We live in a world where FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a real thing, especially when it is social media induced. Comparing yourself to others can be very destructive as it creates feelings of negativity and inadequacy.
“The false reality of others comes about from self-image manipulation,” Andrew Selepak, media professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, tells us. “It is important to remember that the people we see on social media aren’t sharing pictures of themselves when they feel a bit bloated, are not looking their best, or in bad lighting. Instead, we are seeing them at their very best when they are in charge of their own image.”
And what about social media scrolling?
“The problem is that when you scroll through your social media timeline, it is easy to forget that others are doing the exact same thing,” says Selepak. “We can become jealous of the lives others are living or even depressed about how others are doing more than we are. It can become all to easy to compare our real lives to the fake lives others are showcasing on social media.”
Your social life should be something that support and uplifts you. If you're tired of feeling like everyone else has a perfect life, here are ten expert tips that will help you free yourself from the negative effects of comparing yourself to others.
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1. Limit Social Media Use
While it's human nature to be curious about others and how you are in comparison, you need to take a step back if browsing your social media feed is having a detrimental effect.
“Limit time on social media,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Tricia Wolanin. “Know that what people show is a small portion of the full scope of their lives. We do not see their struggles online, only the highlights.”
Charles Floate, owner of DFY Links, says that someone is always making updates of their personal or professional achievements online in these days of social media.
“Curate your social media feed,” Floate advises. “Unfollow or mute people that overpost or boast about their achievements. This can help you see a more normal feed of everyday life's from other people's views and help you feel more part of a community rather than a failed outsider. Remembering that social media is a highlight reel also helps you put it into perspective and realize everyone has the same issues and challenges as everyone else.”
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2. Recognize Your Envy and Set Greater Goals
While you can't always control your feelings, you can choose how to act or respond. You have the ability to look at the bigger picture and decide your own future.
“Sometimes it's good to compare yourself with others,” says creative photographer Marius Migles. But not to the point where we stop feeling good about ourselves. “The best thing for you is to be confident that where you are now is the right place to be in your life and focus on your efforts to improve. Recognize your envy and try to set greater goals in life so you know what you are working for.”
3. Drop the Habit if it's Not Serving You
If making comparisons to others isn't serving a meaningful purpose in your life, think of it as an opportunity to get rid of a negative habit.
Jeanny Chai is the founder of Bamboo Myth. She works with Asian Americans who suffer from low self-worth as a result of the cultural parenting tactic of comparing one's child to more accomplished kids.
“To compare is to despair, says Chai. “You never compare yourself to someone worse off than you, only better. Why? Because it's a habit you picked up from your parents and teachers comparing you to others. Realize you are an adult now, and you can drop the habit if it's not serving you. Take a personal inventory and be honest about how you feel after comparing yourself to others. If you feel bad, why do you feed your mind garbage so that you can feel terrible? Feeding your mind is even more important than feeding your body.”
4. Instead of Comparing, Shift Your Focus
Like all other habits, building a more positive mindset is possible if it's something you consistently work towards.
“Comparing yourself to others is damaging because you are often comparing how you are feeling internally to how someone is presenting themselves externally,” says licensed marriage and family therapist, Heidi McBain. “Instead, you should focus on gratitude and the things that you are grateful for in your everyday life. Try to find both internal and external positives!”
Examples of internal positives include your outlook on life, work ethic, perseverance, and other unique traits that are part of your personality. External positives would include things like a healthy relationship or supportive partner, roof over your head, or a job you enjoy. Focusing on what you have can mean the difference between feeling peaceful or trapped in a never-end cycle of comparison.
5. Drop the Assumptions
Have you ever assumed the worst, and later found out the truth wasn't as bad as you thought? The danger of assumptions is that you're often believing facts that may not be based in reality.
Licensed social worker Sumayya Essack says that you shouldn't blame yourself or beat yourself up for making comparisons, as our culture attempts to “evaluate everyone, from childhood grades to test scores to performance evaluations. Breaking that cultural pattern isn't easy for anyone.”
Essack adds that it becomes problematic when we assume what comparisons mean. “For example,” says Essack, “someone might make more money, but you then assume that means they are happier. Don't let yourself make assumptions that you can't objectively know are true. Instead of wallowing in frustration or disappointment, focus on working towards what you want which will boost yourself esteem.”
6. Set Clear Goals and Measure your Progress
Achieving your goals is difficult if you don't clearly define them first. Measuring your progress helps you to stay on track and commit to your goals.
