They look so happy. I bet they never fight. Why can’t my relationship be like that…
We’ve all been there, thumbs scrolling social media looking at the enchanted lives of our former co-workers, schoolmates, old flames, and total strangers, wishing we could switch places with them for just a moment. We spend time examining their images and captions as we flog ourselves mentally for all the choices made that brought us to the present moment, somehow thinking it’s “our fault” that their lives look so great and ours feels so crappy.
Psychologists have coined this the comparison trap, and there is no doubt that the invention of social media has made the trap much bigger and harder to get out of.
Depending on how many people you are connected with on social media and their frequency of posts, you face a daily onslaught of smiling faces and orchestrated moments designed to show how grateful, happy, positive, focused, and productive they have been. Yet, those are mostly curated moments chosen because they don’t capture the real messiness of that person’s everyday life.
Put simply. those moments may be real, but they are not indicative of what is really happening in that person’s life at the moment. The feeling of being overwhelmed that accompanies actively comparing your life to others can be extremely destabilizing, especially if you are making an upwards comparison. This can be detrimental to you emotionally, physically, and psychologically.
Some studies showed that:
“When a person chooses an upward (rather than downward) comparison target, . . . that threat leads to increased upward comparisons.”
Comparing yourself against someone whom you believe has a better life and has accomplished more than you only leads to you finding more people with lives that seem better than yours for you to compare yourself to.
If you stop comparing your life to others, you will become more content with your life.
But how do we stop comparing ourselves to others when we are constantly bombarded by social media images of smiling faces many seemingly unaffected by the world’s problems, people boldly fight against injustice looking rested and unscathed, and others who appear to have easily given themselves to the work of spiritual and personal growth without a single set back?
Here are the four steps that you should do if you want to stop comparing your life to others.
1. Change Your Focus From External to Internal
Turning your gaze from external to internal is not easy, but it is worth it. You should stop comparing your life to others because you are the only person who needs to validate yourself. I know that may sound like a crazy idea, but it is true.
However, that would be a difficult idea to integrate into your life if you have never tried it or are so afraid of it that you cower at the thought of being in a relationship with yourself. A good place to start is by sitting with yourself, whether through meditation, journaling, movement, or some other kind of intentional reflection.
Begin by asking yourself, “what are the external influences that I have allowed to guide my life—intentional or accidentally?”
Think or write about it. Then, give yourself some time to envision what it would be like to be unmoved by external forces, opinions, or thoughts—draw or write what that reality would be like for you. While this work is ongoing, this is a great starting point that you can always come back to when you feel yourself getting sucked in by those external influences.
2. Limit Your Consumption
It’s easy to get caught in the comparison trap when you are constantly looking outside of yourself for validation. Limit your screen time if you want to stop comparing your life to others. Use the tracker on your phone to minimize the amount of time you spend online consuming social media.
The images you see there are often highly-curated and seemingly perfect moments in otherwise messy and real lives. Trust me, these people aren’t living examples of perfection they are just crafty people who stockpiled content for drip release over time.
3. Pick One Source of Grounding Inspiration
It’s okay to have one or two people whom you look up to for inspiration. This could provide a bit of external guidance for your journey. The person does not have to be a famous one like Deepak Chopra or Oprah. They could be your yoga teacher, mentor, good friend, someone in your industry, or someone on a similar journey.
It can be helpful to turn to them as a resource when you feel off your game or if you are losing track of your journey and are starting to get sucked back into the mind-numbing rat race.
4. Cultivate a Sense of Joy to Detach Yourself From Others’ Success
Seeing others succeed should not shake your world. Even if you think that they are doing the same thing as you, their success and struggles are their own. Stop comparing your life to others because you are all experiencing different things.
Cultivating detachment around the journey of others will help to liberate you from feeling that you have to measure your progress against theirs. Cultivating a sense of authentic joy for their progress will help you celebrate your own progress.
When you are happy for others, it makes it easier for you to be happy for yourself. When you are willing to acknowledge the wins of others no matter how small, it allows you to acknowledge your incremental wins, too
Proactive self-validation and reflection are the cures for avoiding the comparison trap. However, this is easier said than done.
There will be ups and downs in your journey if you want to stop comparing yourself to others. But if you make your focus internal, limit your consumption of ultra-curated social media, pick a grounding source of inspiration, and work on cultivating joy and detachment for the success of others, then you already made a big step in the right direction