• Eve Arnold

How to Stop Comparing Yourself

Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash

The comparison trap. Comparing yourself.

“When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll be the pope.’ Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.” — Picasso

At school it was about who had the nicest trainers, as we grew up a little, it turned to who had the latest phone. Then when we get to high school we’d compare social status and friendship circles. Mr and Mrs Popular.

When we entered the world of adulting, the focus turned to who has the best career prospects, earns the most money and has the biggest house.

Throw in the added benefit of knowing what everyone is doing every minute of the day and you get a recipe for disaster.

If you want to know who has the biggest house in the group of people that went to school with you, log on to Facebook, do some cross-comparison. It will probably take you an hour.

What it won’t tell you is who’s the happiest.

Two People Aren’t Comparable So Stop Comparing Yourself

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde

Why we decide to compare ourselves to the rest of the world is both perplexing and logical at the same time. It’s confusing because we are all so different. The people you are comparing yourself to are different to you in a number of ways:

  1. Upbringing

  2. Support from parents

  3. Financial support

  4. Education

On top of that, people are different in the way they:

  1. Think

  2. Prioritise

  3. Dream

We are differ from our fellow humans in so many different ways it’s hard to count. We all have different wants from the world, some are similar but a lot of them are very different.

And that’s what makes the world brilliant. If we lived in the world whereby everyone had the same desires, dreams and wants in life, then it would be wildly competitive and pretty boring.

So take some confidence and some rest-bite in the fact that people are so different there is hardly point comparing. Like comparing apples and pears. They are both fruits but they have individual tastes.

With the intricate complexities of differences between human beings it isn’t worth comparing. By the time you’ve found someone that is worthwhile comparing yourself against, you’ll have wasted too much time to measure up.

Social Media vs. Reality

It makes sense that we compare ourselves because it’s first of all, very easy too. Social media has paved the way for us to know what anyone is doing at any minute of the day.

We compare because it’s accessible.

Social media makes us feel more connected than ever, whilst feeling increasingly distant all at the same time. What we need to be careful of, is that we aren’t comparing our typical day to someone else’s atypical day.

When you post on social media, you know other people are watching. It’s like at school when you knew the teacher was behind you, you’d always make out like you were the best student in the class. As soon as she walked off, you were back to gossiping about whatever.

That’s the same with social media. People know other people are watching. The world is watching.

The result is people get dressed up for photos. Spending hours preparing for a single shot with a nonchalant title like ‘working from home today’. If we didn’t know better, we’d think:

“What a lovely house, how well put together are they? I can barely get out of my PJs when I work from home”

But what we forget is that people curate lives through social media. It’s there very best. If you compare someone else’s very best with your average, you’ll always feel inadequate.

There is a lot of value in remembering that life through social media is a highlight reel, made for other people’s entertainment. It needs to feel exciting and luxurious. Much like TV is curated to entertain, so is social media. Don’t get me wrong here, there is of course some truth to what people put online but some bits are ‘edited for your entertainment’.

No one is Thinking About You

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt is right. Think about how often you think about what other people are doing in a negative way. Try and remember a time where you were scrolling through social media and thought that someone wasn’t getting on very well in life. It’s not often. The truth is, most people do what we all do. We scrolling through social media with envy and feelings that we aren’t good enough.

Not very often are we doing the opposite.

Social media isn’t often used as a ‘feel-good’ tool, to see how everyone else is doing to validate that you are doing much better. Social media is usually a window into seeing how brilliantly everyone else is doing and an opportunity for you to feel truly rubbish about where you are and what you are doing.

The irony is that we think people are interested in us. We think that people care about our life choices, what car we drive, what house we live in. The reality though, is that everyone else is so busy worrying about what everyone else thinks to notice.

No one really cares about your career, your car, your house. What people care about is thinking you care about theirs. We’ve just established you don’t. You’re too busy worrying about them.

It creates this cycle whereby people think other people are thinking about them but actually everyone is just thinking about themselves and people think of them.

The moral of the story: do whatever you like because if you’re worried that people are thinking about you, they’re not.