“Setting clear goals for myself allows me to focus not on other people’s achievements, but my own,” says Dave Bowden, founder of men's style website Irreverent Gent. “Instead of worrying that my competitor gets ten times as much website traffic as I do, I set a goal to double my current traffic by the end of the year, and then think through all the steps I’ll need to take in order to achieve that goal.”
Tristan Gutner is a transformation coach for entrepreneurs and remarks that negative comparison is an epidemic in the industry.
“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday rather than someone else,” Gutner says. “Are you more self-aware, self-loving, inspired than you were yesterday? If not, rather than spiral in self-judgment, what can you do today so you can answer this question differently tomorrow?”
7. Focus the Energy on Yourself
Think about the times you've felt unaccomplished or worthless because you compared yourself to others. Now think about what it would be like if you focused that energy on yourself.
“I've worked in both the fashion and design industries in Los Angeles,” designer John Linden told us. “As you might imagine, these are very, very competitive markets. As a result, I've struggled with a lot of self-doubt and envy. At a certain point, I realized that comparing myself to others is a futile exercise. It does nothing to help your career. It's not productive at all, and just leaves you feeling defeated.”
Linden points out that when you are constantly comparing yourself to others, you're spending massive amounts of energy thinking about other people.
“Being self-critical helps you identify your flaws,” says Linden, “But constantly comparing yourself to others is dangerous as it quickly leads to jealousy, which is not a productive emotion. Take all of that energy you're spending thinking about other people, and put it toward thinking about yourself.”
8. Develop Self-Awareness and Self-Love
G. Brian Benson is a coach, TEDx Speaker, and 4x Ironman Triathlete.
“Spend less time on TV and social media,” Benson says, “because social media has trained us to see only the best of others, which we unfortunately compare with the worst of ourselves.
Our self-esteem has been hijacked to only feel validation when others hit the ‘like' button for us. The impact is unfortunately that most of society is walking around feeling inadequate,
unloved and unhappy because they don’t feel like they are enough.”
And what do you do with all that extra time you have when you limit your time with social media and TV?
Benson says that practicing self-awareness and self-love will help you overcome feelings of not being good enough. “Love yourself and everything else will fall into place. From my own self-growth process and journey I have witnessed this to be true. When I could get to the point of truly being all right with who I was, it seemed like so many previous issues I had struggled with just seemed to ease away. I think it’s also imperative to let go of judgement and show more compassion toward ourselves and others.”
9. Compete with Yourself
If you're a high achiever, it's natural to want to compete with others in an effort to be the best at doing something.
Gresham Harkless is the founder of CEO Blog Nation. “If you would like to harness the competitive nature without it being destructive, compare yourself to yourself,” he says. “If it's your business, try to crush last year's goals or last month's goals. If it's fitness, run a faster mile than you did last week. No matter what it is, you can always do better and if you don't fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others — especially when someone might be further along or has another advantage — you won't open yourself up to feeling down.”
David Levy, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, says that comparisons are not inherently a bad thing. “But when it comes to most social relationships,” says Levy, “like loved ones, family, friends — competition frequently breeds dissatisfaction, envy, jealous, and feelings of inferiority…none of which enhances our emotional health.”
He shares that it is a wiser course to compare (and even compete) with ourselves, rather than with others. “The upsides are likely to outweigh the downsides. And since it’s more personal, we don’t run the risk of hurting our relationships with people we care about.”
10. Give Yourself a Hug
Stone Kraushaar is a psychologist and therapeutic coach also known as The Hug Doctor.
Stone says it can be a challenge to be in the present and truly appreciate what we have and not focus on what we don’t. “The following quote by Pema Chödrön captures it beautifully: We already have everything we need.”
So what do you do when you start comparing yourself to others and finding yourself lacking?
“Focus on the similarities you have with other people,” says Stone. “There are so many things that we have in common with everyone around us and those things can help to ground us and to embrace who we are and that we all have strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, learn and increase your awareness of truly ‘hugging yourself in THIS moment.' This means having gratitude for all of the things that we do have and keeping the focus on us, what we have, and what we can create that is meaningful.”
It might not be easy to break a long-time habit like comparing yourself to others, but it gets easier to do the more you practice. The next time you feel a negative comparison coming on, reflect on the things you appreciate in your life and what you can do to make your life better… and set your mind to it!