How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People
Comparing yourself to other people is a natural human tendency. We all do it, often without even meaning to. If you find yourself comparing yourself to people, that definitely doesn't mean you're a terrible person. It might mean, though, that you feel anxious and inadequate sometimes or a lot of the time.
Letting go of comparisons can be incredibly freeing, allowing you to be exactly who you are and live life on your own terms rather than someone else's. This reduces feelings of anxiety and depression and replaces them with contentment and wellbeing. Here's how to start letting go of comparisons.
Why It's Okay You Compare Yourself to Other People
Up until this point, most of your life has been in the context of comparing yourself to other people (those in your life and people you don't know personally but see online, in the media, on television or movies, etc.). This is how human beings learn and grow and is how we form a sense of ourselves, who we are, and our place in the world. We learn a lot about who we are by seeing others and making comparisons.
You've been observing people since birth, and you've encountered people you like and people you don't. As part of natural growth, you've emulated traits you like and made a point of not adopting traits you don't. Somewhere in the process, the human brain often decides to go overboard and takes comparisons to an unhealthy level.
What Happens When Comparisons Turn Unhealthy?
Some signs that comparing yourself to others is harming you rather than helping you include:
- You're hard on yourself and feel like you aren't good enough (for certain activities, for relationships, or just in general).
- You feel anxious and uncomfortable in groups of people, often worrying about how they see you.
- You spend a lot of time on social media, and it leaves you feeling stressed, unsettled, worried about yourself or your life, sad, inadequate, or otherwise negative and upset.
- You're reluctant to speak up in class, at work, or in groups of people because you don't want to "prove" that you're not as smart or witty as others.
- You no longer enjoy doing things you used to do because you don't measure up to others doing the same thing.
- You often feel jealous of others, so find yourself isolating because being by yourself feels better.
Comparing yourself to others is a healthy part of growth, but it can turn unhealthy and lead to mental health challenges like anxiety or depression, and it can generally rob you of joy in your life.
How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People for Your Mental Health
Adolescence and young adulthood are about discovering who you are, which means determining how you do and do not want to be. Instead of comparing yourself to others, try these activities to foster your sense of who you are:
- Catch yourself being the kind of person you're proud of. Several times every day, pause and notice yourself. What little, positive things are you up to? Did you smile at someone or otherwise treat them well? Did you do a good deed? Did you stick with a challenging project at work or school even though you hated it and wanted to give up? Did you create something? Did you have fun doing something? It's easy to see other people doing things, but it takes effort to turn your observations to yourself. Getting into the habit of doing so helps you drop unhealthy comparisons because you're too focused on your own positive qualities.
- Keep a gratitude journal or list. Gratitude has proven mental health benefits, including reducing anxiety and depression. One surprising effect of gratitude is that it helps you come to know yourself better. Being grateful helps you shift your perspective. Regularly re-reading your gratitude journal or notes helps you see what is important to you in your life. Once you begin to determine what makes you grateful and why, you can shift your energy to those things. You won't need to learn about yourself by comparing yourself to others. Learn about yourself by tuning in to you.
- Choose, on purpose, how you spend your time. It's easy to get caught up in habitual patterns of drifting through the day, giving into boredom or stress by scrolling through social media, or otherwise watching life on screens. Passively watching life is very damaging to mental health, and it leads to unhealthy comparisons. You see carefully chosen comments and posts, or you see fictitious characters acting out a carefully written and directed script (this is true even for "reality" TV). You're also not paying attention to yourself and your own actions. Think of what you enjoy, what makes you feel alive, and allow yourself to engage in it.
- Do what you love, and focus on how it makes you feel. While doing what makes you feel alive does help you shift your focus, admittedly, anxiety often kicks in, and you find yourself comparing yourself to people who also enjoy what you do. When that happens, simply notice that you're doing it. You might say something neutral like, "Oops. Comparing again." Then, immediately redirect your thoughts and attention. Observe your own skill; notice your own improvement; set goals for more improvement; allow yourself to laugh and have fun. Focus on your positive emotions instead of comparisons. Doing this over and over again trains your mind to engage in life differently and helps you stop comparing yourself to others.
Try these methods of self-discovery. You just might find that they lead to self-confidence, contentment, and overall mental health and wellbeing. You can have the liberating experience of being able to observe others without judging yourself negatively in the process.
I invite you to tune into this video for a helpful metaphor you can draw on when you catch yourself comparing yourself to other people:
Peterson, T. (2021, April 14). How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalhealthforthedigitalgeneration/2021/4/how-to-stop-comparing-yourself-to-other-people