There are a zillion ways to compare yourself to others, and all of them lead to feeling bad about yourself: grades, sports, job title, income, career advancement, social media followers, house size. Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 5 ways to stop pining for that greener grass on the other side of the fence.
Comparing yourself to others happens at every age, from noting who has the best toys in the preschool sandbox to whose grandkids got into what college. But comparing oneself to others is especially rampant among young adults. Life-changing milestones happen quickly and often—graduations, engagements, career advancement—and it’s all on display on social media, the motherlode of FOMO-inducing social comparison.
The technical term for "comparing yourself to others" is upward comparison. This means comparing ourselves to someone we perceive to be better off or more proficient than ourselves. By contrast, there is also downward comparison, which is comparing ourselves to those worse off or less proficient, like "There but for the grace" or, less eloquently, "Sucks to be them."
Comparisons may be part of human nature—I’m sure cavemen once envied their neighbors’ fires and wheels—but when it gets out of hand, it leaves you feeling inadequate and insecure, not to mention depressed and anxious. What to do? This week, by request from an anonymous listener, we’ll cover five ways to stop comparing yourself to others.
5 Ways to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
- Feel the power.
- Find your purpose.
- Reinterpret what’s behind material possessions.
- Purge your phone.
- Remember you don’t have the full picture.
Let's dive deeper into each tip.
Tip #1: Feel the power.
People with power—those in influential or leadership positions—can make decisions, override objections, and have others carry out their decisions.
But power is also a state of mind. Those who feel powerful approach social comparisons differently than those who don’t feel powerful, which is to say, they pretty much ignore them.
A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology induced participants to feel more or less powerful by recalling in detail a time at work when they either had power over another person or someone had power over them.
Next, they read a description of a supposed recent graduate from their university. For some participants, the description was deliberately intimidating, with the fictitious grad racking up many impressive achievements and successes.
Finally, each participant rated themselves on six traits: academic achievement, intelligence, competence, work ethic, likeability, and success.
Social comparisons magically seem less relevant when you’re busy saving the world or otherwise pursuing a goal you truly believe to be worthwhile.
The result? Those who had been induced to feel powerful and then read the about their fictitious peer’s FOMO-inducing achievements were more like rubber than glue with social comparisons. Even in the face of an accomplished striver, they still felt good about themselves on the six characteristics.
And what about the low power group? When they compared themselves to the fictitious striver, they felt bad about themselves, rating themselves lower.
So take back your power wherever you might be giving it away unnecessarily. You don’t need to turn into a spittle-spewing autocrat with bulging neck veins, but remember you are the CEO of your life and choices.
Tip #2: Find your purpose.
Worried you can’t fake the C-suite attitude? No problem. You can get a similar effect with a different mindset: purpose.
Another study, also in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that people with a sense of purpose were less swayed by feedback on social media. It’s not to say they didn’t notice “likes” or comments at all, but they didn’t rely on them to feed their self-esteem.
So think: why were you put on this planet? What do you care deeply about? Social comparisons magically seem less relevant when you’re busy saving the world or otherwise pursuing a goal you truly believe to be worthwhile.