My Therapist’s Advice on How to Get Out of the “Comparison Trap”
5 days of life-changing sessions broken down in 5 minutes for you.
5 days of life-changing sessions broken down in 5 minutes for you.
Life as a full-time writer is hard.
There are times when I lie awake until 2 AM, wondering if I’m doing justice to my life. The fact that there are people decades younger than me earning 10x more than I do make me wonder if I made a mistake by quitting my full-time job.
The incessant posts on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter celebrating success don’t help. Sometimes, I get sucked deep into the abyss of comparing my achievements with people who are ahead of me. Before I know it, I start questioning my potential and second-guessing my life choices.
A few weeks ago, things got so bad, that I had to consult my therapist regarding this. Our conversations and the journal prompts she assigned made me realize I could be a victim of the comparison trap.
It’s very common these days because of the unrealistic life we see on the internet. We start comparing our failures with their success, our misery with their happiness, not realizing everyone has two sides to life. They just manage to prevent their darker sides to highlight the brighter ones, which misleads us to thinking how lucky they are. This makes us feel degraded and unsatisfied with what we have.
That’s one dose of truth she’d given to me. She also gave me some tips to overcome this negative self-talk, and in this article, I want to condense those 5 days of intensive sessions into 5 minutes of your time.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”— Theodore Roosevelt
Why Is “Stop Comparing” Incorrect Advice?
After identifying my situation, I asked my therapist how can I stop comparing myself. She answered promptly, “That’s not the right question. You should ask how you can use comparison to your benefit.”
Without comparisons, you can’t think.
You can’t make better decisions.
You’ll waste a lot of time on the less important stuff.
It’s because the human brain constantly compares the available choices to come up with the most optimal decision. We compare alternatives and look for the best deal when we’re shopping. While picking the next book to read, we compare which one has the best reviews on Goodreads. We watch movies by comparing ratings, order food by comparing taste, book flights by comparing prices, and the list goes on. You’re probably reading this article because you compared its headline with others and thought it would be a good deal to read it.
As my therapist puts it: Our brain always asks these two important questions, “This is better compared to what?” and “This is worse compared to what?” before coming to any conclusion.
Hence, it’s inevitable to stop comparing.
So, when we can’t avoid it, how can we use it to our benefit and not let it make us feel downgraded? To understand that, we need to know that comparisons can be of two types.
Two Major Types of Comparisons
As per studies, there are two types of comparisons, upward and downward. One makes us feel inspired by the achievements of people ahead of us and the other makes us feel better by comparing to people who are behind us.
Both communicate positive vibes, but sadly our brain is capable of finding a negative connotation for either situation. That’s why my therapist has adopted a different theory to it.
She says there are majorly two types of comparisons, one that makes us feel derailed and the other that makes us feel inspired.
She has such an amazing car, he has such a high-paying job, she looks beautiful in every dress, he just got married to the love of his life, blah blah… and look at me, I am no good. Don’t have a job I like, don’t know where my career is going, I don’t have a good-looking figure, my love cheated on me! I am miserable, I hate myself! These people are just so lucky to get all of that, why am I not that lucky?
This type of comparison only brings misery. You start comparing your chapter one with another person’s chapter ten and feel sad why it’s so easy for them and why it’s not for you.
As per my therapist, you can’t control this comparison. If you’d read such stories on social media, you’ll certain to fall into the trap.
So the only best way is to be away from social media as much as possible. It is designed to lure you in and buy fake stories.
But if you’re a content creator and can’t really avoid social media, then here are some magical tips I’ve started using after consulting my therapist:
- Practice Gratitude: It’s very easy to do, and the benefits are life-changing. Just pick up a pen and paper, and start journaling what you’re grateful for today. It can be as small as calling an old friend, reading a nice article, or eating your favorite food. It’ll help to rewire your brain to see the positives instead of the negatives in life.
- Create More, Consume Less: When you create more than you consume, you add value to this world. You make incremental progress every day which induces unmatched satisfaction you can never get from consumption. Use the internet to show your progress rather than consuming other people’s success stories all the time.
- Acknowledge and appreciate that there’s always someone desiring the life you have. Not everybody has the luxury to eat thrice a day, to buy and wear clothes as they wish, or to even use the internet. No matter how simple your life might seem, there’s always someone not having what you have. If you don’t respect it, the universe will take it away from you to the one who would.
Comparison that makes us feel inspired
As humans, we always want to become better versions of ourselves. That’s why self-help is a billion-dollar industry today. But to become better, we need to look out for an idol, for inspiration who can guide us. We want to know the journey of people who came before us and achieved what we want to.
This kind of upward comparison sets the ground for us to improve. We try to level up our game and match the actions of our guides because they inspire us. Deep down, we know want to become like them. This improves us and helps us become a better person over time.
This is called healthy comparison, and it is needed for human growth. If there’s no one to inspire you, how would you grow?
A fair piece of caution here, you don’t have to compare your little achievements with other people’s massive ones. Else it will start to get demotivating. Your only parameter for success should be how much you improved from your past self.
What you’ve learned today that you didn’t know yesterday is what defines how you’re growing.
“Life is not a competition. Life is about helping and inspiring others so we can each reach our potential.” — Kim Chase
Social media has painted an unrealistic world in our heads, causing so many people to fall into the comparison trap. If you’re a regular social media user, this could be a common threat for you. The best way to save yourself, as per my therapist, is to cut short your time on these platforms. But in case you can’t, here are some tips for you:
- Practice gratitude regularly. It will rewire your brain to focus on what you have rather than what you lack.
- Create more than you consume. It will give you so much satisfaction and ownership of your content that you won’t care much about what others are doing.
- Be aware that there’s always someone begging for the kind of life you have.
Comparison is inevitable at every phase of life. The wisdom lies in how you’re utilizing it. If you liked this perspective, please clap or leave a comment to let me know. I’ll try to add more insights like these in the future.