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Constantly Compare Yourself to Others? Try These Tried and Tested Strategies

Tips on how to break the comparison habit

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We all compare ourselves to others; it is a natural human thing to do and has helped us thrive in social groups throughout our evolution. In today's world, comparing ourselves to the person we perceive is better than us can provide valuable information, motivation, and inspiration to reach our goals and change what isn't working for us. Similarly, when we conclude that we are better in some way compared to someone else, it can boost our self-esteem. However, social comparison can also harm our self-esteem and mental health when comparing leaves you feeling "less than," not good enough, inadequate, unworthy, or bad about yourself.


If you recognise that comparing yourself to others negatively impacts how you feel about yourself, here we describe seven practical strategies to help you change this.


#1 Recognise that comparing is a habit

Recognise that comparing yourself is a habit you have developed over your lifetime, and it isn't your fault. From the early days of our schooling, we become aware that our grades are the same, similar to, or different from our peers, and a sense of competition can quickly develop. Millennials and Gen Zs have grown up with social media and the ability to see other people's curated lives in a split second, which constantly invites the opportunity to compare. Older generations without access to smartphones or the internet did not have this available.


When we identify something as a habit and are honest about its impact on our self-esteem and mental health, we are in a much better position to change it. Start by noting down how many times you compare yourself throughout the day; you may be surprised at the number.


#2 Know the "why"

Do you know why you compare yourself to others (apart from growing up in a society and culture that invites it)? We compare ourselves to others for many reasons, and knowing your reason will be helpful when managing it. Some common causes are below:


  • To better yourself

  • To fit in

  • To reduce uncertainty (about yourself or your situation)

  • To punish or criticise yourself


As a starting point, each time you compare yourself to someone else, note what the comparison was (e.g. lifestyle, body image, career or study, appearance, etc). Over time, you will see a theme that will help you identify why social comparison is habitual for you.


#3 Catch the comparison.

Comparing yourself to others is not only a habit but a habit that has become automatic. You probably don't realise you are doing it. Thus, one way to break the comparison habit is to bring awareness every time you do it. You must "catch" the comparison in real time to do this.


This won't be easy initially, and you may find that you only realise you compared yourself to someone after it happened. That is OK. Your ability to recognise the comparison thoughts will improve with time and practice. Below are some ways to do this:


  • "Ah, here is an unhelpful comparison thought!"

  • "I just noticed I was comparing myself to X."

  • "My mind is doing that thing where it compares me to someone."

  • "No thanks, brain, I don't need your comparisons today!"

  • "I am noticing that I am having the thought that X is better than me."


#4 Choose what you do with the comparison

Once you know when you are comparing, you can choose what you do with it. You can either take it on board, believe it to be true, or not. After all, it is just a thought like any other, and we can choose what thoughts we buy into based on whether they are helpful to us and help us move toward the life we want to live. This is a key concept in acceptance and commitment therapy and the idea of defusion—that we can learn the skill of defusing or unhooking from the thoughts that don't serve us.


#5 Broaden the view of yourself

Being stuck in constant unhelpful comparisons makes you feel "less than," so your focus on your flaws, imperfections, and limitations becomes honed in. This is especially true if you have low self-esteem, as you are likely to experience a lot of negative thoughts about yourself in general. When our attention is narrowed this way, we tend to discount other information that might challenge this negative view of ourselves. For example, winning a prize may be discounted as luck rather than ability.


Therefore, broadening your view of yourself is essential as it helps you move to a more balanced view of yourself. It can be helpful to write down a list of things you like about yourself, your strengths, or things you are good at. If you are finding this difficult, consider what a trusted friend or family member would say are your strengths.


#6 Manage your inner critic

When you don't feel good enough compared to others, it is easy to spiral into self-criticism and self-judgment. When you open that social media app and see the people you follow living their best lives, your inner critic can have a field day and bombard you with self-critical thoughts that only serve to lower your mood and your opinion of yourself.

One way to deal with this is to adopt a mindset of managing your inner critic—notice when it shows up and step back from it. You do not need to engage with it or believe everything it says about you.


#7 Curate and limit your social media

One thing to remember with social media is that you control your use. Again, like social comparison, it is an automatic habit; we scroll waiting in a queue, on the bus, on our lunch breaks—the list could go on and on. But if social media tends to trigger social comparison for you, start limiting your time on it. In addition, curate your feed so that the posts you are exposed to positively impact your well-being and mental health.


Takeaways

  • Comparing ourselves to others is what humans do, and can be helpful in motivating us to change and achieve.

  • Self comparison can also be harmful to our mental health and self esteem, and can leave us feeling not good enough, especially when it is a habit.

  • There are many ways to break the comparison habit that involve awareness, understanding and developing skills in stepping back from unhelpful thoughts



 

Try our FREE Self-Compassion Break worksheet to help you manage your inner critic. The Self-compassion Break is a tried and tested strategy to help you be self-compassionate in emotionally difficult moments.

Self-Compassion Break FREE worksheet download now



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