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Stop Comparing Yourself to Others: 15 Ways to Confidence

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“Comparison is the thief of joy.” This poetic quote1, attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, contains an intuitive truth we all know. It hurts to compare ourselves to others. 

Why are we all so prone to comparing ourselves, and how do we stop? Read on to find out.

Why Do You Compare Yourself To Others?

The tendency to compare ourselves to others is baked into human nature, society, and technology. Here are six explanations that dig a little deeper.

Nature hard-wired animals to pursue status 

Every animal species2,reflects%20underlying%20assymetries%20in%20power. has some form of dominance hierarchy; the animals at the top get more resources and are more likely to survive. 

For most animals, this comes down to size, strength, or even feather color. But human beings determine the pecking order with more social nuance. And the automatic way we assess someone’s spot in the dominance hierarchy is by looking at “socio-cultural status cues like job titles and educational attainment,” say psychology researchers3

Though in actuality, the type of status that creates feelings of safety and fulfillment has less to do with the Tesla, the degree, or the number of Instagram followers and more to do with feeling respected4 in our communities. This research team at UC Berkley4 found that “People who had low status in their communities, peer groups, or in their workplaces suffer more from depression, chronic anxiety, and even cardiovascular disease.”

The takeaway is that it’s in our DNA to seek respect, positioning, and status in our groups, likely because it helped foster survival in a tribal setting. But we often try to fill that need by seeking money, prestige, and fame.

We often seek money, prestige, and fame in order to fulfill our need for status and respect.

Because of our orientation towards status, we assess where we are in a group by looking left and right and seeing how we stack up. Whether we’re determining how much people respect our coworker’s voice in meetings or eyeing up the size of her wedding ring, we are approximating her status compared to ours.

The problem is that comparing yourself to others doesn’t increase your status or respect—just your anxiety and insecurity. 

Comparison is a natural human tendency

As humans, we orient toward our world socially. We form our values, beliefs, and self-perception based on the people around us5

We make sense of the world by looking around at what other people see6 And we interpret who we are in this massively complex multi-billion-person human society by looking around at other people and seeing how we compare and fit in.

Psychologist Leon Festinger, who coined the term “Social Comparison Theory7” decades ago, suggested that one healthy and automatic reason we compare ourselves to others is to accurately assess our abilities and opinions. If you are a coder and want to know your skill level, it’s practical to see what your peers are capable of. And if you’re about to make a big career decision, it’s wise to study your peers’ decisions.

Society conditions us to compare ourselves to what it deems “successful” 

Would you rather make $50,000 a year while all of your peers make $25,000, or $100,000 while all of your peers make $250,000?

A study at Harvard Graduate School asked its students this and found that more than half of people would take less money8 to be better than their peers. They’d forgo $50,000 (and 50% of their income) a year just to be better than their peers!

In that same study, researchers also asked grad students if they’d rather have two weeks of vacation a year while their peers have one week off or have four weeks of vacation while their peers have eight weeks off. In this case, 80% opted for more vacation, regardless of how it compared to their peers’ vacation benefits.

This study suggests that people don’t want to fall below the social norm when it comes to the benchmarks that society deems successful.

Our society has a fairly clear formula for conventional success:

Create an impressive career that gets you recognition, make a lot of money, buy a nice house, get married, and have kids.

Our culture has imprinted on us that following that formula will lead to success, worth, and happiness. 

For those who don’t want the standard goals and choose to steer their life in a different direction, there will be plenty of reminders (from any Hollywood movie to their Thanksgiving family dinner) that they should compare themself to the formula.

And many folks do genuinely want the goals society has laid out. But even if you want a spouse and a house, there are unreachable ideals to live up to. Your wedding will never be as decadent as Prince Harry and Kate Middleton’s. And your house will never have as many toilets as Bill Gates’.

We live in a culture that can feel like a race impossible to win. If you are, say, in your thirties and aren’t yet making a six-figure salary and don’t yet have kids, then something in you might feel anxious that you’re “falling behind.” You may look at your peers’ careers on Linkedin and their social victories on Facebook, and your anxiety heightens.

Watch our video below to learn how to stop caring what people think:

Comparison and social media

Social media engages the same parts of your brain9 as addictive drugs. Meta, Twitter, TikTok, and crew are dumping hundreds of billions of dollars a year to perfect the ability of these apps10 to grip your time and attention. 

