If comparing yourself to others was a sport, I would likely be world champion. I have the excellent and highly trained skill to switch to compare-mode in less than a second. A short example would be this:
Person: I will do my bachelor this year, then my master and then I will work for XYZ. But I don’t want to stress myself – I am only 21 years old after all.
My mind: JESUS F****** CHRIST, OK – I am 24 so I will be 3 years older when she/he is starting at XYZ. Shit ok I am old – why the hell didn’t I go to university earlier??? Oh no, she/he will be hired more likely than I am, since I haven’t done this much in my 24 years.
Me: Oh that’s cool! Why the stress, am I right?
This is just a little trip to my brain making up nonsense but its applicable to various situations. And the underlying problem in my case is that comparing has become a routine in my thinking. I cannot really escape it, since the thoughts just randomly come up. From this follows that I can feel uncomfortable or intimidated in a very short time.
Even if I’m just thinking for myself, a positive thought can lead to a chain of negative arguments and comparisons in my head, piling up to an almost existential crisis. Of course, this can ruin your positive mindset you established for the day and you are easily feeling desolate and sluggish. In my case, it only gets worse since the domino effect of my thoughts leads to a cluster of negative aspects I gathered while thinking untamed. And the worst of it all – it does not provide any value or output. It’s like a dark storm in my head that just seeds negativity before vanishing. To change the climate in my mind, I maybe should go down to the root as to say, to the reasons I compare myself to others in the first place.
Of course, as you get older, you have more adult-stuff to deal with and situations obviously change. Also, status symbols like money, jobs or success become more important for younger people and they easily fall into the trap of mistakenly seeing those features as the rule. A product of this is that people often emphasize or brag with their accomplishments, even being unaware of it most of the time.
While other persons have a natural shield against such talking, I personally get quite uncomfortable and insecure about myself. Here, the domino effect kicks in again. I see it as a defense-system that the mind sets up when confronted with perceived criticism. To feel better, it analyses all the information to a specific topic, calculating pros and cons and collecting arguments why the opponent also is not perfect and which weaknesses he or she has. Of course, this works perfectly well – NOT. Most commonly, you are left frustrated and weary from spending so much thought on the situation and the mind seems to sulk in a corner of your head.
Overall, the main triggers why I compare myself to others happen when confronted with
- how far they are in a specific stage of life (like studying, starting in work life,…)
- what they achieve outside of the professional life (like starting a business, working out, success with music or film or art,…)
- how much they are travelling to other countries as to say, how much time they spend outside of their home zone.
- Statements about how things should be done or should be (like people saying “I think you should be max. 24 years old when you finish university” or “You should do XYZ at least once in your life”)
I’m still working on the ability to let these things simply pass by me, but I still haven’t got the knack of it. Just realizing in which moments my mind seems to get overwhelmed was a big step in the right directions. And also YOU can finally break free from the dark storms your mind creates in your head. Here I collected some tips which helped me to handle situations and thoughts better. It is not an fool-proof method but maybe you can draw something from it to move in the right direction!
Measures to counter comparison
- For me it was a big step to at least be aware of the moments in which I was comparing myself. This can be a great help to intervene in your thinking with just a simple “stop, you are doing it again my friend”.
- Also, it is a good thing to realize that all this stuff is only happening in your head and that it does not have any impact other than you spending your precious time on it.
- Think about the things you are proud of – what accomplishments did you achieve, which experiences won’t anybody take away from you or which people in your life are you very grateful for? This can shift your mindset to something positive and brings your real life more into focus.
- You don’t know what’s going on in other people’s life. Even if they seem to succeed in one area or if they do great stuff in their spare time, they also have worries and insecurities like everyone else. And who knows, maybe they are secretly comparing themselves to you because they are intimidated by something you do in your life.
- Everybody has its own view of the world – this is how it is. And that’s often the thing with comparison – you mistakenly see others preferences or priorities as universal rules for how you have to be like.
- Distract yourself: Go for a walk, meet a friend, do sports, do yoga, meditate, read – anything that draws your attention to something different is gold.
- Avoid or restrict social media: As much fun these platforms offer, they are also the gathering place for people to show their so-called “ideal” life. People like me tend to be dragged down by them quickly so just don’t look at this stuff and stay with yourself!
Now I would love to hear from you! What are your own experiences? Any tips of how you escaped this thinking pattern? I’m looking forward to your comments.