How Comparison Is Stealing Our Joy (And Five Ways To Stop Doing It)

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

You’ve probably heard that quote before, and that’s because it’s an incredibly relatable one. It’s also never been truer for teens than it is today, who see every party, vacation, outfit, and achievement of their peers on social media. Everywhere you look, there’s another photo from someone’s highlight reel, making you question yourself. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter: they’ve allowed everyone to share every minute detail of their lives, and have simultaneously lead to nonstop comparisons. Unfortunately, this game of measuring ourselves against others can also make us feel… well, terrible about ourselves.

My own mother used to constantly tell me, “Stop comparing yourself to others.” Solid advice, mom, but how does one simply stop doing it? It’s typically an unconscious reaction, and it’s a habit that’s incredibly hard to turn off. Instead of passing along that generic and unhelpful instruction, I broke it down into five, much more actionable steps.

 

Avoid the situations when you’re tempted to compare.

The best way to stop comparing yourself to others is by simply not putting yourself in the situation where you’re most likely to do it. Of course, this takes a bit of self-reflection, as many people don’t even know what their specific triggers are.

It’s not fun, but think about the times you’ve felt the worst about yourself. What were you doing prior to feeling that way? Maybe you were hanging around a certain crowd, scrolling through someone in particular’s social media feed, or attending a certain event. Ask yourself if you always feel bad after doing that specific thing. If the answer is yes, and it’s feasible to do, start eliminating those situations from your life. Unfollow the Instagram accounts that make you question your worth, distance yourself from any “friends” who don’t leave you feeling confident and accepted, and focus your energy on filling your time and personal space with things that make you feel good.

 

Write a gratitude list.

I know, I know – gratitude lists have become a trendy thing to talk about, but they seem a little cheesy. I thought the same thing, until I started doing them. Negative self-talk can add up and leave you feeling worthless. Before you know it, you’re viewing a bad day, or even just a bad couple of minutes, as a bad life. The best way to counteract this is to remind yourself of the good stuff.

Your list doesn’t have to be filled with huge, glamorous things. In fact, they can be small things like “My favorite TV show is on tonight,” “I’m finally over that annoying head cold,” or “I finished all of my big assignments for the week.” Purposely taking a few minutes to focus on the positive things going on in your life can help change your entire mindset and stop comparing yourself to others.

 

Turn envy into motivation.

If you find yourself repeatedly getting jealous over certain aspects of other people’s lives, ask yourself why. Many times, jealousy is only a few degrees away from motivation. What do they have that you want, and how can you go ahead getting it? No, you may not be able to get everything that someone else has, but you can use your feelings in a productive way.

Envious of that person who seems to travel constantly? Start saving money so that you can take your own trips one day. Envious of that person who seems to ace every exam? Make it a goal to increase your daily studying time! You may never have exactly what someone else has, but you’ll feel good realizing your potential and making strides to get where you want. Instead of comparing yourself to someone else, use it to fuel your fire.

 

Always remember: everyone has their own mess.

No matter how perfect someone’s life looks from the outside, you have to remember that you don’t have the full picture. It’s so easy to believe that someone’s big smile, jam-packed social life, perfect social media, or large bank account mean their life is flawless and they have no worries of their own. It’s simply not true.

I struggled with a lot of FOMO after going away to college. I remember seeing picture after picture of my high school best friends going to these incredible parties together and thinking to myself, “Wow, my college experience is extremely lame compared to theirs.” That’s why, when I finally reunited with these friends in our hometown, I was shocked to hear that they weren’t all that happy and didn’t enjoy most of those parties. In fact, there was so much stuff going on behind the scenes that I couldn’t believe I was ever jealous. That experience completely changed the way I viewed social media going forward. No one is exactly how they appear online, and everyone has their own issues. Many times, you wouldn’t want to trade your struggles for theirs.

 

Focus on your “thing.”

I’ve talked before about the importance of finding your “thing” in life – that passion your mind always wanders off to, or that hobby that steals all your free time. Finding and pursuing your thing can be one of the most effective ways to stop comparing yourself to others, simply because everyone’s thing is different.

For example… instead of feeling inferior next to your star athlete friend, remind yourself that sports aren’t your thing, and you’ve got something else you’re focused on. Instead of comparing yourself to your smartest or highest-achieving friend, focus instead on your one-of-a-kind sense of humor or incredible empathy. Everyone is different and everyone excels at different things – root for other people in their thing and they’ll wind up rooting for you right back.

 

It’s normal to compare yourself to other people. Whether you’re 15 or 50, you’re not going to be able to stop overnight. However, these are five steps to get you moving in the right direction.

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