7 Ways to Break Out of The Comparison Trap
Feb 04, 2021
"Comparison is the thief of joy." - Theodore Roosevelt
Ahhh, the good ol' comparison trap...
Whether you know it or not, it's likely your favorite (and most frustrating) trap. Why? Because it's so easy to fall into and, biologically, we humans are neurologically wired to maintain and adhere to social hierarchies that greatly influence our sense of status, importance, confidence, safety and self-worth.
The concept of social hierarchy is nothing new. Many primate species and other mammals have a pecking order wherein the beings at the top gain access to food, shelter, mates and resources. Human beings are no different, with our social media accounts, bank statements, cars, clothes, physical appearance and other material trappings that we flaunt in an attempt to gain clout, power, influence and control.
Not too long ago in human history, we were living in small hunter/gatherer tribes before the advent of the agricultural revolution. Comparing oneself to a small group of family members, friends and tribespeople didn't seem to be a concern leading to the kind of maladies we face in modern society, including mental health issues, suicidal ideation and a host of anxiety or stress-related disorders.
Today, we have access to the private lives of billions of people who display their highlight reels on social media and flaunt illusory, often distorted versions of their personal reality to "game" the system and acquire the most valuable currency in the world right now: attention.
It's through the access to a much larger "tribe" of billions and the attendant messages from society and the media that many of us now feel a rampant, unyielding sense that we are "not enough". By unconsciously engaging in daily comparison, we fall into a negative feedback loop – a nefarious way of thinking that can steal your joy and make you feel more depressed and anxious. But there are some practices that can help you avoid falling into the pit of comparison and the mental calamity that often arises from it.
Here are 7 practices that can help you break free from (and potentially avoid falling into) the dreaded comparison trap:
1. Know what's meant for you will come to you
This requires a lot of faith and trust in life. It's easy to look around and wonder when you're going to win, when you're going to succeed and when you're going to "get yours" in life. But practicing trust and knowing that life will deliver you what's meant for you can be a way to dissolve the anxiety and stress that comes from comparison.
“Personality begins where comparison ends.” - Karl Lagerfeld
2. Create an inventory list of what's good in your life
Lack consciousness and focusing on what you don't have is often an intrinsic part of the comparison trap. Creating a list and taking inventory of the good things in your life right now can engender feelings of gratitude, appreciation and presence. Oftentimes, you'll feel a deeper sense of abundance and thankfulness by simply acknowledging and receiving the good stuff that's already in your life.
"Gratitude is the direct way out of comparison." - Robyn Conley Downs
3. Focus on a single step at a time, not the entire mountain
It's easy to look at the masterpieces of others and feel like your efforts are futile, wasteful and pointless. Focusing on the mountain though, takes your focus off the importance of each individual step on the journey. There's value in working backward from your ultimate goal and reverse engineering the journey toward the top of your proverbial mountain. Focusing on one step or action at a time also helps you to practice presence by being fully immersed in what is right in front of you in this moment. A series of these focused, present moments are what people often refer to as "The Zone". You're not worried about future or lamenting the past – you're simply right here, right now, focused on what is in the moment.
“We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated with purpose.” - Bob Goff
4. Reach out for reflections and reminders from others
Oftentimes, your perceptions of yourself can be really skewed. Your brain has a bias towards looking for the negative, as part of your primal brain (the amygdala) is wired to search for threats and bad things. Unfortunately, this part of our brain can't distinguish between real negativity and negative thought forms. When you're being really cruel and unkind to yourself, it's important to get reality checks and honest reflections from the people you know, like and trust in your life. Oftentimes, your perception of yourself is a lot more cruel and punitive than how other people perceive you.
“Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” - Iyanla Vanzant
5. Ask yourself if what they have is what you really want
This is an easy one to overlook. It's easy to look at someone else's business, relationship, house, car, family, physical appearance, etc. and think, "I want that, too. Why don't I have that? I deserve to have that!" But how often do you dig a layer deeper, underneath the reactionary desire and ask yourself if you REALLY want that thing you're craving? Through creative visualization and using your imagination, you can put yourself in a state where you imagine that life and feel the attendant emotions and feelings. Sometimes, though, when you really get down to it, you may realize that you don't actually want what they have. The only reason we desire anything is because we think that my virtue of having the object of our desire, we'll feel happier and more fulfilled as a result. The downside of this is once we get what we want, we often have "achievement hangover" where the rush of getting the thing wears off all too quickly and we're left searching for our next dopamine hit.
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” - Steve Furtick
6. Dig into any "not-enough" programming or limiting beliefs
Subconscious limiting beliefs systems are foundational elements of the comparison trap. If we already feel like we're "not enough" or unworthy of life, the confirmation bias in our psychology will look for more evidence to support our beliefs about ourselves. Why? Because the more evidence we have to support our existing beliefs, the more safe and secure we feel in those beliefs – even if those beliefs aren't serving our joy, fulfillment or growth. We stay stuck in the hell of our limitations, but it's a hell we know and understand.
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.” - Lao Tzu
7. Separate arbitrary metrics from your sense of self-worth
We use number to define our self-worth and our place in the societal hierarchy. From the size of our bank accounts and waistlines to the number of social media followers we have, we've become indoctrinated to compare ourselves to others based on arbitrary numerical values that have nothing to do with our self-worth, our talent, our heart or our contribution to the world. Numbers are useful for measurements in the context in which they're relevant, but they're a poor way to evaluate your inherent sense of self-worth. Numbers go up, numbers go down and numbers (like everything in life) will change over time. So don't allow yourself to be enslaved by numbers in relation to how you regard yourself.
"I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.” - William Blake
Make no mistake: this is not easy work. If it was easy, everyone would do it. If it was easy, we'd be able to love, accept and approve our ourselves without the insidious pull of media, society and corporations telling us what's going to make our lives worthwhile. And beyond the practice of avoiding or pulling ourselves out of the comparison trap, it's important to ask ourselves if we actually enjoy playing the victim.
Victim consciousness can be very subtle in the ways that it encourages certain behaviors in our lives. Maybe playing small and constantly focusing on our not-enoughness is a way for us to get more attention, support and sympathy from our friends, lovers or parents. Perhaps it's a coping mechanism we learned as children to survive by appearing weak or in need of constant support.
It's critical for us to examine our motivations on a deep, empathetic level. Only when we greet ourselves with patience, compassion and forgiveness can we start to unravel these deeper layers of our psyche and see what's really keeping us stuck in these traps.