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5 Tips to Stop Making Comparisons and Feeling Bad About Yourself

Smiling Woman

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” ~Steve Furtick

I remember one day when I was around six years old, my older brother came home from school with one of those star-shaped highlighters that had a different color on each point. I laid my eyes on it and in that moment I wanted nothing more than I wanted that highlighter.

It didn’t matter that as a six year old, I had less use for it than paper shoes in rainy weather; I just simply had to have it.

Being the loudmouth child that I was, with a scream my mum only describes as “hell breaking loose,” I fought (cried) tooth and nail for that highlighter until my father made my brother give it to me.

I scribbled an obscure masterpiece of color for a solid five minutes—until my pupils dilated at the new pencil case my brother had pulled out of his school-bag. It’s safe to say my brother sure didn’t like my company for a while. Anything he had, I wanted.

This wasn’t just an innocent childish trait. It seemed to follow me as I grew a little older too. I found myself wanting many things other people had.

It didn’t have to be tangible. In fact, most of the time it was a character trait, a skill, or even academic ability. I always wanted something somebody else had.

The problem was that it was no longer a case of just wanting the highlighter; I was putting myself down and getting frustrated at why I wasn’t given one, or why I wasn’t capable enough to get my own.

The self-doubt questions start seeping in: Am I good enough? Why can’t I do this or have that? Am I ever going to achieve the things others seem to so easily? Why is it so hard for me to be happy and easy for everybody else?

The thing with comparing ourselves to others is it’s something every one of us does, or at least has done in the past.

Remember coming home with a 95% on an exam? One of the first things our parents would ask is (second to “what happened to the other 5%?”): “How did everybody else in your class do on the test?”

It seemed like it didn’t matter that we had gotten an A+, not if everybody else did too.

It is always a comparison. In fact, education boards compare schools, teachers compare students, and employers compare interviewees. It’s just how the world works. It’s inevitable that we will learn to compare.

At an individual level, we might attend parties or ten-year high school reunions and analyze in fine detail what successes everybody has achieved in their lives, and our drive home consists of brooding, trying to pinpoint where it all went wrong for us.

If that wasn’t bad enough—Enter: Facebook. Correction, social media as a whole has taken the lead in creating an online universal medium for comparisons all day every day!

Now we know instantly when our friends are lying on a sandy white beach while we’re slaving away at a nine to five, which we have probably loathed for eight years.

We see our friends getting married, and we can’t help but think about why we haven’t settled down yet. Our Facebook News Feed is filled with photos of couples with their first new-born, and we ask ourselves if we’ve missed our chance at having a family.

We need to remember that on the outside, things may seem a certain way, but it’s almost always inaccurate. And that leaves our comparisons with very little basis.

We’ve heard the phrase “Everyone’s fighting their own battle.” I had a friend once tell me that, on the outside. I looked like I lived a princess lifestyle. Princess!

Apparently, I always had a smile on my face. I joked around and seemed as though I hadn’t a single worry in the world. After she got to know more about me, she said she would never have guessed I had the problems I was actually dealing with at the time.

Personally, I don’t recall having a particular incident happen to me that prompted a change. Perhaps it was just my gradual disinterest in other people’s lives and a heightened interest to focus on my own.

But I realized there was zero benefit from comparing myself to others. Emotionally, it would only bring me down, and mentally, it immobilized me. No progression occurs at a standstill like that.

Whether it’s something innate that we develop as kids, or something we’ve learned from the nature of our society today, we compare. And although logically we know comparisons are no good for us, we still can’t help doing it.

So how do we actually stop?

1. Appreciate what you do have.

I realized it had never crossed my mind that perhaps someone out there could be looking at me, wishing for something that I had. When you’re lost in a world of comparisons, your focus is always outward, analyzing others. You forget that you already have a million and one things to be forever grateful for.

2. It’s not a fair game.

As our man Einstein says, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

We’re all different, we see things differently, we’ve all had different experiences and come from different backgrounds. So judging ourselves to others is synonymous to judging a fish to a monkey.

