A Helpful Guide to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

stop-comparing-your-life

“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:

  1. Comparisons are always unfair. We typically compare the worst we know of ourselves to the best we presume about others.
  2. Comparisons, by definition, require metrics. But only a fool believes every good thing can be counted (or measured).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. You have nothing to gain, but much to lose. For example: your pride, your dignity, your drive, and your passion.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Comparisons often result in resentment. Resentment towards others and towards ourselves.
  9. 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.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    NIcely done! Reminds me of the lessons taught in 2Corinthians chapter 10 and Romans chapter 12. Most of us have been taught these biblical lessons but it’s good to be reminded once in awhile. Thanks!

  2. Julie says

    There’s a danger in comparing my self to myself, too. We can’t go back in time and change our choices or start again. I find that the hardest comparison to let go of is the idealized self: who I thought I was supposed to be by this time in my life. Unfortunately the door is forever closed to that particular aspiration. And that’s the comparison (what I wanted to be and cannot be) that is the hardest to let go.

    Thanks for a really thoughtful post. Going to read it again, and allow myself to be gentle with my choices rather than critical of them.

    • joshua becker says

      Thanks for the comment Julie and the opportunity to clarify. My intention is that we could look back and see how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown. And rather than leaving us frustrated, it would motivate us to continue forward.

      • says

        I took it as that as you intended, Josh. We can only move forward, and we would never be the people we are today without experiencing even the toughest, most unfortunate experiences of our past. It is when we can acknowledge, forgive and have gratitude that we can be free of the chains of yore and feel confident in a lighter, happier tomorrow.

  3. says

    It is odd how this works out – but I will be happily going about my business, content with life and everything in it, and suddenly, I will see someone thinner, taller, prettier, better dressed, richer, or whatever. All of my content feelings dash to the ground and I am mired in depression – just because of comparison. I know that comparison is wrong, as we are all on different paths, with different destinations and different timelines. But I still do it all the time and every single time, I compare myself to another, I always fall short in my mind, because there is always something that they are better at, and I’m worse at. It is the worst situation to deliberately put myself into – because I know in some arena I will fall short being an imperfect human. But why do I do it again and again? I look out for the phenomenon now. Every single time I am looking at another with those comparing eyes, I try to stop myself. I try really hard to think about something else, distracting myself. Little by little, I’m able to either stop myself completely, or bounce back from the depression that I feel when I compare myself to another.

    • everlearning says

      I do this very same thing … over and over and over. I try so hard to stop it and it does stop for a while and I think (haha) I’ve conquered it; that I’m happy and content with my life and I’m done comparing and competing. Then – WHAM! I’m right back there and I hate being there. The one thing that gives me great hope is that I realized the other day I’m much more aware of it, how very damaging it is, how unfair it is to me and to the other person, what a colossal waste of time it is, and that I’m learning as time goes on to be proactive about it – to try to stop it right when it starts and not brood over it or feed it. It is so destructive and I hope and pray that some day I will be so much better at handling this ugly thing.

    • joshua becker says

      I agree. You state it up very nicely, “It is the worst situation to deliberately put myself into.” I included a short sentence in the article above I have found to be particularly helpful when I notice myself in those situations. Appreciate and compliment. When I begin to sense the feelings of comparison arise, I find the act of sending a note of appreciation to be helpful. It could be via Twitter, Facebook, email, or text (depending on personal relationship with the person). But just a simple one-sentence compliment is super-helpful in entirely shifting my focus in the moment. And the best part is, in the end, both people are blessed by the action.

  4. Diane Overcash says

    Well and beautifully said.
    I think the key is to live directly in the moment. Look around you and connect with what is going on right NOW. Connect with your feeling about it and accept what is happening right now. That doesn’t mean that you dreams and desires will never come true. It means that in this moment you are alive and content.

    Diane

  5. Linda says

    Well done. I’d like to add that the habit of comparing oneself to others and emerging with an attitude of superiority is equally soul-damaging.

    • joshua becker says

      I agree entirely Linda. Because in those moments when we compare ourselves to others and begin to develop a sense of superiority, our comparisons are still unfair. We never have the full picture.

