I take a look at someone who creates amazing artwork and really top-notch podcasts on their website … and I look at my art and video skills, and realize that I don’t come close to measuring up. In fact, I look pretty pitiful (I’m a lousy drawer and don’t know anything about video).
But wait a minute: it’s not a fair comparison. Just because I don’t measure up doesn’t mean I should get out of the blogging business, or that I should get depressed or jealous or resentful. Instead, if I looked at my strengths — writing useful and honest posts — I can see that I have a lot to offer, a lot to be happy about.
And that’s so important — being able to look at your own strengths, and see your true value. It’s actually one of the keys to success, because without this ability, you will be unmotivated, and won’t believe in yourself.
I wanted to talk about this issue because of an email from a reader recently:
I come from a Tier-2 city of India. I belong to middle class family. My job also such that I can’t meet both my ends, if I get married and start a new family.
The problem is that I have got my teammates, who come from very affluent families. I can’t stop myself comparing my lifestyle with theirs. I know it is not proper to compare myself with them on the basis of what physical possessions they have. I must say that my financial planning is sound enough to take care of my existing family; and I can take care of new family member also, at least for some time even if I lose my current job. But whenever I see or hear them spending so much money after possessions, I start comparing again. How can I stop this habit, without changing jobs?
This is an excellent question, and a tough one. I think it’s natural to compare ourselves to others, but as the reader noticed, it often makes us unhappy even if we have enough and should be happy with what we have.
My quick advice: try to be aware of when you start comparing yourself to others … once you’ve developed this awareness, try this trick: stop yourself. Tell yourself, “Stop that!” And then start thinking about all the things you DO have, the things you love, the people you have, the blessings that life has given you. Make this a regular practice, and you’ll start to be happier with your life.
The Effects of Social Comparisons
But let’s take a look for a moment at what’s wrong with comparing yourself with others:
- Like I said, it’s usually an unfair comparison to start with. As a result, you’ll always come off bad if you look at someone’s strengths (including what they have, like houses and cars) and your weaknesses.
- Even if you compare strength to strength, there will always be those who are better, and those who are worse. Where you are on the ladder of accomplishments or purchases has nothing to do with what you want to do.
- Even if you do well in comparison with others, you may be artificially inflated from this comparison. It’s a short-lived boost of ego if you win the comparison — easily knocked down.
- You end up resenting others for doing well, without really knowing the true person. You can see this if you’ve ever resented someone upon first meeting them, and then later realized you got the wrong idea.
- You might end up talking about your own accomplishments more than is necessary. No one appreciates that.
- You might criticize someone in public, trying to knock them down, often unfairly.
These aren’t good things. Let’s look at how to stop this phenomenon.
Breaking the Habit of Comparing Yourself With Others
So how do you break this cycle of comparing yourself with others? Here are some tips I’ve found useful:
- Awareness. Most often we do these social comparisons without realizing we’re doing it. It’s a natural act, I suppose, and as a result it’s something that is done without consciousness. So the solution is to become conscious — bring these thoughts to the forefront of your consciousness by being on the lookout for them. If you focus on these thoughts for a few days, it gets much easier with practice, and soon it’ll be hard not to notice.
- Stop yourself. Once you realize you’re doing these comparisons, give yourself a pause. Don’t berate yourself or feel bad — just acknowledge the thought, and gently change focus.
- Count your blessings. A better focus is on what you do have, on what you are already blessed with. Count what you have, not what you don’t. Think about how lucky you are to have what you have, to have the people in your life who care about you, to be alive at all.
- Focus on your strengths. Instead of looking at your weaknesses, ask yourself what your strengths are. Celebrate them! Be proud of them. Don’t brag, but feel good about them and work on using them to your best advantage.
- Be OK with imperfection. No one is perfect — intellectually, we all know that, but emotionally we seem to feel bad when we don’t reach perfection. You aren’t perfect and you never will be. I certainly am not, and I’ve learned to be OK with that. Sure, keep trying to improve, but don’t think you’ll ever be the “perfect person”. If you look at it in a different way, that imperfection is what makes you who you are, you already are perfect.
- Don’t knock others down. Sometimes we try to criticize others just to make ourselves look or feel better. Taking someone else down for your benefit is destructive. It forms an enemy when you could be forming a friend. In the end, that hurts you as well. Instead, try to support others in their success — that will lead to more success on your part.
- Focus on the journey. Don’t focus on how you rank in comparison to others — life is not a competition. It’s a journey. We are all on a journey, to find something, to become something, to learn, to create. That journey has nothing to do with how well other people are doing, or what they have. It has everything to do with what we want to do, and where we want to go. That’s all you need to worry about.
- Learn to love enough. If you always want what others have, you will never have enough. You will always want more. That’s an endless cycle, and it will never lead to happiness. No matter how many clothes you buy, no matter how many houses you own (seven, in the case of one famous candidate), no matter how many fancy cars you acquire … you’ll never have enough. Instead, learn to realize that what you have is already enough. If you have shelter over your head, food on the table, clothes on your back, and people who love you, you are blessed. You have enough. Anything you have over and above that — and let’s admit that all of us reading this blog have more than that — is more than enough. Be good with that, and you’ll find contentment.
“To love is to stop comparing.” - Bernard Grasset
See elsewhere: Open Sourcing Your Creativity on LifeDev