Stop the Cycle of Self Comparison

By Cindy Chanin On December 23, 2014

There are many times in any student’s life when it may be tempting to fall into the dark cycle of comparing oneself to others: that fateful moment when graded exams are handed back in class, during tryouts for athletic teams or stage productions, when early decisions from colleges start rolling in, when ISEE scores come out, or homecoming nominations present themselves, etc. At times, these comparisons seem like simple observations: He got into Northwestern ED whereas I got deferred!…My swim coach seems to favor everyone else on the team…I studied longer and/or put more time and thought into that paper yet got a lower grade…the list goes on and on. What might begin as a seemingly innocuous observation can eventually wedge itself deeper into our mind-scape, clouding our sense of objectivity with subjectivity. When all is said and done, we only end up judging ourselves. In comparing ourselves to those who have, do, or are “more,” we inadvertently allow ourselves to feel depleted, reinforcing the notion of ourselves as “not good enough.” Yes, it is true that our minds want to quantify, organize, and prioritize. But, what if there was a way to retrain our brains to compare and quantify in a way that was actually empowering, liberating, and motivating? Lucky for us, science has proven that there is.

First, it’s important to understand how harmful comparison can be in order to become motivated to amend our thought patterns. Research has found that comparing oneself to those who have a perceived abundance of desirable traits can lead to envy, low self esteem, and depression, and even cause us to trust others less. This is an unfortunate fact, especially considering that most of the information we use to judge others (and subsequently ourselves) remains incomplete. It only takes a quick glance at our own Instagram or Twitter feeds to understand the subconscious rules of self-presentation. In fact, a recent study has shown that people are more likely to reveal their positive emotions than their negative emotions. The same study found that people overestimate positivity and have a hard time detecting negativity in the lives of others. In short, we “compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel,” as Steve Furtick so aptly said.

While some may argue that competition fuels us to achieve greater heights, studies show that being too hard on ourselves weakens our motivation and makes us less likely to achieve our goals. Thus, comparison – besides having a negative impact on our mental health – proves a total time-suck and waste of energy. Fulfilling lives are dedicated to building and strengthening that which is already strong within us. Furthermore, if comparing ourselves to others is how we evaluate self worth, we will always lose. It is impossible to be better than everyone at everything. Someone will always be more attractive, more talented, more popular, or more intelligent, but no one will have the unique combination of strengths and weakness that any single one of us inherently possess.

So if it’s bad to compare ourselves to others, how should we redirect our mental energy? It’s all about asking ourselves the right questions: What kind of person do I want to be? What kinds of relationships do I want to have? What kinds of experiences will allow me to look back at the end of my life and be happy with my experience? How do I (not society, my friends, parents, or idols) define success? Am I doing the best I can do in this moment? Let us use these values as the measuring sticks by which we compare ourselves, rather than fretting over the  accomplishments of others. Also, remember that most of which we deem “good” defies quantification…that the seconds we waste each day concerned with the accomplishments of others are seconds we can never get back. Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” How well we discover the statues of ourselves should be the only measurement with which we are concerned. We must tend to the creation of our most beautiful and fulfilled lives with the utmost sense of honor, care, compassion, and praise.

Now, we’d love to hear from you. Do you compare yourself to others? How has it helped/hindered your success? What will you do to stop the negative cycle of self comparison? Head over to our Facebook page, or leave a message in the comments to keep the conversation going!