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How to stop comparing yourself to others: 10 key steps

As the saying goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

So, why can’t we stop?

When it comes to comparing yourself to others, it’s all too common today. Between our work lives, social media, and our family and friends, it’s easy to compare. You see another person achieving more, looking better, having more followers, or enjoying life more than you are. When it comes down to it, comparison sucks the life out of us.

We get so caught up in what everyone else is getting that we forget to recognize what we’re getting ourselves. It’s frustrating, right?

Unfortunately, we love comparison. Or really, we love and hate comparison. We compare all the time. It’s how we define who we are. How do we know we’re successful unless we compare ourselves to someone else?

Short answer: We don’t. That’s the problem. Our brains are meant to compare, meaning that it’s impossible to stop. Or, is it?

If you want to stop comparing yourself to others, you’ve come to the right place. As it turns out, there is a way to stop comparing yourself, you just have to follow these 10 key steps. Want to learn? Great. Keep reading to find out how to stop comparing yourself to others for good.

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Why do people compare themselves to others?

We compare ourselves to others to evaluate ourselves. It seems backward, but it’s true. Back in the 1950s, Leon Festinger, a social psychologist, developed the Social Comparison Theory. What he found is that humans have an innate drive to evaluate ourselves.

Since we can’t evaluate ourselves based on nothing, we turn toward comparison. We want to know how we are performing when compared to the people around us. That means your neighbors, your coworkers, even your family members are all fair game. We look toward them to try and form an opinion about ourselves.

What’s even stranger is that if there’s no “data” to pull from, we’ll create a subjective opinion and basically assume where the other people fall on our own scale.

For example, maybe you’re testing how rich you are. To do this, you look toward your neighbors. Since Joe next door drives a car from the 80s, you assume he doesn’t have a lot of money. However, Bob, your other neighbor, drives a brand new Ferrari. You assume that Bob has a lot of money.

Maybe these assumptions are correct, but unless you’re seeing their bank accounts, there’s no way to really know this. You then take your scale of Joe to Bob and place yourself somewhere to measure your success. You say something like, “Well, I have more money than Joe, but not as much money as Bob. I’m semi-successful.”

Two types of comparison

Festinger took the Social Comparison Theory to another level and stated that there were two types of comparison: Upward comparison and downward comparison.

Upward comparison happens when you’re comparing yourself to someone you perceive that is better than you. So, maybe this is that rich neighbor of yours, a celebrity, or anyone you perceive as better than yourself.

However, if we’re feeling down about ourselves and not happy with how our life is going, we often do a downward comparison to feel better about ourselves. Downward comparison is when we find someone we perceive as being beneath us and choose to compare ourselves to them.

(Read more: 8 practical tips to improve your mood when you’re feeling down)

This works because it makes us feel good. Let’s say you didn’t get the job promotion you were hoping for. Well, you know who is worse off than you? That intern everyone hates.

You then compare yourself to the intern so that you can feel better about your own circumstances.

In our daily lives, only upward comparisons make us feel bad. However, that’s not true when it comes to social media. Both downward and upward comparisons can be harmful. One study published in the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology found that upward comparisons and downward comparisons on social media led to depressive symptoms.

Is comparing yourself to others bad?

We’re constantly told that comparing yourself to others is bad, but is it?

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Yes and no.

As it turns out, the answer to the question isn’t all that clear. We know that comparing ourselves to others can make us feel bad, but where would we be without comparison?

The general consensus is if you’re feeling bad because you’ve been comparing yourself to others, it needs to stop. Comparison can make us miserable.

Is comparing yourself to others good?

On the other hand, some people wonder if comparing yourself to others is actually a good thing. Sometimes, it can be. Comparison makes us competitive, which can help us better ourselves.

Comparison also gives us a baseline for our success. We know that to be successful, we must be better than whatever group you perceive as being unsuccessful.

M.J. Ryan, a best-selling author, says that comparison can even make us grateful. When we look at others in a downward comparison, we feel good about ourselves. We’re happy that we have something that they don’t have. While that doesn’t seem to be all that good to be grateful by looking at others’ hardships, it makes sense when you think about it.

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How do you stop comparing yourself to others on social media?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that comparison is what makes us such intelligent creatures because we now have a new, devastating tool for comparing ourselves to others: Social media.

Social media is fun. It’s a way to connect with others and grow. It keeps people together and builds an online community.

But there’s a dark side to social media, and a lot of people forget this. Every time you scroll and see someone smiling and carefree, we think of our own lives. There we are, in our pajamas, barely surviving through the day, and there they are.

