Comparing ourselves to others is the easiest thing in the world to do. A lot of how we learn social skills is by matching our behavior to that of other people, so it’s only a step from that to keep drawing comparisons.
It’s like human beings are somehow hardwired to look at their own lives and then look at the lives of others, and start comparing and contrasting the two. It’s understandable, but it doesn’t mean it’s always a healthy process.
How does it go wrong?
Do you ever catch yourself making one or more of the following statements?
“I wish I had her hair. She always looks fabulous.”
“My car is a real clunker. When I drive down the street, all of the other cars are nicer than mine.”
“I wish I had a big, expensive house like he/she does.”
“He is always smiling and happy. I wish I had his life.”
“If only I could be like that person.”
Yes – we’ve all been there. In fact we do it all the time, don’t we? We compare ourselves to others. It seems to be some type of built-in self-punishment tool that we whip ourselves with over and over.
Comparing ourselves to others doesn’t present a live-or-die set of results, in most cases. Despite the scary statistics you will see in a moment, most people have a roof over their heads, food to eat, water to drink and the ability to regulate the temperature in their homes. Perhaps because of this, humans have started comparing themselves to others in ways that, in real ways, are superficial.
You wish you were taller, like your friend. You hate that you can seemingly never lose weight, while you know someone who can eat just about anything and always look slim and trim. You compare your car, your home, your bank account and sometimes even the members of your family to those components in someone else’s life.
Where does it all lead?
It’s all about perspective. It’s perfectly fine to admire and appreciate things you don’t have but when you turn green with envy it’s more tricky. At worst it can create frustration, low self-esteem, and a mentality where you settle for your current lot in life, because maybe you have it better than somebody else. Worse still, some people turn to crime because they’ve adopted a mindset along the lines of, why should they have it all?
I know, easy to say, but true anyway. Stop worrying about your neighbor, the wealthy Internet guru you saw online, or the gorgeous celebrity who seems to have it all. Truth be told, those people would be jealous of you in a lot of ways, and it makes no sense to compare yourself to them anyway. Creating a sense of the true value and worth of your life, as opposed to trying to keep up with the Joneses, begins with practicing gratitude.
Try Appreciating What You Have
If you’ve reacted to that subheading by thinking “I don’t have anything” you are completely wrong. You’re probably focusing on something in particular, rather than the broader picture. Look, it’s okay to want more than you currently have. This is how human beings drive themselves – it can become a motivational force.
When you practice gratitude, it doesn’t mean you should stop working to be the best “you” that you can possibly be. If the greatest engineers, scientists, doctors, professors and geniuses of the day all stopped working because they were happy to be smarter than most, we may still be living in caves.
Practicing gratitude simply means acknowledging the good things in your life right now.
We cannot control the future. It is good to plan for the future, and make preparations that increase the odds that your life will be the way you want it to. However, you have no control even over just one second from now. You also cannot control the past. It is what it is. The past is gone, and the future is not yet here. Literally the only thing that makes up your entire existence as far as time is concerned is this present moment.
Instead of living to chase some achievement, embrace your “now”. Those people who are fully aware of their present moment live longer than men and women who are plowing through life worried about tomorrow. This is in part because when you are fully aware of the present, you automatically become appreciative. A mindful awareness of right now means that you see, hear and experience what is going on around you, this instant, not yesterday, not tomorrow, not one hour from now. All of your senses are attuned to your current existence.
This makes it easier to view things from a different perspective. Instead of thinking, “I can’t wait for that big Christmas bonus,” you might think, “I am grateful for this job.” This living in the moment awareness makes you thankful that you don’t have everything your heart desires. If you did, what would there be to look forward to in life?
People who are mindfully aware are shown to have dramatically lower stress levels than people caught up in the rat race.
You are aware of your breath right now. You are aware of where you are sitting or standing, how you feel, and what your five senses are experiencing, right now. When you focus on the present moment, you become instantly grateful for existing, in whatever current state you inhabit. Here are a few ways to express gratitude in your life. Practice them frequently and stop comparing yourself to others, and you will find acceptance and growth, as well as less stress and more peace with who you are.
- Say “thank you” for each new challenge you receive, because this gives you a chance to be the best you can possibly be.
- Take a moment right now and look around you. What are you grateful for? You no doubt will see several things that you should be thankful for, no matter how big or small.
