Comparison (Part III): How To Work With It

Social comparison is an issue for many of us. In my last blog post, I talked about the science behind this very human trait in which we all partake here and there. In this blog I want to talk about how to stop the comparison or at least bring it to a more constructive, healthy level.

The issue with social comparison is that it robs us of our time, our pride, our dignity, and love for ourselves. These are some of the many reasons why social comparison can get us into trouble.

Social comparison seems to be running rampant in the minds of many, especially now, with the excessive use of social media.

Social media provides us with what seems to be never ending access into each other’s lives with the main purpose to create the illusion of perfectionism. Think about it…we typically do not post about our daily struggles.  We don’t post pictures of unloading the dishwasher, or picking up dog poo.

I truly believe that if we knew the truth behind some of those smiling photos, we may not be so envious.

With the conception of social media, social comparison has become a habit that most of us perform daily. For many, we tend to compare our worst attributes to the best in others, making the comparison completely unfair and self-effacing, leading us to feel badly about ourselves.

Another issue with social comparison is that we are all unique.

We were not born into the same families, with the same money, in the same place. We aren’t all given the same advantages, or disadvantages as the others we are comparing ourselves to. It is the luck of the draw-some people are given more money than others, a better childhood, or better connections. But with social comparison we are acting as if we all have an even playing field.

OK so now, can we all agree that social comparison can sometimes be harmful to our psyche?

The question is that how can we STOP this downward spiral before it takes over?

The answer is Temporal Comparison. Temporal Comparison is when we compare ourselves between two different points in time. By comparing ourselves today with ourselves in the past or ourselves in the future we are better able to gauge how we are doing. By using this comparison technique we are actually using sound information.

The reason why using temporal comparison is better is because comparing where we are now and where we would like to be helps structure our goals. Through this we are able to make clear and distinctive steps to get to where we want to be.

By using Temporal Comparison, we are able to compare across time rather than confounding the comparison with other variables, such as unequal starting points, like wealth, connection, ability, etc.

Being a researcher, my mind automatically looks at comparison as an experiment.

It does not make logical sense to compare myself to someone else and expect to get a sound result. There are TOO MANY confounding variables (elements that could affect the outcome) in this experiment to make any true generalizable outcomes.

In non-researcher speak—comparing apples to oranges won’t get you any further, it will just be frustrating and your conclusions won’t be accurate.

By comparing ourselves to our self, we are able to see how we may have changed from one point to another.

If you have read my previous post, you will recall my running comparison. Specifically, where we compare ourselves to an Olympic athlete for an upward comparison. But in turn, it would give us more useful information if we compared ourselves to a previous point in time.

Again, when comparing ourselves to an Olympic athlete, there are many differentiating and confounding variables at play. The Olympic athlete has probably been training longer than you have, probably more intensely and has eaten differently. By comparing your time to your time a few weeks ago, you are able to see what may have changed to get the outcome you have now (the time it took you to run a mile). If you ran a faster mile than you did a few weeks ago, the reasoning can be more specific to what you did within those two weeks. You may have ran more, or you stretched, or you possibly ate better.

By using Temporal Comparison, we are better able to focus in on self-improvement, rather than break ourselves down or breaking others down through the use of social comparison (either downward or upward).

The point of Temporal Comparison is refocusing your brain. But sometimes that does not happen in that the old habit of social comparison comes creeping back in. The best thing to do is notice when you start socially comparing yourself to others. Like everything I teach, awareness is the key to success in anything you do. Becoming aware of the situations that you find yourself socially comparing is an important to habit change.

Also note how the comparison makes you feel, both in that moment and a few hours later. Is it worth it? Normally not, because downward comparison is short-lived and upward comparison most of the time will make you feel badly about yourself.

Start to notice all of the amazing things you do. Appreciate yourself for everything you do and how great you are. It takes some time to practice if you are used to tearing yourself down. But like everything, practice makes it easier.

So that is all for now on comparison my friends. I am sure this will come up again for me and probably for you too. But maybe with a little thought shifting it will be a easier to keep yourself from following your mind into that dark social comparison spiral.

Megan P^2