Comparison is A Dangerous Game

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The easiest way to feel bad about yourself is to compare yourself with others instead of focusing on your own growth.

Artwork by Eman AlRaesi (Instagram: @emanalraesi, Twitter: @emanalraesi)

Having a competitive streak meant I was always looking for ways to win. My definition of being good at something was by being better than someone else, beating them in a race that only existed in my own head. It required constantly comparing myself to everyone else and feeling less than more often than not.

According to the Social Comparison Theory proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger, comparing ourselves to those around us is an innate human desire to evaluate how we measure up. It is our nature to want to be better than our peers. It explains why, even as kids, we always vied for the bigger slice.

Studies have shown that comparison is damaging to our self-esteem and causes feelings of deep dissatisfaction. When someone achieves something you aspire to, it can breed feelings of envy.  You may even view their success as your own failure. Theodor Roosevelt famously described comparison as the thief of joy.  If you compare your writing to that of your favorite author you will inevitably feel discouraged. When you compare your skills or accomplishments to those of others, whatever you do will never be good enough. Your hard works fails in comparison and you end up minimizing or dismissing all that you’ve accomplished.

No matter how good you are, or how hard you try, there will always be someone smarter, more successful or more talented than you. Whatever it is you excel at, there will always be someone better at it than you.  It may sound disheartening or a reason to give up, but it means you’re no longer competing for something impossible or feeling trapped under unrealistic pressure.

The only person you can accurately and productively compare yourself to is your past self. Instead of comparing yourself to people you perceive as better than you, shift the focus to your own growth. Be mindful of where you started, where you are now and where you want to be. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come. The less energy you spend on what others are doing the more energy you have to invest in your self. Your goal becomes to improve rather than to outdo someone else. Mastering something doesn’t happen overnight, it happens with every small step you take. Every improvement, no matter how small, is a win that deserves to be celebrated.

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