  6. says

    Nice post, Joshua.

    You do something here that’s all too rare in “self-help”-type articles…you don’t simply show us the problem and tell us to try to fix it, but you validate it for us and show compassion for the way it’s an inherent part of our personalities (“The tendency to compare ourselves to others is as human as any other emotion. Certainly I’m not alone in my experience”).

    Only then do you go on to give us your tips. :)

    I think this kind of comparison tendency probably served an evolutionary purpose for us (“Here’s a threat. Let me assess it to see if it’s safe to meet or whether I should run instead.”). So that would explain why it seems to be such a hard-wired response.

    Like you, I’ve slowly come to understand the futility of constantly comparing myself to others. It really never ends, does it? For me, the most important thing to keep in mind is your point #7…it’s such a waste of energy to focus on the people and situations we *can’t* control. Much wiser and more fruitful to do what we can with our own lives.

    I also like Linda’s point above that comparison is just as damaging when we see ourselves as superior to others rather than inferior. Excellent observation. :)

    • joshua becker says

      Thanks Michelle. I continue to realize more and more there are very few uncommon human struggles. Deep down, most of us are very similar.

  7. Angela says

    This is such a great reminder right before the holidays!
    I’m guilty of comparing my Christmas décor down to having better snacks at my holiday gathering.
    Make sure I have a cute outfit, great gifts, cute Christmas cards, and the list goes on and on!
    It’s exhausting and such a waste of the season.
    This hit home – THANK YOU!

    • joshua becker says

      Enjoy your holidays. You’ll find making a conscience decision to enjoy a simpler holiday will help in this area.

  8. Merri says

    I work at a non conventional school, and a challenge we face all the time is helping parents see their children for who they are rather than in comparison to the other children. How fabulous it is when parents can do that! On the flip side of the comparison topic, there are times when one needs to have an “objective” assessment of one’s skills, or one’s health, and then comparison to a “norm” is so helpful. I’d love to be able to tease out the healthy use of comparisons, given that the comparisons you are writing of are indeed unhealthy. Angela, your note above is a great case in point!

    • joshua becker says

      Thanks Merri. There are certainly times we can find inspiration and learn from others (you referenced some very helpful examples). Perhaps I could have teased that out a bit more in the second-to-last point. But the danger enters when I begin comparing myself unfairly to those norms. For example, compared to societal norms and objective measurements, I may score low in musical abilities, but I may score higher in writing abilities… or a child may score low in academic measurements, but incredibly high in creative measurements.

  9. says

    Great piece. Thank you for sharing. Comparing ourselves is a virus. It seems like we’re conditioned to fall into this from a young age, particularly with all the messages that come at us from marketing, social media, advertising. It’s can be so subtle it’s almost unrecognisable. Loved reading this article. Great message for people of all ages to read, but also particularly passionate about young people hearing this, little ones who are learning how to walk in this world embracing their unique selves!
    B :)

    • joshua becker says

      That is the adult’s opportunity to be the parent in the family, realize the comparisons are likely unfair, and help the child understand that. A child’s perception of another child’s parent is always based entirely on what they see, what they presume, and their imagined best-case scenario of how the other family functions.

      The role of the parent is to be the best-possible, most-loving, most-selfless parent they can possibly be. And to play that role with intentionality, humility, and confidence—never sacrificing any of the three.

  10. pamela says

    Tears are rolling down my face as I read others’ comments because I share their intense, self-destructive pain. DISABLING PAIN! Thank you for a beautiful article and the reminder that I am not suffering alone. I have recently been working on a special project which gives me so much joy to give to others. A BEAUTIFUL gift I have found in the process, is that I’ve surrounded myself by amazing women who value MY special gifts and strengths and they continuously thank me for those things which I can contribute. When I screw up royally on the things that I’m just not too good at, they always laugh and remind me of how great I am at…….a.b.c……… It helps me balance and accept myself for my special gifts and appreciate being recognized and loved for those talents that shine in me.

