When you hear about another person making more money than you, has a business that is performing better than yours, or someone being in better shape than you, how does that make you feel? Does it make you feel like you could be doing better with your own life and business?
According to some studies, as much as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind. These comparisons can sometimes make us feel inadequate with our lives if we allow them to. Constantly using others as a yardstick to measure our own wealth, health, and happiness can lead to lower self-esteem and even depression.
So what can we do to stop the constant comparing of others and focus on our own life and business? In this article, we will look at some ways you can stop comparing yourself to others. But first, let’s take a look at why humans participate in the comparison trap.
Why we compare ourselves to others
Comparison is human nature
Humans, by nature, compare themselves to other humans. This is something we do from birth in order to understand where we fit in the world. This is why children will often begin to mimic the actions of the adults they spend the most time with.
The comparison happens spontaneously and cannot be truly shut down. The key is to understand your comparison tendencies and to not let them dictate your actions and self-esteem. It has been shown that performing worse than our peers on a particular task results in negative self-esteem and poorer subsequent performance on the same task.
A study by University of Michigan psychologists Marjorie Rhodes and Daniel Brickman demonstrated that young children respond negatively when they perform more poorly than a peer—if that peer is of the other gender. 4 and 5-year-old participants were asked to complete a timed circle-tracing task and then were told that either a same-gender, other-gender, or gender-unidentified peer performed better on the task than they did.
These results indicate that when preschoolers see that they have performed more poorly than a peer of the other gender—even just one time—there are lasting negative consequences on behavior and self-concept. The researchers conclude that “these findings have implications for the origins of social comparisons, category-based reasoning, and the development of gender stereotypes and achievement motivation.”
As adults, many continue to compare and attach the results of their comparison to their own self worth. Psychologist Leon Festinger proposed the theory of social comparison in 1954. He believed that people have an innate drive to evaluate themselves. According to social comparison theory, individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they measure up against others.
This is why people make comparisons in terms of wealth, intelligence, and success, for example. Entrepreneurs are just as guilty of this as everyone else.
Social media has turbocharged comparisons
There are two primary types of social comparison. Upward social comparison occurs when we compare ourselves to someone we perceive to be better off than we are, and downward social comparison happens when we perceive ourselves to be better off than someone else.
If you have lower self-esteem, you are more likely to participate in upward comparison in order to strive to be better. Social media seems to accelerate and this process. The access to the lives of so many other people often over stimulates this comparison muscle.
However, when you are participating in upward comparison to celebrities, successful entrepreneurs, or people on social media who seem to be better than you, your upward comparisons could lead to lower self-esteem.
The younger you are, the more you compare
A 2015 study by researchers at the universities of Essex and Cambridge showed that the tendency to engage in comparison processes declines across the lifespan. One reason, they hypothesized, is that as we age, we’re more likely to evaluate ourselves against our own past rather than the present state of others.
When I was in my early 20’s, I used to look around me and compare my life to peers. If I heard that someone my age got a great job or was advancing in life quickly, I felt like I should be too. By my mid and late 20’s, I had eliminated just about all of that. Mostly because I began to become more patient and understood my own life goals.
Comparisons happen in life and business
If you’re an entrepreneur, you undoubtedly have revenue or customer acquisition goals. Having these goals helps you define what you would consider a successful business. But what if you saw a social media post of someone who does the exact same things as you making more money?
This is where the insecurities of many entrepreneurs are exposed. Too many business owners and entrepreneurs worry that, even though they are profitable, they are not making as much as their competition. This agonizing of another businesses’ revenue can lead to the setting of unrealistic goals.
The comparison is also dangerous for those individuals who are employed and dream of leaving their job. Many people who are unhappily employed feel as though the only way to be happy in life is to run their own business. They believe that entrepreneurship involves waking up when you want, easy cash flow, and typing on a laptop while sitting on the shore of a tropical beach.
But this desire to run a business may not come from them but from what they think they should be doing based on social media posts or YouTube ads promising a way to make 6 figures overnight. A person may be content getting a paycheck every few weeks and having health insurance, but feel as though they must start a business because of a glamorous facade.
Stopping the comparison habit
Keep track of your own accomplishments.
Keep a log of your daily, weekly, and monthly accomplishments whether they are professional or personal. Seeing what you’ve accomplished will help you focus on your progress and not the progress of others. The more you focus on your own progress, you will begin to lose interest in what others are doing.
