Coaching clients around refraining from comparing themselves to others, mostly to what they consider to be “success” of others in a particular area or in more than one area is a process that involves dismantling beliefs, presuppositions, and perceptions, breaking old habits and paving the way to building new neural pathways leading to new healthy habits, and mostly a brand-new state of mind.
First, let’s look at Social Comparison and its dynamics.
What is Social Comparison?
Social comparison theory was first proposed in 1954 by psychologist Leon Festinger and suggested that people have an innate drive to evaluate themselves, often in comparison to others. There are two types of social comparison and each has its positive and negative impact on our thoughts and feelings, thus affecting our emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. The two types are:
1- UPWARD SOCIAL COMPARISON:
When we compare ourselves to others who are better off than we are – or we perceive them as doing better than us.
When we admire someone, we feel there is hope and feel inspired that if they can do it, we can do it.
It can act as an external motivation thus boosting our performance level and driving us to exceed our own expectations.
It tends to make us feel dissatisfied and in case we feel that there is nothing we can do to improve our situation, then that dissatisfaction might turn to frustration.
It tends to make us feel envious and jealous of others, which interfere with our growth and development.
2- DOWNWARD SOCIAL COMPARISON:
When we compare ourselves to people worse off than we are, or we perceive that they are doing worse.
It may make us feel grateful provided we are emphatic people.
We might also offer to help, volunteer, show empathy or even compassion and try our best to uplift them and encourage them to think differently and do better.
Acting with scorn, disdain and/or looking down at others.
It may make us feel satisfied to the extent that it saps our motivation to work harder and become a better version of ourself.
Either way, social comparison - when not controlled and dealt with - have side effects that eat away from our focus, energy and growth, and worst still is it will become a bad habit.
Ways to stop comparing ourself to others?
There are a number of ways to do that, and it starts by diving into ourself to come up with some answers to important inner-self queries:
Defining our success and happiness: The process starts by defining what success & happiness mean to us on a number of levels, such as the personal, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, professional, and financial levels. If we fall short of defining what success means to us - by default - we will be forced to use the definition of others, hence basing the success in our life to someone else’s definition of success, or worse yet to our perception of their success.
Discover our strengths and focus on them: One of the challenges of comparing is that we tend to focus on our weaknesses and other people’s strengths – or what we perceive as their strengths. Let’s flip it around; discover our strengths and focus on them. Then, we become more confident, tend to value our capabilities, and find ways to put them into practice. One way to do that is through writing our own narrative of one time in our life where we were at our best – and may be ask some close people to do the same for us – then collect these stories, identify the patterns, and write our own profile that shows our skills, capabilities, qualities, qualifications, strengths, and our [newly] discovered blind spots.
Have real conversations with people: Another exercise that proves to be very valuable is to study people’s pains and have real conversations with them. We will come to realize that they did not have it easy - we will discover that we have fallen prey to our perceptions and beliefs. These people worked hard and still are, and to our surprise might not be happy and fulfilled at all. A big AHA moment to reflect on!
Reclaim our free will: Watching others is energy & time depleting; one of the reasons why people procrastinate is related to constantly “spotting others”, and social media has made it even worse. Now, not only we compare & compete with people we know in real life, rather we have allowed social media to hijack us to a global “virtual” level of compare & compete! So, let’s reclaim our free will back, gear up, and stop procrastinating; let’s do something we have put off for a long time so that we reinstate our self-confidence, our sense of achievement, …. and feel good about ourself.
Embrace collaboration [vs competition]: collaborating with like-minded people and taking the first step - instead of competing – we will achieve more together. Collaboration opens the door to opportunities and opportunities are the entrance to our own success.
Remain an ever learner: Equally, staying curious, remaining an ever learner - instead of being judgmental & labelling others - is a blessing that helps us grow and thrive. Volunteering & contributing to our community with a big heart is phenomenal and has a spill over effect on our sense of fulfilment, wellness and happiness.
To bottom line, we will always compare ourself to others as long as we are focusing our attention on others instead of focusing on the one in the shadow which is OURSELF.
Don’t get fantasized by “OTHERS”! Their world is different from yours; rather, build on your acumen, you will enjoy more, grow faster and be more confident!