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Why Do Humans Compare Themselves to Others (And How to Stop)?

Comparing NYC, LA, Miami, Minnesota, Oregon, Princeton

Have you ever found yourself asking if you’re making as much money as someone else, or is your house as big? As humans, we tend to compare the successes. This can make it particularly difficult when everyone appears to be living perfect lives on social media. When you compare yourself to a perfect image that doesn’t even exist, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Let’s try to understand why humans compare themselves and how you can stop. 

Why Do We Compare Ourselves to Others?

Comparison is human nature and a common part of human social life. It’s normal to compare yourself to your past self, others in your age group, or online. Social comparison isn’t all bad. It can help to set a baseline that can support growth. When you take stock of what’s around you and how you can improve yourself, it can be a powerful motivator. But social comparison can be a double-edged sword. It has the power to cause a lot of psychological pain. When you think you can’t measure up to other people, it can become a problem. 

Some studies estimate that as much as 10% of our thoughts are comparisons of some type. There are benefits and dangers to social comparison. Psychologist Leon Festinger developed social comparison theory in the fifties based on the idea that individuals determine their worth based on how they compare to others. Over time, research shows that while comparing yourself to others can be beneficial, for some, it can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, guilt, and remorse. 

The two major types of social comparison are upward and downward. Upward comparison occurs when you compare yourself to someone you believe is superior. On the other hand, downward comparison means comparing yourself to someone you think is inferior. Both types of comparisons can have pros and cons. 

With social media, human comparisons are more accessible than ever before. Many people tend to compare the ups rather than the downs. It can feel like there’s an endless stream of perfect jobs, marriages, bodies, and houses, but this isn’t the case. Sometimes social media can amplify this idea of the perfect life, and that’s a problem. 

What are the Effects of Comparing Yourself to Other People?

While comparing yourself to others may provide some motivation and even set a baseline for improvement, it can have a deeply dark side. 

Dr. Claire Nakajima, Psychologist Resident in New York City, explains further. “Comparing yourself with others in a way that's driven by envy or jealousy can sour relationships, feed insecurities, and color your experience of what could otherwise be very enjoyable and precious moments. When you're constantly comparing others favorably to yourself, your self-esteem is also going to be negatively impacted, and this can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.

If you’re like most people, you’re much kinder to others than yourself. Sometimes you can end up being your own worst enemy. If you find that you’re always comparing yourself to others negatively, it can evoke negative emotions like: 

8 Ways to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

When you’re comparing the worst of yourself to the best of others, it’s not a fair comparison. Most of the time, you don’t know the whole story. You see a glimpse of perfection rather than the behind-the-scenes clip. If you’re constantly comparing yourself to others, here are seven tips to help you stop. 

Create a Healthy Support Circle 

Sometimes it feels like competitive friends or toxic relationships thrive off comparison. Think about the people in your life and create a healthy support circle. One study found that the more upward the comparison, the lower the self-esteem. But the more social support users have, the higher their self-esteem. If you’re not sure where to start, try searching for a local group that shares an interest you have. This could be an exercise group or maybe a photography group. 

Focus on What You Have 

When you feel your mind wandering off to what other people have, try to focus on what you have. Dr. Claire Nakajima suggests that you “focus on yourself and figuring out what works for you rather than feeling like you need to fit a mold that works for someone else. In some situations, it can be helpful to learn from others, but you can make it your own.” Think about what you are grateful for in your life and write it down to stay fresh in your mind. 

Curate a Healthy Social Media Feed 

There’s a growing body of research that’s looking into the mental health effects of social media. Sometimes social media can feel so overwhelming. If you want your social media feed to be more positive without quitting altogether, you can do some social media pruning. Consider unfollowing triggering or unhelpful content. Weed out the pages that don’t serve you and create a healthier feed to nurture a safer online space. 

Compete with Yourself 

Instead of comparing yourself to others, compete with yourself. Focus on your personal goals, success, and development. Think about how far you have come in the last five years. Even in the last year, think about how you have grown or maybe learned a new skill. 

Shift Your Mindset 

Like many things in life, your mindset can have a big impact. The next time you find yourself thinking that an individual has something you admire or, ideally, would like to have, try to shift your mindset. You may be thinking, “why am I not like this?” or “what’s wrong with me?” Instead, think about what you can do to get closer to what they have or how you can better yourself to get that quality. Look at comparison as a way to grow. Yes, another person may have something that you don’t, but try to see it as an opportunity to grow. This helps to remove the guilt that inevitably comes with human comparison. 

Celebrate Your Achievements 

When you’re busy comparing yourself to someone’s success or skill, you tend to forget about yourself. Dr. Claire Nakajima explains “that if someone is good at something or has a quality that you admire, that doesn't mean that you don't have your own strengths and talents and attributes to be admired.” Remember to celebrate your achievements, strengths, and talents. Be your biggest cheerleader. 

Have a Social Media Detox 

Social media has a big role to play in human comparison. Dr. Claire Nakajima says, “social media is a driver of social comparison on a scale we've never had to deal with in the past, and we're still in the process of figuring out its effects and how to manage it. 

People now have such easy accessibility to other people whose lives look perfect because they have been carefully curated to look that way. It feels like the norm because it's so accessible and ubiquitous, and then people feel like they're not a part of that false norm. 

Rationally, we know that people on social media only show the good times and use photoshop and filters. But that doesn't stop us from comparing and believing that we should attain that lifestyle or beauty standard because it feels like everyone has it, even though that's a false narrative.”

If you find that your social media activity negatively impacts the way you feel, try to have a social media detox. Whether it’s a week or thirty-day reset, taking some time off from social media can help you feel back in control of your digital and mental wellbeing. Here are some tips to help you take a step back:

Speak to a Therapist 

If you feel that social comparison negatively impacts your relationships or contributes to feelings of anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem, then speaking to a therapist could be helpful,” recommends Dr. Claire Nakajima. Speaking to a therapist can help you to regain control of your life. 

If you find that you’re comparing yourself to others more or feeling anxious and suffering from low self-esteem, we can help you find counseling services near you to manage your anxiety and support you on your journey of self-discovery and healing. 

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