There are super-intelligent machines11 geared toward keeping your eyes on the feed.

While social media doesn’t have to be toxic, for most of us, it’s hard not to stop using it. And because a lot of social media is people sharing their accomplishments, it’s very difficult to avoid comparing ourselves to others.

We compare ourselves as an expression of insecurity

The urge to compare ourselves to others comes from low self-esteem. One social psychology principle suggests12 that humans look at the world in a way that confirms what we already believe and how we view ourselves. 

So if you think life is abundant and full of opportunity, you’ll see possibility everywhere. And if you believe that Earth is a flaming hellhole that is unfair to you, then opportunities will be harder to spot. 

When you seek comparison, this usually comes from a part of you that feels insecure and shaky. This part scans the world around you, seeking to confirm what it believes about itself. If this part of you thinks you are falling behind your peers, it will find evidence everywhere.

Comparing yourself to others from a place of insecurity won’t increase your self-esteem. When you compare yourself to someone “better” than you, it will reinforce your insecure feelings. And even if you compare yourself to someone “worse” than you to get rid of those feelings, you might get a temporary self-esteem boost, but it still feeds the underlying insecurity.

Put another way; comparison is how insecurity expresses itself.

When we feel angry, we’ll curse foul words and think about how dumb that driver was. When we feel grateful, we’ll smile and appreciate the barista’s witty banter. And when we feel insecure, we’ll tense up and compare ourselves to others.

For those who want to stop comparing themselves, the key is to become more rooted in their own authenticity. If you do value authenticity, you can learn here how to improve your skills:

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What to Do When You Are Stuck Comparing Yourself to Others

So we know that pretty much everyone compares themselves to others, which can be harmful and hard to stop. So what should you do? There are plenty of practices that can balance out our comparative tendencies.

Limit your time on social media

Studies suggest that using social media will increase your tendency to compare yourself to others and hurt your self-esteem13

Action Step: Whether one day or one week, pick a set amount of time to take a break from social media. 

To help with this act of self-care, try using the Chrome extension Newsfeed Eradicator, which will block your ability to see your social media feeds on different platforms.

If you need more motivation, try watching the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, which describes itself as a “documentary-drama hybrid [that] reveals how social media is reprogramming civilization with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.”

Think about Tiger Woods

When we envy other people’s lives, we look at their accomplishments, good looks, or elite skill. But what we don’t think about in these moments is that you can’t cherry-pick one part of someone without getting the whole package.

You can’t get Michael Jordan’s athletic accomplishments without his unhealthy addiction to competition (as he put it14 “It’s an addiction. You ask for this special power to achieve these heights, and now you got it and want to give it back, but you can’t. If I could, then I could breathe… It’s consumed me so much… I’m my own worst enemy.”

You can’t get Kurt Cobain’s musical gifts and #1 albums without his alcoholism, drug addictions, depression, and suicide.

You can’t get Tiger Woods’ elite performance without his unfaithful marriages and DUIs.

Justin Bieber said it well:

A social media post from Just Bieber reminding everyone to stop comparing themselves to others and to famous people because their life is not as glorious as it seems.

Action Tip: The next time you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else’s success, think about Tiger Woods. 

He was the best golfer in the world, envied by millions. Yet his personal life was an absolute mess. He cheated on his wife with 120 women15, and soon after getting caught, he found himself in a drug-induced DUI16

When you feel envy toward someone, see if you can recognize that they have struggles, suffering, anxieties, and pain that you don’t know about. You don’t know their complete package, and if you did know, you might not want it.

Get grateful

When you are comparing yourself, you are focusing on what you lack. Your attention is on the skills you lack, the relationships you lack, the prestige you lack, etc.

A gratitude practice is powerful because instead of focusing on what you lack, it helps you focus on how much you already have.

Action Step: You can do this in a moment of comparative anxiety or right now. Just write or think about the following:

  1. One part of your body you are grateful for and why.
  2. One aspect of your job/career you are grateful for and why.
  3. One way you’ve grown that you are grateful for and why.
  4. One person you are grateful for and why.
  5. One challenge in your life you are grateful for and why.

