How to stop comparing yourself to others

In a time when everyone has turned to social media for entertainment, connection, and humor, comparison culture has also never been more rife.

From outdoing each other on TikTok, to baking the best banana bread, running the most miles and taking an online course, lockdown life has revealed the ever-present sense of oneupmanship that social media exacerbates; which is why comparison coach Lucy Sheridan wants you to stop comparing yourself to how everyone else is doing, and just concentrate on yourself.

There’s a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt that highlights ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ and this was very much my lived experience as, for years of my life, comparison stole my joy.

From as young as five years old I can remember ranking myself against other children and having a really clear view of where I sat in a pecking order – how good I was at coloring in compared to other kids and where I might finish in high octane activities like the Year Five egg and spoon race at school. As I got older it progressed to judging how my body developed in puberty, when I would kiss a boy, what grades I would get for uni, and then advanced into adulthood, taking even deeper root in my career and personal life.

‘If it sounds exhausting it’s because it was.’

For a lot of my life, I compared myself in many ways to many people, hooking onto the things I perceived to be different between us almost constantly. It became particularly grizzly in my late twenties when, after attending a school reunion, I found myself in a self-made ‘Las Vegas of comparison’ as I came up close and personal with my cohort’s lives as reported online. Following that day, I fiercely checked in on and assessed where my life was compared to theirs, pretty much always coming away feeling like I wasn’t enough. Not successful enough, creative enough, popular enough, attractive enough compared to others. If it sounds exhausting it’s because it was.

After a year of comparison, that brought on a near emotional breakdown, my wake-up call came. I remember it well. I was fully dressed, lying under my duvet in bed, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon that I was missing out on because I was scrolling social media checking up on the people I had ‘under surveillance’ – my biggest comparison triggers at the time. ‘Look at them in their beautiful home… Look at them in the Maldives again (hold on, again?!)… Look at their new promotion…’ and so I went on and on lost in my negative thoughts and, frankly, bitchy judgments.

This had become such an aggressively persistent activity that my phone without warning just died due to overheating. It was impossible for me to ignore the metaphor: my comparison had become too hot for me to handle.

I knew it was time to break free from comparison, but how? That was not an immediately obvious answer, so from there I set myself a puzzle: If I could think and feel myself into this trap, could I think and feel myself out of it? I was determined to find out.

I was determined to crack the code of how I could feel enough and swap a comparison for self-confidence. It took a few years but I got there, step by step, and if I could only have known then what I know now it would include the following:

How to stop comparing yourself to others:

Stop ‘putting it to a panel’

When we outsource our choices and decisions to other people and their opinions, we give away our power and become mistrustful of ourselves. If we start making a call on what’s important to us, without discussion, based on what we know, believe and think at the moment, then we build up evidence that we can take control and this boosts our sense of self-esteem over time. Even if you don’t get the result you wanted or expected you can handle what comes next because you are smart and resourceful.

Choose your circle

The psychology writer Jim Rohn highlights, you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. This doesn’t mean you have to get all ‘burn and destroy’ with your relationships but it does provide a rallying cry for you to discern and decide who you surround yourself with. Who do you want to be the sum of? It’s better to have empty chairs at that table than passengers or naysayers! Who lifts you up and roots for you? Who challenges you in all the right ways? Who inspires you and makes you feel like you CAN? Seek them out and stick to them – this will transform the energy and dynamic of your life that will allow your self-worth to flourish.

party celebration with colors
Artur Debat

Decide what you desire

All too often we inherit our goals or perception of success from other people – your friends, a pushy parent, or a teacher from school. Another scenario is we outgrow our previous goals and yet we waste time and energy plugging away at them. We don’t question it or check in on if it’s aligned with what we want now or the future we desire to create for ourselves. So here’s your invitation to think about and decide what you want without judgment, write it down and suss out your next right step then take it. This allows us to live authentically and in alignment which further amps up our feelings of being enough.

Know that ‘prepare for the worst and you won’t be disappointed’ is utter bullshit

Yeah, I know it’s a tongue in cheek adage we band around for self-preservation, but it’s also damaging and limits your belief in yourself. You are smart, kind, and resourceful and people are rooting for you. It is not a trick that you have been given your unique blend of views, skills, knowledge, and experiences for no reason. You are capable and deserve the good things that you want to call into your life. So don’t prepare for the worst – expect the best possible outcome instead and know that, with cooperation, what you seek is seeking you.

Our feelings of ‘enough’ will be different because we are each ourselves so very different. And yet, I know applying these insights into my daily life has worked my ‘enough’ muscles such that today they are big and strong and nobody steals my joy.