3. Things aren’t always what they seem.

For some odd reason, we tend to make up our own judgments on people just on the way the look on the outside. You may look at two people working at the same firm, judge them both and wish to have their position, but what you don’t know is while one may have got the job through his father’s connections, the other had worked twenty years at the bottom of the gutter to get where he is now.

4. If you must compare, compare to you.

Some people use comparisons and convert it into motivation. And for those who can do that, go for it. It’s definitely a positive spin; perhaps seeing someone’s success drives you to do the same.

I often use this one, but I also believe that the best person to compare yourself to is you. Compare the present you to the past you. It’s a much fairer scale and a sure way to progression and peace of mind.

5. Accept what you can’t change and change what you can’t accept.

Leading on from the last tip, change the things you want to and when you have, compare back to yourself and see how much you changed for the better. And with the things you can’t change, accept that it was how you are supposed to be—own it, live it, love it.

If you want to take one thing from this post, take my favorite: The only person you should be comparing yourself to is the person you were yesterday.

Photo by T-617

Avatar of Sara Davies

About Sara Davies

Sara is a writer, blogger and aspiring author from London, England. She's also a dental student training for her licence to drill. She can be found at saraidavies.wordpress.com and on Twitter @saradavies_

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://mesandeep.wordpress.com/ Sandeep Khanal

    Such a beautiful post, Sara! It was indeed fun to read it.
    Great advises. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sara Davies

    Thank you for reading Sandeep!

  • http://www.motivationmy.com/ Syafique

    “We’re all different, we see things differently, we’ve all had different experiences and come from different backgrounds” – I love this quote the best. Thank you for the reminder that we’re all different and it’s OK to be different. We’re all born with our own strengths and weaknesses… it’s about letting our strengths shine and working to improve on our weaknesses.

  • MathildaMoon

    My parents never asked what happened to the other 5%. They were happy, and then distracted by other things. I learned as a child that being a solid B student was “great!”. I learned later that being an A student would’ve helped me in certain areas. I was certainly capable, just didn’t see the importance in trying that hard. Thanks for this insight, if only to help me be mindful when raising my daughter. It seems that environment plays a huge part in this comparing-ourselves-to-others nonsense. :) Thanks for the article!

  • Tejal

    Beautiful Post Sara! I totally resonated with your candid account of comparison! I felt like I wrote that myself! Thank you for opening up and putting together this articulate post. It’s been so hard for me to stop comparing what other people had but I have noticed a trend that the people who try to put the facade that everything in their life is perfect and a well oiled machine, they are the ones that either are in denial or have repressed their emotions. I say lay your baggage out, own it and once you do- it will no longer have power over you. I still think appreciating someones positive attributes is something we should do. Not that we want to be like them, we want to cultivate it within ourselves in our own authentic way. It’s always better to focus on the positive than the negative in others but take away the positive and cultivate it not feel sorry for ourselves.

  • Tiffany Buczek

    Wow, have I been struggling with this lately! Especially since I’m a writer, and friends with a lot of authors on FB. Their progress and accomplishments often make me feel inadequate and lacking. Why can’t I be more disciplined? Why can’t I do MORE? Sometimes I’m motivated by it, but I still have this little voice inside my head that chastises me for not being “better.”
    This is such a great piece! (See, I’m even comparing myself with you, thinking I’m not worthy. haha–kidding) Seriously, thank you for this today. So timely for me.

  • Sara Davies

    Thank you! Exactly we can improve ourselves and see how far we’ve come against our own track record.

  • Sara Davies

    Good thinking! We can definitely pass on the right attitude to the younger ones so they don’t fall into the trap. Love that you called it ‘nonsense’ =) Thank you for the read and the comment!

