How to Beat the Comparison Curse

We live our lives in constant comparison and our digital lives means its a hard habit to break.

Should you compare yourself to others? Well much depends on how and what you compare.

Comparisons allow us to measure our personal growth progress against those who we admire. Without a target to aim for we have no way of knowing if we have improved. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can led to our ruin and we can feel overwhelmed by the challenge to improve. Our self talk can turn negative with the weight of comparison. Thoughts like “not being good enough” I’ll never get to that level” start to cloud our judgement. Over time this can have a negative impact on our mental health.

One of the problems when comparing ourselves to others is the gap between our level be it skill, knowledge, education or life style and our desired target. If this gap is perceived as too big the will to improve can turn negative.

Impact of the Internet

Social media connections through the likes of Facebook and Instagram have taken social comparison to a new level with many users comparing themselves to influencer lifestyles that portray the perfect lifestyle. The social media comparison gap is just impossible to reach. Think about it, if you reached the perfect lifestyle why would you return to their website?

Influencers spend hours trying to create the perfect image but we only the the finished product, not the hard work before it. The constant push of these images and videos can really smash our self esteem.

Past studies into the impact of online social comparison (Vogel et al. 2014) show that there is a definite link between social comparison and reduced self esteem. Heavy social media users are more likely to perceive their friends as having a much better time than they are.

A survey study among college students, Vogel et al. (2014) found students who scored higher on social comparison orientation experienced reduced self-esteem and poorer self-perception balance. Further studies (Wang et al., 2017) showed heavy social media users felt their online friends were leading better lives, reported level lower levels of self-esteem.

Most of the research so far has been conducted on Facebook, which has a more text based approach to communication. Instagram on the other hand offers far more visual content opportunities and encourages sharing of images and video. Visual content is far easier for us to remember than text based information (Noldy et al., 1990) which means their content has a higher impact on our memory. This can increase the feeling of missing out on life, leading to lower self esteem.

Instagram appears to be an influencers dream as it offers such a wide variety of enhancements for use with images and videos, allowing users to create exaggerated lifestyle at the click of a button. Pinterest and TikTok and two other alternative competitors to Instagram that also encourage users to create exaggerated lifestyles.

Top social media sites are unlikely to change their behaviour as the more hits their users get the more information they can sell off for advertising. For example TikTok is now one of the highest revenue producing social media sites in the world. A few years ago they were virtually unknow.

Their profit is fuelled by prolific data collection system which is one of the most invasive on the market. They collect: videos watched and commented on, location data, phone model and operating system used, the keystroke rhythms people exhibit when they type, even allowing third-party trackers to track your activity on other sites even after you leave the app.

This allows for targeted advertising which means if you are trying to release yourself from an influencers site these companies will do their best to keep you hooked through targeted advertising, e.g. you get more of the same. It never ceases to amaze me at how dismissive people are when I discuss app data collection. “Its ok can’t do any harm, can it?” Its because of this data collection that app manufactueres know their users well and they use this to keep you hooked. It can be a difficult cycle for some to break.

Building Awareness.

Following influencers who appear to have created the perfect life is okay so long as you understand it may not all be real. They may give you lifestyle ideas, but be prepared to question their creations. Especially if you find yourself thinking the content creators are better than you in some way.

For example: If you find your self talk is saying “I’ll never be able to do that”, or “I’ll never be as good at that as that person”, or “I’ll never get to that level.” Start to question your thoughts and rephrase them to something like “How can I get to that level?” or “what would I have to do to achieve that?”

Comparisons can be good if the inspire you to achieve higher standards but they can also be a deterrent from doing something. If the thing you’re doing is something you enjoy, comparisons can sometimes make you more reluctant to do it. If you see someone doing something you enjoy, like playing in a band or writing a novel or playing a sport, you might perceive that person as being a lot better at it than you are, and not want to do it, because you don’t want to be the worst at it.

But that’s not the right way to look at it. You should instead be saying, “I can get better at this, and I will get better at this. Because of that, I should do it and enjoy it, because it will make me happier in the long run.”

unpleasant or difficult. If you see someone doing something that you find unpleasant or difficult, you might think, “Oh, I’m not doing that. They’re doing that, and I hate doing that. It looks difficult and boring, and I don’t want to do it.” But that’s not the right way to look at it. You should instead be saying, “I can get better at this, and I will get better at this. Because of that, I should do it and get over my dislike of it, because it will make me happier in the long run.”Mind the Gap

When we look at others, there is always a gap – a gap in knowledge, a gap in background, a gap in skills, a gap in intelligence, a gap in education, a gap in experience. This is natural: the only way to avoid this would be to become a clone of our peers. But this is not desirable, and there is a simple reason why:

If we become a clone of our peers, we will be just like everyone else, and we will be unhappy.

The human brain is wired to want to be different. We’re wired to want to be special. We’re wired to want to be unique. Becoming a clone of our peers will make us feel like a failure – we’ll feel like we’ve been unable to achieve the thing that we most want.

The first step to avoiding this is to be aware of our tendency to compare ourselves to others, and be mindful of its effects on our mental health. The next step is to constantly be reminding ourselves that the only way to not be unhappy is to not be like everyone else. The final step is to seek out those who are unlike us, and learn from them, and be inspired by them.

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