Encourage someone else

When we are stuck in comparison mode, we are ultimately being self-centered. And there’s no shame in comparing oneself; we all do it! But it’s inherently self-focused to think, “Why aren’t I better?” 

It can be helpful to shift your attention from your successes and failures to what would help others.

Action Step: Next time you are looping on comparison, pick a person in your life who you feel drawn to encourage. And write them a sincere text where you appreciate their presence in their life, acknowledge their strengths, and encourage them towards their goals.

If you’re going to compare, conjure up your past self

Sometimes we go through periods where we feel very secure and satisfied and don’t feel the need to compare ourselves to others. But sometimes, we just can’t help it. In those times when we feel like we must compare, see if you can swap out the object of comparison to your past self. 

This can help you see how much you’ve grown and how far you’ve come.

Action Tip: Next time you compare yourself with a peer, pause and instead compare yourself with a younger version of yourself. How have you grown, developed, matured, and excelled since then?

Realize comparison is a state of mind

The funny thing about comparisons is that they’ll never stop because there will always be people ahead of you and behind you.

No matter how much money you make, there will always be richer people. No matter how good you get at Frisbee Golf, someone will always be better.

Your feelings of insufficiency have nothing to do with where you’re at. If you had as much money as the person you are thinking of, you’d still feel the same insecurity towards the person on the next rung up the ladder.

Action Tip: Next time you’re caught in a comparison trap, imagine that you are the person you are jealous of, and then feel your jealousy towards someone higher up than them. 

Then imagine you are someone else who is jealous of you. 

Remember, comparison is a never-ending state of mind.

Make a diary of your wins

When you are caught in the comparison game, it can be hard to see that you are progressing in your life and moving towards your goals. One way to remind yourself of your accomplishments is to track them.

Action Step: Create a Google Doc on your computer entitled “My Wins!”

Every time you achieve something you are proud of, write the date and the achievement in your Google Doc.

Next time you feel down on yourself, peruse your Wins List.

Write a love letter to yourself

When you’re feeling low about your accomplishments, getting your head out of the mud and seeing how great you’re doing can be challenging. This activity can help you find that perspective and extend some warmth to yourself.

Action Step: Set a timer for 20 minutes, and handwrite a letter to yourself., See if you can write it from a part of yourself that feels wise, compassionate, and encouraging and address it to the part of you who is feeling down.

When you finish, read the letter back to yourself and notice how you feel.

Cultivate mood-boosters

We know that experiencing positive emotions improves our mood17 and our health. Try these reflection practices to boost your mood.

Action Steps: Journal each of these questions.

  1. What are you proud of?
  2. Why does that make you proud?
  3. What does that feel like in your body?

Try the same activity with different positive emotions instead of pride. Swap out the word “proud” with:

  • Excited
  • Hopeful
  • Happy
  • Inspired
  • Empowered
  • Committed 

Keep a compliment log

When comparing ourselves to others, we can easily forget what is special and commendable about us. If only we could see ourselves how our loved ones do!

Action Step: Pick a mug you like and make that your “compliment jar.” The next time someone compliments you, transcribe what they wrote onto a slip of paper and then put that slip in your mug.

If you do this consistently for just a few months, you’ll be amazed at how often you receive compliments.

The next time your self-esteem feels wobbly, pull out a slip or two to get out of your head and see how great you are in your friends’ eyes.

Convert the object of your comparison from a rival into a model

Usually, when you compare yourself to other people, the result is that you feel bad about yourself. But what if you could use comparison to inspire you?

Action Step: Reflect on the following questions:

  1. Who is someone you often compare yourself to?
  2. What is it about them that you admire? What are they especially good at?
  3. Can you internally appreciate them for their unique abilities? What does it feel like to appreciate the part of them that you usually envy?
  4. Can you imagine channeling their abilities into yourself? If they are an exquisite orator, can you let their speaking skills inspire you and even summon their oration abilities the next time you give a speech?

Make yourself the main character of the movie

You are pulling yourself out of your own journey whenever you compare yourself to others.

One way to get out of comparison is to drop more deeply into your own story. 

Action Step: Imagine right now that your life is a movie. The genre is a classic hero’s journey, and you are the hero. So far, everything has led you on an epic up-and-down adventure toward pursuing your dreams, finding meaning, and actualizing yourself. Nothing in this movie is accidental because the writer put each character in for a particular reason. 