  11. Andrea says

    Nicely said. As a twin you must be particularly well suited to writing on this topic. The insight I would like to thank you for has to do with my daughter… she is bound and determined to be a singer when she grows up. Two years ago I’d have said this was an impossibility because she couldn’t “carry a tune”. She was undeterred. She loves to sing. We have unearthed teachers in special methodologies to help her hear the space between notes, and vocal coaches, choruses, etc., etc. And, her improvement has been dramatic. At 14 she is encountering kids who are very accomplished and already successful. Still she is singing, practicing, working away. I have so much respect for her tenacity but also have been so worried that she will, at some point, be told she isn’t good enough. Crushing. The insight I have from your post is that the reason she has improved so much, and is even able to participate at all, is because she doesn’t compare herself. She must be missing the gene.

    • says

      Andrea this is so inspiring! Children have the most amazing insight into a truth that we seem to have forgotten as adults. Please tell your daughter to always hear her inner voice louder than the rest, and thank her for inspiring me to do the same. Namaste.

  12. says

    Josh,

    Thank you so incredibly much for writing this article. It’s format takes us from a place of relate-ability and compassion to understanding of why/how our habits are formed to empowerment over our negative thought patterns. I found it incredibly helpful, inspiring and will keep it as scripture to relate back to regularly.

    As a fashion blogger, I believe clothing can be a beautiful platform of self expression and celebration of femininity. However the industry and advertisements create a flawed perspective of beauty standards that slap a negative connotation to the term “fashion.” Even blogging can prove incredibly challenging when seeing the success of your colleagues, second guessing your worth and/or abilities.

    This article is a blueprint for success — in recognizing the invalidity of comparison we are free to be ourselves in our truest forms and fully align with our strengths and our unique gifts.

    I am excited to share this with all those in the fashion industry who feel the same as I do. Thank you again for such a beautiful piece of writing.

    Namaste,
    Lex

  13. M Lee says

    I agree with Julie ….. it is hard for me to see who I once was professionally and how it all fell away, and not have regrets and envy of where I once was in my life. Things change for us, sometimes not by our choice and that is hard. I am trying to remind myself daily that there is so much more to be grateful for. I percieved my contentment and happiness to be a thing of the past, but I am slowly remembering that we only possess the traits that we focus on. By looking past my regrets, I have just now begun to see all that I forgotten or lost sight of …… gratefulness, optimism, hope and thankfulness. I am so thankful for your posts.

  14. says

    Do you REALLY have a brother that is 5 inches taller than you? Or was that just a clever opening link. Anyhow, great words of advice here. I love every minute of it. I’ve been following you on FB as well, and really appreciate the inspiring photos you place there, too. Thank you!

  15. momof5boys says

    Just a thought….we encourage children to compare themselves to others at an early age simply because they follow our example. Also, we have to be careful in how we compliment because even this can have far reaching consequences. For example, how about telling a little girl she has a beautiful smile that lit up your day, rather than commenting on her pretty dress. Teaching our children to focus on inner beauty – a caring heart – rather than outward comparisons will enrich them.

  16. Vicki says

    Wow…this is awesome, Josh. Thank you for this helpful article. I too am guilty of this to the point of just shutting down all the things I used to enjoy, entertaining, going out, excepting invitations etc; Mine started a long time ago, my father was very verbally abusive and my best childhood friends mother was as well. Whenever WE did anything wrong it was always MY fault, my bad influence…it stuck in my head I guess. I was very thin before having kids & it was hard then, now that I am not young & thin it is so, so much harder. I have had breast cancer & it too has just added more onto my plate of self loathing. I appreciate everyone’s replies to this article, it helps to know I’m not the only one.

  17. says

    Great post, thank you Joshua. I try to remember that comparison is all about our egos while compassion is all about the life we share. Focusing on the life we share is a great leveler and places us right alongside each other rather than competing using our more human measurements of comparison (such as better than or worse than).

  18. says

    Such an important reminder! Having just finished a long job search I was definitely sucked into the dangerous comparison game. It is very unhealthy and it is important to be happy with what we have and who we are. Thank you!