Them, with their perfect hair, perfect family, perfect clothes, perfect vacations, and perfect life. It’s unfair. Why can’t we be like them?

Well, the answer is pretty simple. Even they aren’t like that.

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Those photos that you see people post are their absolute best. You can’t compare your worst to someone’s best—it’s simply illogical.

However, I know how difficult it is. When you’re struggling to get through all your work and all you can see are seemingly perfect lives in front of you, it sucks. Since social media is a special type of beast we have to conquer, here are a few tips to stop comparing yourself to others:

  • Unfollow people: If they’re making you feel inferior, stop looking
  • Stop talking negatively: You rock, even if you didn’t go on a million-dollar vacation
  • Remember what you post: Chances are, you’re posting your best photos as well
  • Be happy for others: Practice gratitude for what you have and be happy for others
  • Practice Mindfulness: One study found that when using mindfulness with Facebook it decreased the feeling of lack of personal accomplishment

How to stop comparing yourself to others

Comparing yourself to others can actually be bad for your mental health. Not only does it lower your self-esteem, but if left alone, it could lead to anxiety, depression, and unnecessary stress. So, how can you stop comparing yourself to others and lead a happier life? Here are my secrets to stop comparison:

1) Be aware

Most of the time, we aren’t even aware we are comparing ourselves to others. It’s such a common practice that we do it without thinking about it. The only way to stop comparison is to be aware that we’re doing it.

Every time you catch yourself comparing yourself to others, make note of it. At first, you’ll find that you’re doing a lot of comparing. This is normal. We do it so much more often than we think.

As the days go on, you’ll recognize that you’re comparing yourself a lot more than you thought. This is good and bad. While it doesn’t stop the comparisons, this is the first step that makes you want to find a better solution.

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2) Quit comparing

It seems easy, right? Well, what I mean by quit comparing is that once you notice that you’re making a comparison, try to stop it. That may mean you need to talk yourself out of the comparison.

Let’s go back to the example of the rich and poor neighbor. Your rich neighbor has a Ferrari, and in your mind, that’s successful. But, you don’t know him. Maybe he was given money by his family. Maybe he actually didn’t buy the Ferrari. Or maybe, the Ferrari is putting him into massive debt and it’s a huge burden for him.

Maybe your poor neighbor actually saves all of his money. He’s humble and doesn’t care what car he drives. Maybe, he’s actually investing everything he has into stocks and is going to become a millionaire.

The thing is, you don’t know what they’re going through. You don’t know the intimate details of people’s lives. If you did, your comparisons would definitely change. Bring awareness to the comparison you’re making and try to focus on something else. Recognize it and then move on without going down that dark spiral of comparison.

3) Practice gratitude

Usually, when we’re comparing ourselves to others, we’re focusing on what we don’t have. Many times, we forget how privileged we really are. Everyone has struggles, but everyone has great things that happen to them as well.

Try using a gratitude journal to bring your focus to what you’re grateful for. When you write down everything you have, your outlook changes. It’s a great way to practice mindfulness and realize just how lucky you truly are.

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4) Don’t bring others down

Just because you’re unhappy right now doesn’t mean you need to drag others down. In comparing, we often degrade other people in hopes of making ourselves look better. There’s no reason to do this.

Instead of trying to drag others down, recognize that everyone has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. While theirs may be easy for you to see, it may be difficult for them to see on their own.

The truth is that we’re much harder on ourselves than we are on others. We look at their weaknesses and think they’re no big deal, but our weaknesses are the end of the world.

Guess what? Your weaknesses aren’t any worse than the person you’re comparing yourself to. Everyone has weaknesses.

5) Love your imperfections

Do you know what would be really boring? If everyone was perfect. It’s our imperfections that make life worth living. Though we often see them as our failures, they can actually be our greatest strengths.

Comparison happens because we feel inadequate. We’re upset that we don’t have what they have, and that makes our life imperfect. I’m here to tell you that imperfection is great. Rock what you’ve got.

There are people who look at you and wish that they could have what you have. Just like you compare yourself to others, others are comparing themselves to you. Does that make you feel good?

You probably think those people are in the wrong. Who would compare themselves to you? Well, a lot of people. Seriously, there will always be someone better than you and there will always be someone worse than you. Such is life, and we all have different journeys. Embrace yours.

6) Do a social media detox

Even if you’re unfollowing people on social media or trying hard to not compare, it’s still hard. I get it. Social media is always so perfect. Focus on your mental health and do a social media detox. Spend some time outside of your phone and really live.

