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Updated: Dec 6, 2022

What would we do without making a few daily comparisons? A lot of good things, actually. But making comparisons is part of human nature and can actually be life-saving if done in crucial life-threatening situations. Most of us though are not facing such extreme situations and so the comparisons we make are more pedestrian and mundane such as comparing a firm, juicy peach to an unripe, hard one. Or comparing the quality of one home to another when purchasing a dwelling. Or comparing a kick-butt workout or run to one that is - well - less inspired. But comparing ourselves to others has the potential to be defeating and self-destructive.

Human beings have a fundamental need to evaluate ourselves and the only way to do that is in reference to something else. Since we live in a world populated by creatures that look and behave as we do, the ‘something else’ becomes ‘someone else’ naturally. Scrolling through social media can trigger our urge to compare ourselves to others and create feelings of inadequacy. Theodore Roosevelt once wrote that ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’ I wonder what he would say about Facebook! When we see some envy-inspiring post, it’s easy to compare our sad little life lived in front of a computer Monday through Friday to the friend holding a luscious drink with a pink umbrella, surrounded by sand and surf. Depressing.

It serves to remember, though, that we don’t know the ‘backstory’ about anyone. A great example of this is a running specialty store owner with whom I have been friends for decades. About eight years ago, a competitor moved into the same tri-city area where my friend’s store is located. Despite having a huge, solid, thirty-year customer base and footprint at all of the local schools, running clubs, races, and boutique gyms, my friend had a complete meltdown. He began obsessively watching this store, it’s advertising, and its products. He sent his own employees into the store to secret shop them and report back. It soon became obvious to everyone except my friend that this store was not going to be viable for very long. Personally, I gave it three years. But every time we passed the competitor’s store, (something we did quite often), my friend would say, “How can I be losing to this guy?” How indeed? But he wasn’t. We found out through former employees of the competitor that his contracts with shoe companies had been pulled and he had barely enough inventory to fill the small space he occupied. So, how was he staying alive? Ah-ha! The backstory! His in-laws were wealthy and paid his rent as well as his mortgage and his wife had an upper management job with a large manufacturing company. The competitor never made even the smallest dent in the sales of my friend’s running store but his presence probably took years off of my friend’s life with worry and constant comparison. He’s finally stopped doing this, thank goodness, but it took eight years to end it.

Another example of not knowing the backstory is all of the ‘perfect’ couples we have known throughout our lives who completely astound us when they announce their impending divorce. Had we known the backstory, we would have seen it coming.

Being competitive can inspire motivation which can lead to positive results while comparing yourself to others often creates negative self-criticism. Comparisons put the focus on the wrong person, gain nothing, and often result in resentment. The following are a few steps to help you stop comparing yourself to others - be it their vacations, bodies, possessions or businesses.

  1. Instead of comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to who you were ten years ago.

  2. Identify and avoid triggers. Social media tends to take the prize for this one but there may be others that spike your comparison tendencies.

  3. Remember: There is almost always a ‘backstory’ of which you are unaware. You may think someone else’s life or business is perfect but that is probably not the case.

  4. Money and ‘things’ provide fleeting fulfillment but not lasting joy which, in the end, creates a vicious cycle of disappointment and longing. Repeat to yourself that money cannot buy happiness and it never will.

  5. Transform comparison into motivation in order to improve the important things in your life and tweek it into admiration instead of jealousy. Pick someone you know who is an inspiration to you to live a meaningful life, work smarter, and obtain qualities of deep worth such as kindness and generosity of spirit.

The one person on earth that you can control is you. Becoming a better person is a fulfilling journey and will make your small but profoundly important corner of the world a better place.

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