- Be thankful for your mistakes, because that means you are just one more failure away from what you are trying to achieve.
- Don’t forget to be thankful for the small things. Your shoes may be old and worn. They are better than no shoes at all.
- Hug the difficult times in your life. These offer opportunities for incredible growth and understanding.
- Remember there will always be someone who has more than you. Be grateful that person exists, as a lesson to you of what is possible.
- Practice gratitude for your limitations, because with practice, they become skills.
- Spend a few minutes in nature every day, and you can’t help but be amazed at and grateful for the experience.
- Call a good friend and give them a heartfelt and meaningful thank you. This simple act practiced daily can impact your life positively in so many ways.
- Remember, anyone can be thankful for the good things in life. Begin embracing what first may appear as challenges or failures, and be grateful for the opportunity to experience them.
Gratitude Is a Simple Way to Boost Your Self-Esteem
Think back to the happiest times of your life. You probably had a very positive self-image. Life was good, and you unconsciously believed that you deserved the goodness in your life. The relationship works the other way around as well. If you want to improve your life, improve your self-image. Being grateful and thankful for all of the blessings you have makes you feel good about yourself.
You realize that there are so many reasons to be grateful, and your self-esteem is elevated. When you feel good about yourself and happy with who you are, you will find that this attitude also raises how you view your own life and the world around you. Expressing gratitude regularly boosts your self-esteem, which in turn improves your quality of living.
One way to ensure that you constantly practice the gratitude tips just listed is to keep a thankfulness journal. A study carried out in 2003 showed that the research subjects that kept a gratitude journal dramatically enhanced their lives both mentally and physically in many ways. The men and women who kept a journal and daily used it to record lessons of gratitude…
“… exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic. It also showed that people who kept the journal were more likely to make progress towards their goals. Overall, there was a greater sense of feeling connected to others, a more optimistic view towards life and better sleep quality.”
The findings are the same in any number of similar experiments on gratitude. It is easy to tell yourself you will be more thankful every day. Life gets busy though. You may not remember to be grateful for each and every experience throughout the day. When you keep a gratitude journal and record your thoughts in the morning, at midday and at night before you go to bed, in just a few days you can see a wealth of things you are grateful for.
Set Yourself up for Gratitude
This is a really simple way to instantly become grateful for who you are, rather than comparing yourself to others. You can actually plan experiences ahead of time that you know you will be grateful for. For instance, if you absolutely love reading and are consciously grateful for the ability to read, and the experience it gives you, plan for some reading time every day. Reading your favorite author for an hour before bedtime and scheduling that activity sets you up for gratitude and happiness. You could also …
- Complement your friends and family members on something they are good at. This makes you grateful for having that person in your life.
- Draw up a realistic budget and stick to it. When you begin to see yourself saving money when you had not before, you will be thankful you decided to budget your finances.
- Notice when you see others gossiping or speaking poorly about someone. Then express gratitude that you are able to be a part of that experience, and you may never gossip again.
- Schedule quality time with your children doing something they enjoy. There is nothing to be more grateful for than the smile of a child.
- Embrace the items on your to do list that you used to despise. Every time you accomplish a task or activity which you really don’t enjoy moves you closer to being able to spend time on the things you relish.
- Volunteer time with the elderly and infirm. They will be ever grateful for your help, and you become grateful for your own health and independence.
- Sometimes we look to others to “rank” ourselves. And in many ways, this gives us a wake-up call that reminds us we are truly blessed in so many ways. For instance, did you know …
783 million people (1 in every 9) do not have access to clean and safe water worldwide. (The Water Project)
Half of the people in the world live on less than $2.50 a day. 8 out of 10 live on less than $10 a day. (Global Issues website)
795 million people do not have enough to eat. (WorldHunger.org)
As of 2010, 1.2 billion people were living without electricity. (The World Bank)
The United Nations reported in 2005 (the last time a global homeless survey was attempted), that approximately 100 million people were homeless worldwide, and as many as 1.6 billion (1 in every 4 people) lacked adequate housing. (United Nations)
It is those types of statistics that can slap you in the face and make you realize just how good you have it. When you see that you are probably better off than most people on the planet, it is easy to practice the gratitude tips mentioned earlier. Most of the time though, it is not a great idea to compare yourself to others.