  • Sara Davies

    I couldn’t have put it better than the way you just did Tejal! That’s exactly it, we want certain things for ourselves in our own personl way rather than have exactly what others have so we might as well just be focusing on ourselves, it’s only fair. I agree if we train ourselves to see the positive in others and like you said cultivate it then we’ve spun the comparisons to our benefit! Thanks for your kind comment =) P.S – you mentioned people putting up facades, I recently wrote a post about that on my blog if you’re interested or happen to stop by – went for a different angle though :)

  • Sara Davies

    Haha you made me laugh with that one Tiffany! =) It’s always the things we care about most don’t you think? We find our minds wander to others and why they’ve reached the success that we want. I feel the same way about my writing at times too, and I think it’s also good to remember that even the people we admire probably feel the same way about someone they compare themselves to! I’m glad the article helped, even if just a little – keep comparing your own progression and success to yourself and you’ll feel more at peace with your accomplishments. I’m sure if you look back a few years, you’ll see how far you’ve come! =)

  • Isabel

    Thanks so much for writing this- I loved the advice and really needed to hear this today. I compare myself constantly to my friends and acquaintances (through social media especially), and it is such a negative habit. I really get down on myself when I know I shouldn’t. It’s easy to forget all the blessings in your own life when you are constantly distracted by the things other people have or the things they are doing.. For some reason I thought I was the only one who experienced this, but I guess it’s good to know others have felt this way at times too.. Your article really helped.. thanks again :)

  • activist09

    Thank you Sara for such a wonderful post :)

  • Razwana

    Your words on how parents enquire about school grades really struck a chord with me.

    I didn’t even look at it like that! When I DO ask these questions of my brothers children, I simply want to know how they are doing in comparison with others, and if they need more tuition, etc. This is in addition to how they feel they are doing.

    But does it really matter how they compare?

    I would say yes and no. And how the question is framed will impact the self esteem of the kids. I won’t go into HOW MANY TIMES my parents compared me to others and how this has impacted my life as an adult ! Too long to post here !!!!!!

    Very profound post, Sara.

    Oh,and good luck with your licence to drill !

  • Bhavana Chadaga

    Sara, I loved the post. It sounded just like me. Usually the self help posts contain things which we know already but this one was really different. This one succeeded in putting what we know already in a whole new way! I could feel myself getting that ‘feel good’ feeling as i read this.Keep the good work going girl!!

  • Jester2012

    *high five*

  • Sara Davies

    You’re definitely not the only one! We all catch ourselves doing it, it’s so easy to with social media but we’ve got to rememer to snap out of it and count our blessings again! So glad it helped! Thank you =)

  • Sara Davies

    I know what you mean about wanting to know how they compare to others in their class, it’s an innocent thing to want to know if they’re doing well for their level. But you’re so right about the self-esteem, they’ll feel their achievements aren’t good enough when of course they are. Thanks so much for your comment Razwana! =)

  • Sara Davies

    High five back!

  • Sara Davies

    Ah thanks so much for that Bhavana, it means a lot! I’m so happy to hear it helped in a different way! You keep being awesome =)

  • Astha Kaushik

    well said…I thing everybody spends half of his life in thinking what others are thinking about them but in really other are thinking same bot themselves..not thinking about you!!!

  • justguesting

    Great post!! I’m so glad you pointed out the drawbacks of “social” media. I too have noticed the tendency to view Facebook pages with a tinge of comparison and jealousy. I have to constantly remind myself that these pages are only a glimpse of someone’s life, not the full representation.

  • HaveLipsWillSmile

    Sara, this post could not have come at a better time for me. Recently starting my pursuit of true happiness through viable channels, I’ve been able to identify the negative effects FB actually has on my life. I felt myself getting anxious scrolling through my news feed every day but since society is so ‘pro-FB’, I didn’t realise this was detrimental to my finding happiness. Now having cut FB out of my life, I can enjoy real and true social interaction with my friends or strangers, through conversation instead of a series of photos or ‘likes’ or apparently witty quotes. Hiding behind a computer of a smart phone did not make a fulfilling life! Thanks so much for your wisdom, I truly believe the only comparison we should make is to our ‘old’ selves. You’ve hit the nail on the head.
    K

  • A Cap’s Sister

    Lol, what a story! What a toddler you were! I must ask you one question, though…

    Are you a Capricorn? The highlighter and pencil case story reminds me of my Capricorn younger sister. Everything I’ve ever had, she’s craved and has ripped it off from me… this is a malady that must be stopped!

