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How To Make Comparisons That Help, Not Hurt You

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

oranges and an apple

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Oh, how right he was! And yet, we continue to do it all the time. Why is that, when so often, doing it leads to low confidence, increased anxiety and eroded motivation and self-esteem?

Social Comparison Theory says we determine our own self worth by seeing how we stack up against others. Supposedly we do this as a means of self-improvement and self-motivation but really, how often has comparing yourself to someone else actually made you feel good? Or motivated you in a positive way?

Besides making you feel bad, here are some other reasons why comparisons don’t make 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 compare yourself to your colleague who is climbing up the corporate ladder faster than you -- but they joined the company with five more years of work experience than you.

  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. Judging yourself by another’s 'superpower' 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 aren't even aware of the 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.

Comparing yourself to others doesn’t provide useful information so let’s try something else, something more productive.

  1. Compare yourself to yourself. Here is a way to make a comparison help you. 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.

  2. Limit your exposure to social media. In theory, social media exists to connect people. In actuality, social media is often used as a way of showing off and often presents a false reality. What you get is someone’s best attempt to make their life look better than it really is. Everyone, except you, seems to be living a spectacular life. It’s not true. (Check out this video to see what I am talking about!)

  3. Use the success of others as a source of inspiration, not comparison. Study how they got there. See what you can learn from their success and work to become the best you can be.

Remember, even someone who is the best at something has their struggles and failures. We all do. The best comparison you can make is to compare your present self to your past self. Set a few goals and spend some time each day working on those goals. You’ll be happy when you see the progress you’ve made.

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