Once you stop looking at picture-perfect squares, you realize that life is beautiful. People are beautiful—you just have to look up enough to see it.

7) Practice self-love

Self-love is so important. Did you know that practicing self-love and care can actually make you healthier? It’s true. When you focus on yourself, you feel better. It doesn’t matter how busy your life is, carve out some time to show yourself how much you love your mind and body.

This can be anything you’d like. Go out for a dessert alone, take a long bath, read that book you’ve been dying to read or go on a mini-holiday. Whatever it is that you love, do it and do it for you.

8) Accept your journey

Life is not a linear process. There are heartaches, unexpected hurts, and a whole lot of stress. If you want to be successful, do it. But, you also need to accept your journey. Recognize that where you are right now is okay.

You don’t know how that person you admire got there. Most likely, their journey was filled with its own set of heartbreaks, regrets, and frustrations.

People are messy. Life is messy. Wherever you are in life, accept it. If you can’t accept it, then do something about it.

9) Stand up for yourself

I’m not talking about against other people (but you should do that too). I’m talking about standing up to yourself for yourself.

That mean voice in your head? It sucks. Sorry, there’s no other way to put it.

We all have that inner critic who is dying to make us feel bad about ourselves. It points out our flaws, gives us everything we should hate, and is envious of all the cool people around us.

When that voice starts talking, shut it down. Tell that voice, “You’re lying.”

You are awesome. You are worthy of a great life. And you are deserving of love.

If you want some help in learning how to stand up for yourself, I highly recommend Ideapod’s free masterclass on embracing your inner beast. It has a lot of practical advice on how to use your anger to stand up for yourself.

10) Make your own comparison

Do you know who you should be comparing yourself to?

You.

Comparison is natural, and we can damper it and hope not to do it as often as we currently do it, but comparison is going to happen. Accept that you’re going to have times when you compare yourself to others.

However, the only person you should really compare yourself to is you. Look at where you are now and make goals to change your life. If you want to be successful, make a goal. If you want to lose weight, make a goal. Want to save up some money? Make a goal.

You are the only person who can choose to change your life. We’re all searching to feel fulfilled. As Rudá Iandê explains, “Fulfillment comes from inside out…It doesn’t need to change the world. It only needs your heart to be warm and present.”

We have to focus on ourselves to change. Become fulfilled in your own life by choosing to be happy. Look at who you are today. If you aren’t happy, change it. Then, come back and compare the new you to the old you. It’s a great way to feel fulfilled and recognize the amazing ways you’ve changed.

So, maybe comparison is the thief of joy. But, you don’t have to put up with it. To stop comparing yourself to others, it all boils down to one thing: You.

Focus on yourself. Love yourself. Every single imperfection and flaw is there for a reason. And guess what? It makes you great. When you practice self-love and care, you’re arming your mind with armor. You’re building your confidence, helping your self-esteem thrive, and becoming a unique person.

Though it’s not an overnight process, I believe in you (and me). We’re going to struggle with it for a bit, but we’re going to overcome it. When we look back and compare ourselves to who we are today, I know we’re going to be so much happier.

Want to join me in creating a stronger mind? Check out Ideapod’s eBook The Art of Resilience. It’s all about developing mental toughness, and when it comes to comparing yourself to others, that’s what we all need.

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Notable replies

  1. Nice article @jesscarpwrites. I like the ending:

    You are the only person who can choose to change your life. We’re all searching to feel fulfilled. As Rudá Iandê explains, “Fulfillment comes from inside out…It doesn’t need to change the world. It only needs your heart to be warm and present.”

    Personally, comparing myself to others was a huge issue in my life up to only a few years ago. I’d always find examples men I perceived to be more successful and more desirable to make me feel smaller than I really am.

    During the time of comparing myself to others I also had the mission of changing the world.

    Now I feel more fulfilled and have simpler goals. I also don’t compare myself to others anywhere near as much.

    I hope anyone reading this who compares themselves to others will check out the advice offered in the article. There’s definitely a better way to live life that comes from finding fulfilment within.

  2. I completely agree. Being authentic to yourself and true to who you are is the most important thing you can do. It helps you to lead a much better life.

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Written by Jess Carpenter

I studied at The University of Utah where I earned both my B.S. and M.S. and am a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES certified). My favorite spot to write is wherever I can see my toddlers to ensure they aren’t jumping from the second story or coloring on the walls.

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