“Comparison is the thief of joy.” —Theodore Roosevelt
I’ve struggled with it most of my life. Typically, I blame it on having a twin brother who is five inches taller with much broader shoulders. But if I was being truly honest, more likely, it is simply a character flaw hidden somewhere deep in my heart.
I’ve lived most of my life comparing myself to others. At first, it was school and sports. But as I got older, I began comparing other metrics: job title, income level, house size, and worldly successes.
I have discovered there is an infinite number of categories upon which we can compare ourselves and an almost infinite number of people to compare ourselves to. Once we begin down that road, we never find an end.
The tendency to compare ourselves to others is as human as any other emotion. Certainly I’m not alone in my experience. But it is a decision that only steals joy from our lives. And it is a habit with numerous shortcomings:
- Comparisons are always unfair. We typically compare the worst we know of ourselves to the best we presume about others.
- Comparisons, by definition, require metrics. But only a fool believes every good thing can be counted (or measured).
- Comparisons rob us of precious time. We each get 86,400 seconds each day. And using even one to compare yourself or your accomplishments to another is one second too many.
- You are too unique to compare fairly. Your gifts and talents and successes and contributions and value are entirely unique to you and your purpose in this world. They can never be properly compared to anyone else.
- You have nothing to gain, but much to lose. For example: your pride, your dignity, your drive, and your passion.
- There is no end to the possible number of comparisons. The habit can never be overcome by attaining success. There will also be something—or someone—else to focus on.
- Comparison puts focus on the wrong person. You can control one life—yours. But when we constantly compare ourselves to others, we waste precious energy focusing on other peoples’ lives rather than our own.
- Comparisons often result in resentment. Resentment towards others and towards ourselves.
- Comparisons deprive us of joy. They add no value, meaning, or fulfillment to our lives. They only distract from it.
Indeed, the negative effects of comparisons are wide and far-reaching. Likely, you have experienced (or are experiencing) many of them first-hand in your life as well.
How then, might we break free from this habit of comparison? Consider, embrace, and proceed forward with the following steps.
A Practical Guide to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Take note of the foolish (and harmful) nature of comparison.
Take a good look at the list above. Take notice of comparison’s harmful effects in your life. And find priority to intentionally remove it from the inside-out.
Become intimately aware of your own successes.
Whether you are a writer, musician, doctor, landscaper, mother, or student, you have a unique perspective backed by unique experiences and unique gifts. You have the capacity to love, serve, and contribute. You have everything you need to accomplish good in your little section of the world. With that opportunity squarely in front of you, become intimately aware of your past successes. And find motivation in them to pursue more.
Pursue the greater things in life.
Some of the greatest treasures in this world are hidden from sight: love, humility, empathy, selflessness, generosity. Among these higher pursuits, there is no measurement. Desire them above everything else and remove yourself entirely from society’s definition of success.
Compete less. Appreciate more.
There may be times when competition is appropriate, but life is not one of them. We have all been thrown together at this exact moment on this exact planet. And the sooner we stop competing against others to “win,” the faster we can start working together to figure it out. The first and most important step in overcoming the habit of competition is to routinely appreciate and compliment the contribution of others.
Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.
Gratitude always forces us to recognize the good things we already have in our world.
Remind yourself nobody is perfect.
While focusing on the negatives is rarely as helpful as focusing on the positives, there is important space to be found remembering that nobody is perfect and nobody is living a painless life. Triumph requires an obstacle to be overcome. And everybody is suffering through their own, whether you are close enough to know it or not.
Take a walk.
Next time you find yourself comparing yourself to others, get up and change your surroundings. Go for a walk—even if only to the other side of the room. Allow the change in your surroundings to prompt change in your thinking.
Find inspiration without comparison.
Comparing our lives with others is foolish. But finding inspiration and learning from others is entirely wise. Work hard to learn the difference.
Humbly ask questions of the people you admire or read biographies as inspiration. But if comparison is a consistent tendency in your life, notice which attitudes prompt positive change and which result in negative influence.
If you need to compare, compare with yourself.
We ought to strive to be the best possible versions of ourselves—not only for our own selves, but for the benefit and contribution we can offer to others. Work hard to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Commit to growing a little bit each day. And learn to celebrate the little advancements you are making without comparing them to others.
With so many negative effects inherent in comparison, it is a shame we ever take part in it. But the struggle is real for most of us. Fortunately, it does not need to be. And the freedom found in comparing less is entirely worth the effort.