The case for not comparing yourself to others has been taken too far. Its common sense now, reiterated over and over again, that to be a healthy individual, we shouldnt compare ourselves to others. One quick search and I came across the following articles from major blogs:
Via Mind Body Green its not good because we dont have accurate information
But people dont put their tear explosions on Instagram — not because theyre trying to hide something (although of course that happens sometimes) — but because its human nature to want to put your best foot forward.
Via Becoming Minimalist its just bad for you
Indeed, the negative effects of comparisons are wide and far-reaching. Likely, you have experienced (or are experiencing) many of them first-hand in your life as well.
Via Tiny Buddha its just bad for you
The thing about comparison is that there is never a win. How often do we compare ourselves with someone less fortunate than us and consider ourselves blessed? More often, we compare ourselves with someone who we perceive as being, having, or doing more.
Via Zen Habits its just bad for you
the comparisons led to feeling really bad about ourselves or others. This is heartbreaking, because we are good people, and so are they.
Via The Positivity Blog its just bad for you
One of the most common and destructive daily habit is to constantly compare your life and yourself to other people and their lives.
Via the Huffington Post you cant win
If comparing is how you evaluate your worth, you will always be losing.
The Case for Comparison
Its clear that new-age self-help experts advocate for the complete cessation of comparison between you and others. But before making any value judgements on the futility of comparison, shouldnt we ask why were comparing ourselves to other people in the first place?
One thing we know is that we all do it. The desire (or automatic response) to compare ourselves to others is something inherent in our psyche. Comparing ourselves to others is as human as is getting angry or sad. Therefore, since we have it, it must serve some purpose, and we should be able to derive some tangible benefit from its use.
So, why do we have the natural urge to compare ourselves to others?
Via The NY Times
“Comparison is rife with danger, but it’s understandable why we do it,” said Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist. “We’re human beings and we naturally seek information.”
The simple answer is just that. We need to navigate ourselves in this world, and through comparison were able to identify where we arent doing well. In short, through comparison were able to learn.
When I was growing up I used to play basketball. And many statistics used to be recorded during games. Shots attempted, shots made, assists, steals, turnovers, etc. After each game all the players could see everybodys stats and compare them. We could also see our stats from the previous games, so we could compare our performance over time and in relation to our teammates.
Now, you could say that each players statistics should have remained private, to avoid embarrassing anybody. And you could also say that its only necessary for a player to see his own stats in order to improve. Why not just compare your latest performance against your previous performance and be done with it? Go for your own personal record (PR) and forget about everyone else!
But any high performance athlete would tell you otherwise. They want to see how their peers are performing.
Theres only so much you can do alone. If you only compared yourself to your past performances you could see improvement over time, and you may feel great about yourself. But, if you wanted to see dramatic improvement, then you would want to know exactly what that other guy was doing when he scored twice as many points as you. Maybe he has better technique. Maybe hes taking shots closer to the basket. Maybe hes in better physical shape. You want to know whats working for him so you can do the same.
This is why we hire coaches and consultants. These people are hired to be experts, to understand whats working, and guide us towards success. Its their job to compare the winners vs the losers in the field, and we pay them to teach us to be successful. Nobody is going to hire a coach that hasnt studied the differences between successful people and unsuccessful people.
Comparison is a learning tool.
A second example. Say I observe in the world and believe that some guy is much better than I am when it comes to maintaining friendships. I see him with lots of friends, and his phone is always ringing. Whats he doing that Im not in order to be so socially adept? If I compare his actions to mine Ill probably pick up a few behaviors that would help me in my own relationships.
Theres a reason why successful people are successful, and if you never take the time to learn the tricks of the trade then youre doing yourself a disservice. Youre cutting your potential short.
Poor Self-Esteem + Comparison = Depression Death Spiral
Theres a reason why theres a cult around not comparing yourself to others. Its because we cant handle it. Our self-esteem is too low.
Were too insecure with ourselves. We dont hold ourselves in high enough regard to be okay with someone else being better. We cant celebrate someone elses success without feeling bad about ourselves. We cant confront ourselves, that the reason we are unhappy, lonely, or unfulfilled is because we made mistakes, or werent willing to take the necessary risk. We dont respect ourselves to believe that we too can also do what that other person has done.
When we dont compare ourselves to others, we give ourselves an easy way out. Just be the best version of yourself. Dont try to reach beyond yourself. Dont push yourself. Dont set yourself up for the possibility that you may not make it.
