“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway
Comparing ourselves to others has unfortunately worked itself into the fabric of our culture. While fewer people seem to be buying in to the traditional “American Dream” picture of achievement, the idea of measuring successes against those of other people continues to be a pervasive habit.
Especially if you spend time on social media, you’ll see the best of everyone’s worlds unfolding right in front of you. Jennifer just posted a photo of herself surfing with elephants, Kevin just married a professional athlete/entrepreneur/astronaut, and Gaile just got retweeted by the president. It’s nearly impossible to not look longingly in the direction of at least one other person’s achievements or experiences.
With the rise in popularity of open-office and collaborative work environments, it has become increasingly difficult to find happiness at work if you have the tendency to compare yourself to others. Employees are constantly made aware of the successes and failures of their peers due to working in such close quarters.
No comparison is good comparison
It was once believed that social comparison should make an individual happy when the comparison in question favors the individual. It should be obvious, though, that taking pleasure or comfort in the shortcomings of others is not a healthy habit. Additionally, studies have shown that frequent social comparisons, positive or negative, overall have a negative affect.
According to a Caltech study, “While social comparisons can increase well-being, a growing body of evidence suggests that this effect is temporary and that frequent social comparisons may actually decrease well-being.”
One major issue with comparing yourself to others is the fact that it’s very difficult to view yourself objectively and instead, you’re often too hard on yourself. For instance, you might be holding your worst up to someone else’s best. The gap between the two will be painful and lead to feelings of depression and anxiety as well as a loss of motivation and pride.
The image you build up in your mind of another person is more than likely a grandiose one that leaves out the negative aspects of his or her life. All you see is the praise a person receives. However, it’s important to keep in mind that in the work environment, praising employees publicly isn’t a matter of trying to make others jealous, it’s a necessary aspect of developing a healthy company culture. When meaningful work is done yet goes unacknowledged, it’s almost as demotivating as destroying the work immediately.
Additionally, comparison is unproductive. It’s important to be able to put the blinders on and focus on your own work, but if you’re preoccupied with the progress that someone else is making or had made by the time they were your age, you’re robbing yourself of the most precious of commodities: time; time which could be spent pushing yourself closer to your ideals. You’re never going to look back on your life and think, “I’m glad I spent all of that time thinking about how nice it would be to be someone else.”
Because comparison can cause feelings of depression and anxiety, individuals may experience physical symptoms as a result of this habit. These feelings can cause headaches, stomach pain, chest pain, exhaustion, problems with sleep, and a change in appetite. These thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult to shake without cognitive therapy, so don’t let them get out of control.
Possibly the worst part of comparing yourself to others is there is no such thing as a finish line. It’s not a problem that looks for a permanent solution. There will never come a day where making the right comparison will trigger a change in your behavior.
Changing your mindset
If you find yourself comparing yourself to others enough for it to be a problem, you must take steps to reverse this. Comparison tends to be a habitual behavior that doesn’t lead anywhere, so it’s in your best interest to rid yourself of the tendencies.
On my desk at work, I’ve placed trinkets that remind me of my accomplishments, my friends, and my family. These things are reminders that I’ve had success that can be objectively measured and that I have great people in my life who have supported me in achieving these things. Any sort of tangible item that you can use to remind yourself of your personal value, make sure it’s displayed prominently.
A competitive attitude is a surefire way to be in a state of constant comparison. In an article for Becoming Minimalist, Joshua Becker says “There may be times when competition is appropriate, but life is not one of them.” Instead of seeing peers as people you’re competing against, try to acknowledge their successes and appreciate them. Give credit where credit is due. Being competitive is stressful, so give yourself a break and just be more appreciative and complimentary.
Practicing yoga can help change a destructive, comparative mindset. One of the major principles behind yoga is kindness. Being kind to yourself in a yoga class means knowing your limitations and really listening to your own struggles. This principle has been known to affect the everyday lives of those who practice yoga.
Take note of how you view yourself. When you look in the mirror, what are your thoughts? Take note of the negative ones. As silly as they seem, a daily affirmation in the mirror can actually be effective at reversing negativity. Repeating a mantra of self-improvement every morning that speaks to your personal value can help create this thought pattern in your mind.
Essentially what you’re doing with affirmations is performing Neuro Linguistic Programming on yourself. Repetitions reprogram the brain. These affirmations can work on many different aspects of your life such as problem-solving,confidence, and willpower.
Every day, from one source or another, we’re inundated with stories of the successes and failures of other people. The task we face is to be able to transcend and live with a focus only on our own goals. Since comparing yourself to other people is akin to just spinning your wheels, it’s important to turn that wasted energy into something productive.