  19. Melvine says

    I’d be lying if I’ll say that I haven’t compared myself to others thinking that they are better than me or vice versa. But like everyone else, I’m on a constant process of avoiding such thinking. I do remember myself comparing my life to others that they are lucky since they still have their parents with them while I’m still somehow stuck on the thought I have recently lost both of them. Until one day I’ve met someone who grew up in foster care, someone being abandoned by her parents. Then there I go feeling so grateful for the times that I’ve shared when my parents were both still living. A big part of myself told me not to compare myself to others because at some point, I might feel somebody else’s pain or struggle just for me to appreciate life even more, which I guess, shouldn’t be the case. We alI walk on different shoes and I always have to remind myself regarding that fact. I do remember Ernest Hemingway saying, “there is nothing noble being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
    Thanks for the wonderful message and I hope we’ll all find inner peace.

  20. Barry Sturgis says

    Really sad thing I compare myself to you Joshua and come up short. What a great sight you have created. I could never create something like this. But on the possitive side, I’m using your positive influence to stop the comparing and live the simple life. Thank you for your help. I’m making a list of all the positives about me. It’s a start.

  21. says

    i am teary eyed..yes i do this all the time…knowing how much it hurts and kills my spirit..but will try all ur steps…it was one of those days for me…glad i read ur post..god bless u

  22. Dmitry says

    I’d like to say thanks to Joshua for taking time to write this amazing article. This comparison thing has been gnawing at me for some time. With me it works both ways – I’ve felt superior to my friends and the people I know and inferior to those who are better than me at something (even at things I don’t really like). I’ve realized I might be wrong in the first case,and I’ve really been trying to be nicer to my friends and close ones.But I just can’t shake that feeling of being worse than others or thinking that if I’m not just as good or even better than them at something then I’m good for nothing.

  23. Callie says

    Thank you Josh for writing this article. I’ve been struggling with envy YEARS. I always found myself comparing to others, wishing I had their life, wondering what their life is like. No matter how many times I try to hide it nor bury it, the feelings keep resurfacing. I find this article helpful.

  24. Kavita Rathore says

    It’s very well written and I know comparing myself to others will not help me in any phase of my life, still at times it gets too difficult to think in right direction and stop comparing myself to others. I feel miserable about myself and facing lot of problems in my personal life
    because of this attitude of mine. Can you please help me in changing my approach towards life.

  25. Tiffany says

    Thank you, Joshua. I loved your article.

    That said, I am painfully and consciously aware of the reasons why “the habit of making comparisons has its shortcomings” (you put it kindly!) The very fact that I compare myself, in spite of knowing better, provides just one more reason for self-flagellation.

    Therefore, I really appreciated your advice on making a habit of appreciating and complimenting others. The other steps in your guide, albeit very wise, didn’t feel like they helped my know HOW to “Stop”. I get the “do this instead” or “think about this instead”, but I don’t quite get the how. Does that make any sense?

  26. Tiwi says

    I wanted to leave a comment on this topic. For one thing because I also experience the madness of comparing to others in my life. And then because it’s fascinating to me that once you take a closer look to the procees it turns out to be entirly disfunctional and insane from the very root.
    What do I mean by that?
    To me the problem we are unconciously trying to solve is to get rid of the feeling of lack and worthlessness. Other conceptional ways of expressing this may be increasing the self-esteem or becoming happy.
    But this is doomed to fail because the very assumption is already wrong! There is no right thing coming from sth. wrong beside seeing the false as false.
    Trying to feel better by becoming ‘better’ than others doesn’t work because there is no measure for the ‘value’ or ‘worth’ of a person. And there is no such measure because worth itself is a concept. And one thing all concepts have in common is that they fail when examined closely.
    It does not work because it can not work…

  27. Lucy says

    Thank you, I truly enjoyed reading your article and it has made me feel more at peace with those I compare myself to. I particularly love this concept – “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.” It is so true yet so few of us recognize how precious our time is with each other and the things we can accomplish together.

  28. Amy says

    Such an amazing post but a difficult one. You’re right that “Some of the greatest treasures in this world are hidden from sight: love, humility, empathy, selflessness, generosity.”

    I’ve really tried to point my life in that direction but it’s a road very few people seem to take these days which just fuels the cycle of comparison!

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