(Un)Comparing Ourselves to Others

Painting woman mirror Nikki Basch-Davis
(c) Nikki Basch-Davis

For many years I compared myself to others and suffered because of it. That’s what we tend to do: determine our significance — or lack of — by comparing ourselves to those around us and their achievements. We were raised that way and taught at school to do it, and the competitive nature of modern society encourages negative comparisons every day.

Whatever we compare, whether it’s success, performance, money, or skills, there is always someone better than us, and often not just one, but many.

As writers, there is the temptation to compare ourselves to other writers and their books, and to shrink with disappointed as a result.

As bloggers there is the temptation to compare our blogs to more popular ones, to wonder how someone has so many followers or gets so many comments.

As artists of any kind — poets, painters, musicians — the often vague demarcation between great & popular and bad & unknown makes comparisons even more dangerous, and have even lead to suicides.

Another harmful comparison is related to looks or weight. It’s tragic to think how many people suffer in secret because they can’t stop comparing themselves to the gorgeous people in ads, magazines, and media in general — Photoshoped standards to which companies would have us aspire.

Most comparisons are flawed because they are based on values that are not essential values. To live a pleasant and contented life we don’t need money, professional achievements, great looks, and perhaps we can even do without love (in the general sense).

Our mind would like us think we need all that, but while the above can make us happy “in fits and starts,” a more solid and dependable source of contentment is to get the most out of what we already have, every day, every hour, every moment.

Our awareness of the present moment, that we are steeped in life, which like a waterfall pours its endless stream over us wherever we are, whatever we do, is ultimately more dependable than all those variables which come and go.

We can’t avoid comparisons, unless perhaps we build a hut in peaceful woods. The process underlying comparisons is just one of the many background tasks our mind runs all the time, and it’s not enough to say to ourselves “From today I will stop comparing myself to others.” We relapse without even realizing it.

What we can do is compare ourselves more to ourselves than to others. We can compare who we are today to who we were one year ago, and notice the improvements, however small. There will always be improvements of some kind because self-knowledge is like a cone that keeps widening with age.

Sometimes there will also be a decline in certain areas of our life. Last year, when I was in a relationship, the social and romantic sides of my life were thriving. Now that is no longer the case, but I am more effective and get more work done, and also am more relaxed all round. My blood tests are better, too.

Whenever our mind starts running comparisons and tries to put us down, we have to make a conscious effort to compares ourselves not to others, but to ourselves. We will see improvements not just from year to year, but from season to season, month to month, week to week, day to day. And if we don’t see improvements, we’ll know that we have to do something about it, that we have to get up and move on.

Do you ever compare yourself to others?

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12 thoughts on “(Un)Comparing Ourselves to Others

  1. Nice expository piece.
    The only ones we have to compare or compete with is ourselves.

    These slogans come to mind:
    I have met the enemy and he is us. Attributed to Pogo.
    Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside. Attributed to 12 step programs.
    And lastly, to thine own self be true. I believe you know who to attribute this one to.

    Randy

  2. I have and, while I realise it is not the best thing for my emotional well-being, I have not been able to stop, or mimimise, it. I also never think to compare my present self to my past self, though I have seen writings that encourage me to do so.

  3. This is a very timely article for me. Haha! Just last monthI realized that I was comparing too much of myself and my blog to others. And it reduced my output both on my work and production of bog posts.

    Thank you Vincent for this reminder!

    1. In time, the temptation to compare blogs tends to lessen, I would say. The longer you stick around, the easier it gets. One of the reasons is that after a year or two coming up with ideas for posts and interacting with other bloggers takes more and more of your time, leaving less for comparisons.

  4. Yes, such wise words of advice. I did it when I was little (comparing self to siblings) with disastrous results. It sometimes takes a lifetime to arrive at being non-judgemental, including of ourselves.

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