“Arrgh, I am paid peanuts for the job I do. I work my ass off for 14 hours each day. My neighbor works 8 hours a day, drives a better car, owns an expensive house and travels to all the exotic destinations around the world.”
Do similar thoughts run through your mind often? Do you curse your own life because it seems ordinary compared to the guy next door? Do you want to earn more money or buy an expensive item so that you seem superior compared to some specific people?
Welcome to the world of comparison. Each day, you and I compare ourselves with the world around us. When you open Instagram and see your college friend partying in Amsterdam, you add that to your bucket list. When you notice your coworker wearing a shiny Rado wristwatch, you want to buy one too. When you notice an average guy walking with a gorgeous lady, you wish you had a hotter girlfriend.
The party in Amsterdam came at the cost of swiping the credit card which your friend will payback for the next 12 months. The Rado watch your coworker wore was a replica. The guy walking with the gorgeous lady was her brother.
You concluded your life was miserable compared to the others without even knowing the facts.
- Why do we compare?
- Problems of comparison
- How to stop comparing yourself with others
Why do we compare?
Comparison is the thief of joy.Theodore Roosevelt.
Comparison has only resulted in envy, low esteem, and resentment. Yet, you naturally feel the need to compare with others. Have you wondered why do you compare your state of affairs with those around you?
The primary reason to compare is, human beings have a need to evaluate themselves. Our ego deep within is full of fear and insecurities. It wants to know how good we are. The easiest way to determine that is by comparison with another person.
The second reason lies in the way society brings up children. To make sure a kid eats his food, parents compare how quickly the other kid finished lunch. In school, children earn a grade for their performance. The students with the best grade earn medals and scholarships. In the sports event that takes place at school, scoreboards show how one player stands against another.
At work, the top performers receive a fatter paycheck and earn promotions. On the personal front, people consider a bachelor at 35 strange, compared to the rest of the crowd.
The world works on various comparisons. Some of these comparisons are indeed necessary. Without them, sports events would look stupid and top performers would seem no different than the lazy bunch.
Amidst these useful and useless comparisons, you and I grow up rating ourselves against others around us.
The nature of comparison
When you compare, notice that you compare in two ways.
Looking down upon others
You compare yourself against those who perform much worse than you.
You consider yourself doing better in life than a waiter who serves food at the restaurant. The feeling of being superior boosts your ego and keeps you happy.
Wishful thinking and envy
On the other end, you compare yourself with another person who does much better than you. You compare yourself with a person of the same age earning twice your pay.
You look at the entrepreneur who built a billion-dollar start-up and think how inferior you seem. Such comparisons lead to envy.
Problems of comparison
Comparison when done right, serves as the medium to improve yourself. Unfortunately, most comparisons you do only hurt you.
1. Best vs worst
When you compare, you tend to look at your worst against the best of somebody else.
In a gym, the newbie compares his size and definition with the most ripped person the gym and takes a hit at his own self-esteem. Though other people look marginally better, the comparison happens always against the best.
When I started this blog, I would compare my traffic with that of the best bloggers in my segment. I would ignore the fact that those bloggers have toiled for years to get where they are while I just started.
2. Chasing the win for no reason
The envy from comparisons can lead you to chase goals which you do not even care about. For example, when your neighbor buys a fancy car, a dose of jealousy runs through your spine. In your quest to display superior status, you buy an equivalent or a more expensive car. You turn a blind eye to whether you love cars or not. All you want is to win the unsaid battle of higher status.
Many such comparisons make us forget what truly resonates with our goals. The sheer urge to win drives us to make decisions that serve no other purpose other than winning for the sake of it. If you do not know what goals matter the most to you, answer these three questions to identify your passion.
3. Comparisons never end
No matter whom you compare yourself with, you will not stop even if you beat your competitor. When you achieve success and manage to place yourself way above your current competitor, you will find a new benchmark for comparison.
When you own a Honda, you look at the Mercs. When you can afford a Merc, you envy those driving a Jaguar. When you buy a Jaguar, you look down upon yourself for not owning a Ferrari.
Comparison is like running on a treadmill on infinite power. The run never ends but you drain yourself out.