  • Bill

    Thanks for this Sara! I knew some of it before but thanks! I came across this trying to find out why I feel bad whenever it comes to liking a girl. Mostly my stupid comparisons relate to social issues. For example: not being close to as many people as that girl, not being as popular as her, not having had as many of the same types of social moments as her, not having friends for as long as her, thinking I’m not as liked as much as her. Except I don’t think it’s because I’m unworthy, I think it’s just because of some differences between her and I or other circumstances and situational differences; many factors. Sometimes this is a huge problem, I want to get married but then these thoughts come to mind and then I think what’s the point if I can’t like her or am feeling miserable around her? It’s a struggle.

    Although I realize these things mentally, they recur which sucks because then I’m feeling bad and am still bothered for some reason. I don’t think I’m a jealous person, but sometimes I dislike things and get bothered by them a lot sometimes it’s because of a difference between me and another person sometimes for good reasons and sometimes maybe for bad reasons. But I know if a girl were to love me which I think is very possible (not that I’m perfect haha) I wouldn’t want to feel like it’s not mutual from my end, and what about hurting her feelings? Better to not end up doing that. I know she will not like everything about me or be exactly like me like some people think marriage and love has to be nowadays (it’s impossible) you’re you and you need U to be unique :).

    Love the quote by Steve, knew it but my issue is that I keep to myself because I don’t want people to be jealous (in some cases that’s the reason) other reason in other cases. Therefore, I think of that person being loved more than me because they are more recognized especially as facebook was mentioned. I guess I feel it’s just unfair for her to be praised so much (which might or might not even be happening) or being thought of as something she might not even be and same for me as well. While potential friends and stuff or even people that I already know are doubting me, thinking I’m a loser and have no life no friends, don’t know what I do know, etc. Guess it’s a big recognition thing.

    And I think it’s not good to show off because whatever we have is just a blessing, not something that we got because we were superior (doesn’t make us inferior either). I think many people do at least a little bit from time to time even unknowingly and unintentionally, but I think I should tone it down. I know some people complain about haters, but some also bring haters on themselves from their boastful behaviors; I’m trying to not do that.

    Sorry for the long essay. And I realize that perhaps there is some stuff in my post that makes me seem bad, and I’m not trying to justify it. I’m not perfect and am strong enough to admit my flaws to myself. Moreover, at least I may be trying to make a change. Just in case I gave some offensive impression, that’s all.

    Last but not least, I realize none of us actually NEEDS everything in life, we’re all going to die one day anyways (sorry if I happen to depress anyone) plus by nature we’re not satisfied oftentimes from what we’re sure will satisfy us. It’s not a solution because then we notice another problem or want something more. Let me know your thoughts, and thanks again.

  • Stanley Ranko

    Wow.. Great article… This article has made me realized where most of my depression stems from.. It’s the constant comparing myself with everyone around me.. When I engage in this mode of thinking, I always come up short in comparison to everyone else….I have been living this way for over 40 years… Now its time to live….Thanks for the insight..

  • Sureshbabu

    Good one !

  • aditi

    Best advice! :)

  • Chloe

    thanks for this. Lately I’ve been feeling like I have no self worth and keep comparing myself to this girl (Adanya) and she is just so perfect, she is super smart, super fit, and is left handed (I get extremely jealous of left handed people, always have) and I keep saying to myself:
    Chloe why are you so stupid? Chloe why the F**k are you not able to do that too! I just put my self esteem so low that I hardly have any at all. I’m also good at hiding emotions so not much people know what I’m feeling. I’m also a bit of a loner (prefer to be alone as much as possible but have to go to school :( ) so I am not sure what to do… I don’t know any other option other to try and ignore my feelings.. Does anyone have any advice?? And I also have a huge exam this year and have cried in private on numerous occasions.