Even the people that you are stuck comparing yourself to are not random. Imagine that they are characters in the movie to show the hero of the story, you, something about yourself. Those characters are here to inspire you, show you your insecurities, or help you clarify what you care about. Whatever the reason, just pretend this is your movie, and you get to pick how to live it out.

You get to pick the plot arc. You can decide what the protagonist is journeying towards.

While this perspective may not be “true” per se, it can help you look at your life through a more empowering lens.

Get to know your comparison triggers

If you can better understand when you compare yourself to others, how it makes you feel, and what the thought process is like, then you have more insight into why you are comparing yourself and might be able to do something with this information.

Action Plan: Spend a week (or even a day) tracking every time you compare yourself to someone else. 

You can use this chart to help.

Trigger Event
What happened that caused me to compare myself
What thoughts come up when I compare myself?
What feelings are associated with these thoughts? (anxiety, insecurity, anger, pride, etc.)
Potency of Feelings
How strong are these feelings 1-5? 5=Very strong, 1=Subtle

Challenge your beliefs

Underneath all the painful thoughts, you might find some beliefs about yourself or the world. Since these beliefs are the filters through which you see the world, it can be helpful to poke at them.

Action Step: Once you’ve tracked some comparisons, see if you can boil down all the thoughts to one or two underlying beliefs.

Here are a few common examples:

  • “I’m falling behind in life!”
  • “I’ll never be as good as them.”
  • “I’m a failure.”
  • “Life will never work out for me.”

Once you’ve identified your belief, try reflecting on these four questions borrowed from Byron Katie’s process. Let’s say your underlying belief is “I’m a failure.” Ask yourself:

  1. Is the belief true?
  2. Can I absolutely know that the belief is true without a shadow of a doubt?
  3. How do I feel and react when I believe the thought, “I am a failure?”
  4. Who am I without the belief that “I am a failure?” What does it feel like?

Notice how just going through these questions starts to jostle lose the beliefs that you’ve held for so long.

Name and befriend your inner critic

Another tactic for dealing with painful thoughts is to personify the part of you that harshly compares you to others.

Many therapeutic modalities refer to this part of you as your inner critic18

Action Step: Read through all of the thoughts you listed above. Imagine that all those thoughts came from a character inside of you.

Give a name to that character. Any name will do. Sometimes silly names can help you take its critiques less seriously.

What does that part of you look like? Is it even human? How does it dress? How does it move?

The next time you notice a painful comparative thought come up, see if you can notice that it’s your inner critic coming to the surface. Instead of getting angry at the critic, see if you can befriend it. Say hello and genuinely ask it what it wants at this moment. You might be surprised at what you find.

How Does Comparison Affect Your Life?

While it’s certainly possible to compare yourself to someone else to objectively assess your abilities, most comparison to others comes from a place of insecurity, and the act of comparison fuels that insecurity.

Comparing yourself to others kills your self-esteem 

“Comparing yourself to others is the enemy of self-confidence,” said Tony Robbins.

If you develop the habit of comparing yourself to others, you are bound to lose many of those comparisons. And, psychologically speaking19, it hurts more to lose than it feels good to win.

Comparing yourself to someone in your work field who’s crushing it further inflames the anxiety that you’re not as good as you are. And if you compare yourself to someone you “beat,” this might boost your esteem, but only temporarily until the next losing comparison. 

Comparing yourself to others is like going to a Vegas casino—eventually, you are bound to lose big. But the payout isn’t dollars; it’s your self-worth.

Check out this article to learn to build your self-esteem.

Comparing yourself to social media causes depression and body insecurity 

The use of social media is markedly linked to causing low self-esteem and depression20 and also makes people feel less confident about their bodies21

Social media is a tough place for comparison because you’re looking at other people’s curated images of themselves. People only post their hottest pictures and their wisest and wittiest comments. 

No matter how “authentic” someone strives to be on social media, they can never let you all the way into their humanity—their pain, anxieties, shame, insecurity, or guilt. Even when someone posts something genuine, it still passes through a filter of how they want the world to see their authenticity. 

And you compare these curated images to the voices deep inside yourself that whisper about your shortcomings. As Jordan Harbinger puts it, “We’re comparing our blooper reel to someone else’s highlight reel.”