If we dont look to others, and say to ourselves, I want that too, then well never be disappointed. And then the cycle repeats itself, because later on when I see others doing what I want to do, I just comfort myself though my internal voice its not good to compare yourself to others.
However, if youre the type of person to hold yourself in high regard, the type of person who believes that you can learn what others have learned before, then you will actively look for those who can teach you, and teachers should be by definition better than you.
The issue of not comparing yourself to others is deeply problematic, because its rooted in our self-esteem. Were hyper sensitive to those things that we think define us. Today, those things are primarily material. Net worth, external success through business or professional accolades, or some concept of beauty.
The common thing among these hot topic issues, where we dont like to compare ourselves to others, always comes back to self-identification. When you believe that your value as a person is defined by anything external to you, thats where you run into trouble. And the only reason you equate anything external to your value as a person, is because you lack proper self-esteem.
If we cannot separate the results weve achieved in our lives thus far, with the inherent human value we ascribe to ourselves, then we cannot compare ourselves to others. Why? Because theres always someone better than us at everything. But for the learner, and the person who has the courage to grow, this is a beautiful thing, because it means that theres always room to grow and improve.
If we have drives to do certain things in our lives, then we need to celebrate the fact that we have the ability to continually get better, further our expertise, and move closer and closer to mastery.
But we cant ever get there if we dont know where to start. And we know where to start when we compare ourselves to others.
Managing How We Compare Ourselves to Others
We need to distinguish between heathy ways to compare ourselves to others, and unhealthy ways to compare ourselves to others.
We cant simply say its always bad.
And we certainly know that its not always good.
But in order to use comparison in a way thats helpful for our own self-development, a few issues need to be worked out.
The Problem of Objectivity
We are not objective. Ever.
In the second example from above, when I mentioned that some guy was better than I was with friendships, I wrote that I believed he was better. But, theres no way for me to ever really know this. Im just working off of my observations and a limited sample of his behavior. Additionally, my insecurities and personal issues are at play here too, which are certainly weighing on my judgement of the situation.
Therefore to stay anything with certainty, that its the truth, when were comparing ourselves to others, is almost ridiculous.
The truth is well never know the full story of anyone or of any situation, and this is the primary reason were instructed not to compare ourselves to others because we really dont know what we need to know in order to make a real assessment of the situation.
This leads to
The Problem of Judgement
Since we never know the true reality of a situation or of a person, yet we are programmed to be making judgements constantly, were making judgements with inaccurate or incomplete information. But, we cant help this, since its in our nature to judge things so we can navigate the world.
When we judge someone else or we judge ourselves, were ascribing value to a person. And this is where you can kill yourself or turn into a jerk.
But, wait: who are you to judge?
What makes you so special to know the truth about anyone, including yourself? You dont. None of us know the entire truth about anybodys particular situation. So we must keep in mind that our judgements are misleading. This is another reason to not compare yourself to others.
The key here is to have some real humility.
The Problem of Identification
Your a biased person, making snap judgments about a situation you dont fully understand, while fitting it all into a societal framework you may or may not fully agree with.
Worst of all you take this information and personally identify with it.
So when you combine these problems identifying with false or incomplete information, it can be soul crushing.
How to Compare Yourself to Others
So, whats a healthy way to do it? Im not 100% sure. And comparing yourself to others certainly is dangerous. You can easily fall into the poor self-esteem depression death spiral. But theres also so much to gain in terms of personal growth if youre able to compare yourself to others in a healthy way. So I think its worth working on.
Maybe the list below will provide a good place to start in order to compare yourself to others in a beneficial way.
1) What do you want? Who do you want to be?
2) Again, what do you want? Who do you really want to be?
These are your values. This is whats important to you. Forget about the rest of the world.
3) Whos done what you want to do?
4) Whats the difference between where they are and where you are? Right now.
5) Do not make a value judgement on your current life position, or their current life position. It is what it is.
6) Do not identify with the results youve had so far. It has nothing to do with your self worth as a person.
7) Now, close the gap in #4.
If you approach the way you compare yourself to others like this it will:
- Increase your sense of self, because youre learning, improving, and making progress
- Help you accomplish your goals, because its not about you. Its about your growth.
We all need help in order to accomplish the things we want to do. Learning from others who are better than we are puts us on the fast track to where we want to go.