Take Stock of What You’ve Got But Stop Comparing Yourself

There are lots of things to be truly grateful for in life. Sometimes we get stuck in the habit of wanting more and more that we forget what we’ve got. We often are and have exactly what we’ve always wanted but because we’ve achieved that, we strive for more. Striving for more isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. However, it can become a never ending quest that is incredibly unfulfilling if you’re not careful.

Making sure you get a good balance of drive to be better and appreciation of where you are is tricky. A lot of people struggle with it. They are such contradicting ideas that it’s a fine balance that can often become too heavily weighted on one side.

To help you take stock of what you have there are a couple of things you can do.

  1. Get in the habit of noting down what you are grateful for that day.

  2. Journal your thoughts, often we get thoughts that are no more than a surface feeling of jealousy. Writing through what you are jealous of will help you unpack where the dissatisfaction is.

  3. Look for the good. If you are constantly looking at what you don’t have, you’ll feel like a failure. Get into the habit of looking at all the stuff you do have.

Ask Yourself if That’s What You Truly Want

“Our time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs

Travelling is a good example of this. Over the last five years or so, more people than ever are traveling the globe. They are not settling for a dead-end job in a time in their lives where they feel most alive. Instead, they are taking on the world and exploring what it has to offer.

Now if you have decided to take that ‘dead-end’ job and you happen to stumble across their social media, well, you might feel a wave of unhappiness. However, being jealous may just be a habit you’ve created. If you find yourself pining over someone’s Instagram who’s just quit their job and gone traveling the world, you need to ask yourself the following question.

“Do I want to go and travel the world?

It could just be that you are creating habitual responses. I.e. you are going on social media every morning, scrolling through photos, seeing people travel and feel jealous. You’ve done that for the last 90 days and now it’s become a habit.

Or it could be that you are actually envious of what other people are doing. You need to figure out which one it is. If it’s the former, then you can practice some mindfulness and perhaps consider reducing your social media intake.

Figure it Out

If it’s the latter, figure out how you can go traveling.

Life is pretty simple in a lot of aspects. If you want something badly enough, figure out how to get there, make a plan and go after it. If you are just practicing jealousy but have no real plans of actually going traveling because you hate planes, can’t bear the thought of living in a hostel and are not a fan of the heat; it’s probably an idea to lay off the social media.

It is true that we can find ourselves practicing the habit of being jealous without actually wanting the thing we are jealous of. It sounds a very odd concept but it is very true. If someone came up to you today and asked you whether you’d give up what you’ve got now to go traveling, would you do it?

What’s the Answer

If the answer is no then you are where you want to be.

Steve Jobs said it best when he said that we shouldn’t waste our lives living someone else’s life. If there is something you truly want, go get it. Chase it until your legs feel like they are going to explode. However, if you set your sights on something you think you should want, you’ll feel exhausted before you leave the start line.

The best investment you can make, early on in life, is to become as self-aware as possible. Understanding what you want and what is important to you is the key in living a happy life. If you are certain of your needs and wants you won’t be swayed. You will stick right on your path because you know it will lead you to where you want to get to.

And when you dip into social media you’ll have admiration for other people doing well.

It’s Not All or Nothing – Stop Comparing Yourself

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that if we don’t have exactly what someone else has got, we are a failure. The truth is, when we are looking at someone else’s life, if we frame it correctly, we can think of it as a way to optimise our life. If you find yourself looking at more and more travel posts, maybe you need to get away for a weekend.

You don’t need to quit your job and go traveling the world to fulfil that need, you might just need a holiday. There are more ways than just one to add more into your life. You can keep your job and go exploring on the weekends. You could use the money you make from your job to stay in nicer places and go see the few bits of the world you want to.

You don’t need to be dramatic in your choices. If you want to do something you can test the water first. Side hustles are brilliant for that. If you want to dabble in making your own paintings, writing, video editing, whatever it may be, there are a million and one different ways to test those things with zero risk. You can make time alongside your day job to explore those things and see if they inspire you.

Become You, Picasso

Like Picasso said at the very start of this, whatever you strive for, aim to be the very best. It doesn’t matter what field you are aiming for whether you want to be an artist, writer, create an empire, whatever.

Your single, most important aim, it to be unequivocally you. And you’ll end up being your very own Picasso of the painting world.

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