Comparing yourself to other people separates you from your own identity 

You are a unique individual with your own talents, interests, and values. 

If you go deep into yourself, beneath everything your parents told you you should be, what your society told you success looks like, and what movies and TV glamorize as the perfect life, you’ll find who you are and what you care about. 

This is a difficult and lifelong task. But creating a life based on others’ expectations and desires will never fulfill you. The only route to a fulfilling life is to discover who you are and what you want and to live from that place. 

When you compare yourself to others, you are stepping away from your sense of self and measuring yourself on someone else’s yardstick. This only leads to suffering and a weakened sense of self.

As Oprah puts it: “You’re only on this planet to be you, not someone else’s imitation of you. Your life journey is about learning to become more of who you are and fulfilling the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being.”

Comparison Frequently Asked Questions

What causes you to compare yourself to others?

It’s a natural human tendency to compare ourselves with others. It can help us understand how strong our abilities are in a particular domain. We’re also inherently social creatures, constantly checking how others feel and think about things to help us orient our worldviews and opinions. Comparison only becomes problematic when it comes from a place of anxiety and low self-esteem. In this case, comparing will only further fuel your negative thoughts and anxiety inflammation.

How to stop comparing yourself to others?

One valuable technique to stop comparing yourself to others is to make friends with your inner critic. Take note of all the times you feel the ping of jealousy of someone else, and notice what thoughts and feelings come up. Start to attribute those thoughts to a part of yourself that you can call your “inner critic.” It can be helpful to name and even personify your inner critic so that you can spot it immediately when it comes up. Once you get good at this, try to befriend this part of you and get to know why it comes up and what it wants. This process can take you on a healing journey.

How do I stop jealousy and comparison?

One way to stop jealousy when comparing yourself is to think about the strengths of the person you’re comparing yourself to. Imagine their unique gifts, and see if you can internally send appreciation their way. Then see if you can take inspiration from them and emulate their admirable abilities within yourself.

What is it called in psychology when you compare yourself to others?

The term “Social Comparison Theory,” coined by Leon Festinger, refers to the phenomenon of humans comparing themselves to each other.

Why is comparison toxic?

Comparison can be toxic if you constantly compare yourself to people further along than you are. In these cases, you’ll consistently “lose” the comparison, and it can cause your self-esteem to plummet.

How does comparison affect mental health?

Comparing yourself to other people too often can cause anxiety, self-esteem issues, and depression. This is especially pertinent with social media, where researchers found that just spending time on your Facebook feed causes an increase in depression.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself

Comparing ourselves to others is a natural human tendency. But when we do it too much, it can spiral our anxiety and self-esteem. Keep in mind these tactics to help you with comparing yourself to others:

  • Limit your time on social media. Try an app like Newsfeed Eradicator
  • We don’t know what others’ lives are actually like. Next time you envy someone, think about Tiger Woods, whose life appeared perfect but was actually going up in flames
  • Reflect on parts of your life that you are grateful for
  • Turn your attention outwards and give encouragement and validation to a friend
  • Compare yourself to your past self to see how far you’ve come
  • Recognize that even if you had the life of that other person, your feelings of comparison wouldn’t go away
  • Keep a diary of your wins!
  • Write a love letter from a compassionate part of you to the insecure part of you
  • Reflect on what you are proud of, why you’re proud, and what it feels like in your body
  • Keep track of compliments that you receive, and read them every once in a while
  • Consider what qualities you admire about the person you feel envy towards, and channel their strengths into yourself
  • Think of your life as a movie where you play the lead role. Imagine that other people aren’t there to make you jealous but parts in your movie to teach you something about yourself. You get to pick the plot arc!
  • Keep track of the moments that you compare yourself to others, and get to know your specific thoughts and triggers
  • Discover the beliefs underlying these thoughts, and challenge if those beliefs are true
  • Personify your inner critic, and the next time it arises, try to befriend it

Remember, we all compare ourselves to others. But if you try some of these tactics and aim to extend compassion and encouragement to yourself, you’ll be on the right track.

And if you’d like to dive deeper into the journey of self-love, check out this article called 13 Effective Tips to (Finally!) Overcome Self-Sabotage.

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