There are many ways to keep track of your own accomplishments. You can keep a written journal of the positive accomplishments over a year. You can also create a video journal where you record yourself for every big and small accomplishment. Lastly, you can create a photo journal that can serve as a visual reminder of the good things you are accomplishing.
However you choose to track your success, it is important that you compare those successes with your past success or failures. Keeping track of the 3 pounds you lost this week is pointless if you decide to go search “weight loss” on YouTube and see that someone posted a video of how they lost 15 pounds in one week.
Make sure your goals are truly yours
If you are pursuing a business or lifestyle that is a replica of something you’ve consumed on television or social media, those goals may not be truly yours. They may be someone else’s goals that you have adopted. Do you really want a 7 figure business or do you think you need one because it seems like everyone is building one? Are you ready for the responsibilities, the tax implications, hiring more staff?
Many people do not realize how much of their dreams are not their own. Sometimes dreams and goals are created by demanding parents, influential community, and yes, even from celebrities, thought leaders, and social media.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if your goals are yours or that of others:
- Where did this desire come from?
- Am I built for this?
- When did I first want to accomplish this goal?
- Who did I speak with or who did I see doing this?
- What happens after I accomplish this goal?
- Am I doing this for myself or for someone else?
Limit social media and other triggers.
Understand the things that cause you to compare yourself to others and limit your exposure to those things. Social media has become almost unavoidable even though there are many who have decided to eliminate their digital presence altogether.
Instagram and Facebook have been studied more than Twitter and other platforms when it comes to social comparison. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that those other platforms do not pose a threat. As previously mentioned, YouTube videos and ads can also present similar images of a hard to obtain lifestyle.
Algorithms on social media platforms prioritize certain types of content or what they feel is the best and most relevant to its users. What you consume on social media is what University of Houston psychologist Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers calls “everyone else’s highlights reel.” It is a distorted reality that never tells the whole story.
Who are you comparing yourself to? Is it those picture perfect Influencers on Instagram? Business gurus on Facebook? Travel blogger who seems to live the perfect life on YouTube? Whoever they may be, it is important to limit your exposure to that platform in order to focus on yourself.
Ask yourself “why?”
When you are tempted to compare yourself to others online and in the real world, ask yourself “why does this make me feel inadequate?” If you see a travel blogger posting pics from a balcony in an Italian villa and you feel bad for not being able to travel more, say to yourself “why does this bother me?” From there, think of all of the things that you do not see in the picture.
You don’t see if that person may have racked up debt in order to take the trip. They don’t show you that the expensive hotel was only booked for one night and the cost may have been split between 4 people. Just like in a Hollywood production, you don’t see all of the other realities of making something look glamorous.
The same can be done when it comes to your business. If you are profitable in your business and are otherwise happy with what you are making, ask yourself why you feel the need to match the perceived success of people you don’t even know.
Remind yourself that perception is not reality.
When you are looking at the world around you, and especially, on social media, it is important to remember that much of it is organized to get your attention and evoke an emotion. Ordinary things are often presented in an exaggerated, extraordinary way. This is done to make those things seem better and more meaningful than they are.
About a month ago, I drove to the park. My intention was to take my laptop and work a little while sitting on a park bench. Instead, I decided to sit in my car and do some work since I felt like there would be less distraction.
Parked in front of me on the side of the road was a beautiful Tesla Model X truck. A car with a starting price tag of $80,000. There was a woman walking up to the car and opening the door while a guy was taking staged pictures of her. My assumption was the woman was an influencer since she was well made up and was not dressed for the scorching heat we were experiencing.
They took pictures of her and the car for about 10 minutes and then the woman hopped in the driver’s seat while her camera guy sat in the passenger’s side. Before they drove off, I noticed that the license plate frame read “….com Luxury Car Rentals.”
Keep in mind that just because it looks real, doesn’t mean it is. Income, salary, or revenue never tell the whole story. When you hear of a competing business’s revenue, remind yourself that just because a business brings in high revenue doesn’t mean that they bring in enviable profits. Or just because they’re profitable doesn’t mean that they do not come with a price that you may not be willing to pay. Always remember that it is very easy to “fake it” on social media.
As entrepreneurs and human beings we must understand the difference between competition and comparison. A healthy level of competition can stark innovation and drive us to be better people. However, when we engage in unhealthy comparisons, we increase the chances of lowering our own happiness and self-worth.