4. Not looking at the other side
When you compare yourself with someone more successful, you look only at one aspect. In the morning you compare yourself with an entrepreneur. You look at how he earns fame and money while you toil at your monotonous job. In the evening, you look at the most muscular guy in the gym and wish you had such muscles.
Little do you know that your entrepreneur friend works 100 hours a week and the fitness freak in the gym has worked out for 5 years with a strict diet. But you enjoy binge drinking beer and smoking cigars every weekend. You drool for the rewards but run away at the first sight of arduous work.
You look at the best achievements in different people and compare them with yours. You forget the fact that each one is a different individual while you are one person.
5. You will stall your progress
When you compare yourself to the achievement of others, you chase their goals. Your own goals take a backseat and you invest your energy in the wrong direction. Even if you achieve the other goal, you sense a feeling of the hollowness of not achieving your own dreams.
Story of Ben Comen
Here is how your thinking differs from Ben Cowen. He holds the record for being the slowest cross country runner at high school. He needs 40 minutes to run a 3.1 mile race while the winner does it in 16. Neither has he won a race nor has he finished at any position other than the last.
Yet, when he reaches the finish line last, the crowd roars into applause. Ben completes each race as a hero. The reason is, he suffers from cerebral palsy which prevents people from running. Yet, Ben runs over three miles in a race. The fact that he finished last makes no difference because he never ran to beat the other runners. His competition was only against himself. He wins every single time.
Ben has never quit a race halfway. When asked why does he put himself through such pain to finish a race, he replied:
“I feel I have been put here to set an example. A person has a choice to quit or keep going. I like to show people that it is fun to keep going.”
I wish I could be like Ben Comen too, but that is easier said than done.
How to stop comparing yourself with others
When you stop looking at others vs yourself, you see the brighter side of you. Here are a few ways to stop the behavior.
1. Compare yourself against yourself
The best way to improve is to look at where you stand today compared to the past you. In the last 3 months, have you improved your skills or made progress towards your long term goals? If not, you have forgotten your own improvement in your quest for superiority.
When you strive to improve yourself, you turn better than the rest of the world in the long run. You do not have to shatter records. Look at your average and aim to improve it with time. One way to better your average is bu improving your best. But that turns increasingly harder as you progress. An easier option to shoot up your average is to improve your worst. Try raising your bottom instead of attempting to better your best.
Start with your average and move upwards. Aim higher and plod ahead and do not stop. You will shatter records in the process.
Matthew McConaughey, after winning the Oscar for his role in DBC, mentioned that his HERO is his own self 10 years later. 10 years from now, his goal would be his own self again 10 years further, which implies he will never achieve his goal. In his own words, he says “I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”
Instagram and Facebook are the medium for people to showcase the best part of their lives.
You never post a picture from a boring day at work, do you? But as soon as you place a toe in a fancy restaurant, out comes the phone to capture a boomerang of the beer fizz.
Just like you post only the best part of your life on social media, so do the others. But when you look at the posts where your friends enjoy a tequila shot or swim in the clear waters of Greece, you feel miserable about yourself. Little do you know that all those people showcasing a fancy life have a boring side of their own like you.
If you stay away from social media, you relieve yourself from the stress of unnecessary comparisons.
3. See the brighter side of yourself
If you look back, you would see that you have come a long way. As a student, you wished you could buy those shiny sneakers and eat the juicy tenderloin steak when you wanted to. Today you can do that already, but you want something better.
Look at your privileges compared to the others. You might be the guy who envies the yacht your cousin purchased. But I can assure you, there is another person with a motorcycle somewhere who envies the car you drive. A level below, another person hopes he could afford a motorcycle instead of having to walk. The chain will never end.
Look at what you have and learn to appreciate it. You must chase your goals and dream big, no doubt. But you must dream only because the goal matters to you. Not because you want to outclass another person.
Compare yourself with your goals. Look back to see how far have you have come from where you were in the past.
You do not have to beat the best performer around you or knock your competitor off his feet. A few months from now, you have to be better than what you are today and it becomes an endless journey of improvement.
All you have to do is strive to beat your best opponent, whose reflection you see in the mirror. Go beat him/her today.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.