The comparisons start early. The first day of school, you line up by height and see exactly how you measure up, and that never really ends. Now, you might compare yourself to others at school pickup, birthday parties, and, at the end of the night, online.
Here’s a scenario we’re guessing probably rings at least a bit true: Whatever the setting, everyone else seems great. But you? You tend to always come up short. This is incredibly common, as people never compare down, only up, and realize, “I don’t belong there.”
Besides being easy, there’s another reason comparing yourself to others is such an everyday sport. It’s evolutionary. In primitive times, people needed to keep pace and provide value to the tribe. “If you got kicked out, you’d die,” says Jill A. Stoddard, licensed psychologist and author of Be Mighty. The punishment isn’t that harsh anymore but it’s a hard habit to break.
Here’s the first tip in trying to stop comparing yourself to others: Don’t. You won’t stop, nor should you. When you’re in a race, you pick out a person in front of you and say, “Just get in front of them.” That’s good motivation.
It’s also good to care about what others think. It keeps you responsive and empathetic and provides you with quality relationships. Those are the modern-day things that keep you alive.
So, comparing yourself to others has its place. It just doesn’t have the place. Here’s how to tame the
1. Open Your Mouth
People too often make assumptions based on fragments of data. They fill in the rest and the results only confirm their worst biases. The solution is to give the people around you three dimensions. It means talking and getting to know them and that requires more than recapping the weekend. Start with something like, “I feel so bad I couldn’t get to any of my kid’s games last week.” It’s vulnerable but safe, Stoddard says, and should be enough to eventually have someone say, “I’m completely with you.”
Then the conversations can deepen, and these “competitors” turn into colleagues, possibly friends, who become less admirable, more flawed, and more real. You learn that they have kids who struggle, or they struggle with anxiety or overbearing relatives. Or you learn that they work constantly and aren’t fully engaged and that this isn’t who you are or want to be. But you can also take little bits from them, like a line they use or an approach to a problem, and incorporate them into your life. It’s not an either-or situation but a rounding out of the picture.
And when you do that? “You feel less need to compare,” Stoddard says.
2. Put Social Media In Its Place
As bad as comparisons are in person, it’s harsher online. It’s all beautiful living rooms and vacations, and, four hours later you’re wondering why you’re such a screw-up. You might know this but it bears repeating: You’re viewing a curated life. “It’s the three percent people want you to see and not the 97 percent they don’t,” says psychologist Robyn Landow.
Just being aware of the problem is a major first step, and once you acknowledge this is faux reality, try to enjoy it. Be amused by the images and claims. Take inspiration from something if it seems useful and forget the rest.
But follow that up with putting your own highlight reel together, if only in your head. Think of the stuff you’re good at, you’re proud off, and what you want to accomplish. It also doesn’t hurt to do something that you’re adept at. It’s a much more positive approach and it’s something you can have actual control of.
“You’re focusing now on you,” Landow says.
3. Pull Back on the Influence
One of the stealth destructive elements of social media is following people who purport to have wisdom. It could be you who’s doing it or your spouse, but you keep trying to reach these lofty goals. “It works in the moment, but it makes us feel worse,” Stoddard says.
It’s another example of only getting someone’s highlight reel, so propose this: You each pick two people or sites and take a break from them for one week and see what happens. You might miss them, but chances are higher that you won’t notice that they’re gone and you instead start trusting your own beliefs.
4. Grab a Pen
Some thoughts stick more than others; trying to ignore them just makes them more persistent. Give any negative comparison thoughts what it wants — attention — by writing it down. It gives the idea structure, which is often lacking when it’s rumbling around in your head. It also gives you distance, almost like you’re in the third person. And when you can assess the words, “they seem a little more ridiculous,” says Debbie Sorensen, Denver psychologist and co-author of ACT Daily Journal. “You can see what the mind is doing and that’s not necessarily the truth. It’s just a thought you’re having. That’s all.”
5. Reframe Your Worry
When it comes to your kids, there are ample opportunities to see how other parents seem to handle everything so much better. It also doesn’t help that there are constant decisions and chances to feel you’ve failed your kids once again. But here’s a different way to think: “It’s because you care about parenting so much,” Sorensen says.
That might not eliminate all the stress, so bolster it by thinking about life three, six, or nine months ago. Some kids find hockey at four years old and are set, but mostly, kids’ needs and interests shift, and what you did or didn’t do last year no longer applies. More than that, what another parent might do is irrelevant because they don’t have your child.
It doesn’t make either of you wrong. It just makes you different and presents another reminder that there’s never one way of doing anything.
“You can be impressed with people but being impressed with someone doesn’t have to make you feel bad,” Landow says. “Both of you can be doing a good job.”