We’ve all been there. You come across your friend’s family photo on social media and wonder, “Will I ever be that happy?” You find out your co-worker was promoted and instantly start questioning your career path. Or maybe you look at others and assume they’re smarter, stronger, or more productive and creative than you.
“Comparison is a natural human tendency,” says Alanna Fincke, board-certified health coach and resilience expert. “It’s how we make sense of where we fit into the world.”
We compare ourselves in every corner of our lives, from jobs and relationships to looks and possessions. But oftentimes, we take it too far, which can result in a direct hit to our self-esteem, Fincke says, among other harmful effects.
As Brené Brown writes in her book “Atlas of the Heart,” research shows comparison can negatively impact “our self-concept, our level of aspiration, and our feelings of well-being.” We use comparison to evaluate how well we did in the past and present, notes Brown, and we also use it to predict how well we’ll do in the future. In short, writes Brown: “This means significant parts of our lives, including our future, are shaped by comparing ourselves to others.”
While comparison might come naturally to us, we can stop it from directing our lives and driving down our self-esteem. Here’s how to get started.
Catch your thoughts.
Because comparison is a natural act that we do without consciousness, the first step is to make it conscious, Fincke says. Once you’re aware that you’re doing this, you can address it.
To start, pinpoint the situations in which your comparison thoughts typically come up or increase in number. For example, while scrolling social media, pay attention to the thoughts that arise as you view different posts and images. Or when you’re working out, zero in on your inner dialogue as you scan the room.
Focus on your strengths.
Once you recognize what you’re doing, your instinct might be to berate yourself or feel bad, Fincke says. “Instead, give yourself a pause, and gently change the focus toward your strengths,” she says.
For example, name three great things about yourself that you’re proud of. Not sure what those might be? Ask a friend or family member to share something they love about you. “We spend so much time defaulting to the negative,” says Fincke. “Remind yourself of what you do well and what you’re strong at.”
As thoughts pop up comparing yourself to others, remind yourself that “you’re not getting the full picture at any time,” Fincke says. We rarely have all the information to understand a situation, even when we’re close with someone, because we simply don’t know the inner workings of people’s lives. What appears “perfect” most likely isn’t.
Also, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. So while your colleague might produce incredibly creative work, they might have a hard time meeting deadlines or practicing empathy—two skills at which you excel. Let’s be honest: No one has it all figured out.
Shift the energy.
When we compare, we spend a lot of energy on others and their worlds, Fincke says. “Instead, use that energy to get super clear on where you want to go,” she says.
Make comparison less powerful by focusing on your personal desires and goals. Ask yourself: What is one new habit I’d like to cultivate or goal I’d like to achieve? Identify why it’s important to you, and break it down into smaller parts. Then get started.
Create a confidence-building ritual.
When you feel insecure, you’re more likely to compare yourself to others. Buffer against comparison by boosting your self-confidence first thing in the morning. Find a practice or two that raises your sense-of-self and resonates with you.
For example, create your own affirmation and repeat it every morning. Listen daily to the Visualize Your Success Meditation. Or try your own visualization. Fincke pictures her most confident self standing in front of her, imagining exactly what she looks like and how she feels. Then Fincke visualizes putting her hands on this confident self’s shoulders and receiving empowering, strong energy from her.
Seek additional support.
“Comparison can go hand in hand with anxiety and depression,” Fincke says. If you find yourself stuck in this cycle, it might be time to see a mental health professional.