It makes no sense to compare:
Yourself to Others
You would probably agree that it doesn’t make much sense to compare a rock to a zebra. How can you compare the two things? They are so totally different that comparison is just silly. The rock is better at being a rock, and the zebra is better at being a zebra, but to compare and contrast one to the other does nothing but waste your valuable time.
The same is true with you and anyone else.
Earlier we pointed out that it makes a lot of sense to be grateful for having a roof over your head, access to safe drinking water, and food in your belly. Those essentials of life are not guaranteed to anyone. So when you realize how many people struggle in those areas, your comparison of yourself to them makes you incredibly grateful.
Unfortunately, people compare themselves to others in ways that don’t make any sense.
Men compare their balding hairlines to friends that have a lot of hair. Women look at a pair of shoes on a friend and wish they could afford expensive shoes as well. Some people even compare their children to the children of other parents. This is a fruitless practice, because what does it accomplish really?
Let’s say your best friend has a child that goes to school with your kid. They are the same age, the same gender, the same physical size, and may even look a little like. Your friend’s child makes straight A’s, is on the chess team, the debate team and the pep club, and plays three sports. Your child, on the other hand, is physically uncoordinated, works very hard but struggles to get good grades, and has no interest for after-school and intramural activities.
Comparison here can only hurt your child. Instead of embracing and loving the characteristics that make your child unique, you can stifle development, damage self-esteem and ruin the relationship you have with your child when you compare him or her to another kid. Give your children the best resources and opportunities to become good people and successful individuals, and stop playing the “nobody wins” comparison game.
The same is true when you compare yourself to others. You may as well compare the previously mentioned rock to a zebra, because you are so unique that looking at your life and existence in regards to someone else offers no room for comparison.
Taking Control of Your Own Goals
When you think about it, you really only control your own actions. This means you should set your own goals, and they should not be based on the achievements of others. Think about the things you want in different areas of your life. Write down a very specific target, instead of vague one. Instead of writing down, “I want to be rich”, you would write, “I will make $____ this year.”
Accordingly, a goal in any area of your life other than finances needs to be specific as well. This allows you to target your actions on a daily, weekly and monthly basis towards a year-end accomplishment. If you desire to make $100,000 this year, you can see that breaks down to just $2,000 a week. Over the course of a week days that becomes $300 a day. Then you can structure your game plan on a daily and weekly basis to attain that much more achievable figure.
At each level of your progress, record what happens.
No matter what your goal is, in what area of your life, you must track your progress. This allows you to compare you against yourself. You can see whether you are headed in the right direction or not, change your game plan accordingly, and get back on track to creating the reality you want to achieve. This allows you to compare you against you and no one else, and you will find it produces much better results in your life than comparing yourself to others.
Changing Your Thought Patterns to:
A simple way to get yourself to stop playing the comparison game is to develop new thought patterns. This may be difficult to do, especially if you are constantly beginning every one of your thoughts with “I wish …”, “If I only …”, and “If I was like …”. You can stop thinking these damaging and limiting thoughts with the following practices.
Remind Yourself That No One Wins the Comparison Game
You look at a person and realize they are better at something than you are. Maybe they have more of an item you desire than you have. This does not make them better than you, or make you worse than them. When you start comparing yourself to that person, you resent that individual because they have outperformed you in some way. You also begin to resent yourself, beating yourself up for not being “good enough”. No one wins in that type of game.
At first you may have to consciously remind yourself of this fact. Over time though, if you consistently tell yourself you automatically lose with your comparison to others, you will begin to appreciate the achievements of those people you used to envy, as well as your own skills and characteristics.
Start Being Kinder Towards Others
There is a lot of research that shows how you think about yourself is mirrored by how you think about others. This is true with behavior as well. Those that treat themselves positively also do the same to other people, even strangers. Seemingly random acts of kindness that help others can change your thought patterns away from pointless comparison, and toward self-realization.
If you are grubby, gruff and mean-spirited to others most of the time, this reflects a self-image. Angry, unkind people are often that way because they see the world as mistreating them. The world has been unfair, and they have this belief because they have compare themselves to others and find themselves lacking. They reach out negatively instead of positively, and will always find some comparison to back up their erroneous belief that they deserve to look down on themselves and others.
Don’t be this person.
Start smiling more, even if you have to work at it. Help your coworkers. Open your eyes to opportunities to assist others throughout the day. You will find that your attitude towards others will create the way you think about yourself. When you see others as deserving assistance, and kindness and love, you view yourself in that way as well. This means you begin to appreciate the person that you are, rather than desiring to be someone else.
Compare You to You.
There is only one person on the planet you should compare yourself to … you! Look at how much you have grown in so many ways. Look at the areas of opportunity where you still need to grow. Be honest with yourself. You know what you are capable of. Don’t settle for anything less than that. When you succeed, pat yourself on the back. When you fail, be grateful for the ability to recognize this failure is simply an event, not who you are.
When you begin to honestly compare yourself to you and no one else, you may start to get excited. You see how truly far you have come as a person, and then you imagine this continued growth in the future. Think about all your accomplishments and you develop an appreciation and love towards yourself that no one can defeat. As mentioned earlier, when you feel good about yourself, you have no need to play the comparison game.
Stop Judging and Criticizing Others or:
Seeing Them as Competition
You are your own unique person. No one else has your specific skills, brain, body, thoughts and abilities. Truly no one on the planet is just like you. Since this is the case, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to compare yourself to any other individual. If you are extremely talented in some way, you have a skill or skills that most others don’t. So it wouldn’t make any sense for you to compare yourself to those people.
This can lead to you drastically underachieving and not putting your skills to good use, since you see that even a weak attempt makes you better than others in that particular area. You only work hard enough to get by, and you never harness all of your abilities.
This happens a lot when you judge and criticize others.
It means you view the other human beings on the planet as competition. In competition, you have to be better than your opponent. The easiest way to compare two people in a contest is to call one a winner and another a loser. So by critiquing and criticizing others, even if you believe you are doing it in a positive way, you are unconsciously competing with those people. You judge one as a winner and one as a loser, and if you wind up on the short end of the stick this can lead to the self-regret, low self-esteem and negative comparison results we mentioned earlier.
When you judge others you are really judging yourself.
Criticize what someone else is wearing, and you probably have some personal issues with your own wardrobe. Instead of elevating that other person you are knocking him or her down. This is what losers and hateful people do, because they would rather beat someone else down than work to raise their own experience.
Those that are frequently critical of others usually have self-esteem issues.
They would rather bring someone down to their own level than help that person reach higher heights. Criticizing and judging others is nothing more than the lazy man’s way to keep from having to make an effort. If you judge that everyone around you is beneath you, your mindset is that you don’t have to do anything, because you are already better than everyone else. Don’t let this happen, because when you criticize others, you are really inwardly criticizing yourself.
Be Careful Online
The Internet makes being fake possible. Anyone can join a social media site like Facebook and create a dream reality out of thin air. You need to remember that no one is as perfect as they seem, especially online.
No one is perfect, especially celebrities and models whose pictures are Photoshopped and edited incessantly before they make it to the Internet. Online, everyone has their best foot forward. When you meet someone on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere in the virtual world, that person can tell you absolutely anything they desire, true or false. You have no way of understanding whether or not you are being lied to. So when you “meet” people online, you definitely should not play the comparison game.
These people could or could not be what they say they are. Their achievements may or may not be as described. Comparison in the real world is senseless, and online even more so. This is why you should limit your social media activity. Aside from the fact that staring at a monitor for hours a day is bad for you in so many ways, you expose yourself to countless opportunities for needless comparison.
There is always someone online who is better, smarter, richer, happier and ______er than you.
Spending most of your time in a fake, virtual environment full of data and information you can’t verify is an easy way to beat yourself up mentally when you compare yourself to the netizens and media personalities of the World Wide Web.
Conclusion: Being OK with Imperfection
There is no such thing as perfection in the human condition. If you believe that, look at any significant achievement in sports. Just as soon as one record is broken, it falls to the achievement of another individual. Humans were created imperfect, both you and I. It is okay to strive for perfection, because that keeps us challenging ourselves in reaching new heights.
Just don’t push yourself so hard that you ignore the present moment. Be mindfully aware of who you are and what you have right now. You are the only person like you that has ever existed, will ever exist, or exists right now. Take a second to let that statement sink in. Why in the world when you do such a unique person the disservice of comparing yourself to others, when there is no comparison possible?
Stop comparing your life, and start living it. After all, it is yours, and doesn’t belong to anyone else.