Social comparison is a normal part of human behavior.
It can be a helpful tool but also be harmful to our:
Fear and insecurity are at the heart of most of our problems, both within and without.
We fear that if others knew us, they would neither love nor like us.
We cannot see our own value while simultaneously thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.
What a weird paradox that most of us live in!
As people realize their thoughts and shortcomings, we focus on them.
Commercials call attention to our lack of white teeth, bad breath, lack of hair, and an assortment of other physical defects common to us all.
This type of social comparison is often painful and rarely sparks any real change in our lives.
Why does this kind of social comparison cause us pain?
It makes us feel defeated right out of the gate.
The truth, though, is that we really are living with different paradoxes.
We are good enough – but we can get better.
Comparing ourselves to others as a target can be a powerful tool.
The difference really is in the heart.
Are you comparing out of fear and insecurity – or out of desire to improve?
Both paradoxes reveal the truth for why you should stop comparing yourself to others.
Paradox 1: Social Comparison Based on Fear and Insecurities
Obviously, this is the harmful version of social comparison.
In old times, this might be called coveting what belongs to others.
We get angry when someone gets the promotion over us, has a nicer car, or has a skill or talent we wish we had at our disposal.
Strong feelings that we deserve more can lead us to fear that we will never be good enough or that we simply deserve what the other person has in their possession.
This fear often leads to great discontentment, which can lead to bitterness if left to itself.
Bitterness is a dangerous emotion.
It causes us to have immense pity parties and can rob the heart of its passion.
Often, this bitterness causes us to find faults with this person as we try to explain why they simply don’t deserve whatever they have.
When bitterness takes root, anger wells up.
Many who fall into this trap will long to see that person robbed.
When we live out of fear and insecurities, all of life seems hopeless and joyless.
Our thoughts gravitate to an idea that we are never good enough, so we might as well give up.
Examples in our world are plentiful
An ex-spouse despises the happiness of their ex and finds multiple flaws in the new lover.
A star high school quarterback who never went pro finds reasons that the NFL quarterback should ride the bench.
We feel we can never be enough, so we do the bare minimum to survive.
We never get promoted, we never get healthier, and we never have a joy filled family life.
There can be no happiness with bitterness as the core of their existence.
Life seems like a waste.
Yet we can get bogged down here and live out this paradox forever while it eats away at our souls.
Passion dies slowly, and we die muttering, “what if…”
Paradox 2: Social Comparison Out of Desire to Improve
Watching someone who is fantastic at what they do is awe-inspiring.
I remember watching a man who had totally mastered Robert’s Rules of Order.
The meetings he would lead were not only orderly, they were impactful and awesome.
To be honest, I have rarely been whimsical enough or studious enough to get to his level of proficiency.
But seeing him lead made me want to be better at leading meetings.
Think of how it feels to see an athlete do something impossible.
Doesn’t that just kick you in the bottom to get up a little earlier, to train a little longer, or study a little more?
Again, honestly, it does not need to be real people doing awesome things to get me pumped up.
Watching movies with action stars filled with courage and boldness fulfill a difficult mission or show great honor makes me want to be more.
Yet, I must look in the mirror each morning, knowing I am falling short of my potential.
This may keep me humble, but the vision of superheroes accomplishing great things makes that image in the mirror hazy.
While I am not fearing or fretting, I am also not content to stay as I am.
My family deserves more.
My community deserves more.
I choose never to be satisfied with who I am today, because I know that my future self is better.
My future self can do what today seems to be impossible.
How Social Comparison Can Be Healthy
Now what? So what do we do with these paradoxes that so often keep us bound?
First, be intentional about your comparisons.
I have chosen twelve men and women from history that I study and strive to emulate with my character, judgments, and training.
I call them my dead people council.
As I step into situations, I wonder how they might look at the situation.
Beethoven would often look at a situation differently than Napoleon or Mother Teresa.
I can look at more options that way, and I will make the best decision possible.
Second, watch and listen to the world and what is going around you.
Many in our culture simply write off politicians or intellectuals that we disagree with.
Often, we will not look to training those in a sport that does not interest us.
What a mistake!
Learn from all sources.
You may never agree with them and may never have a passion for their sport; but something in what they are doing is a teachable moment.
This, again, is a healthy form of social comparison.
As I watch other leaders, I see what I might do.
But I also sometimes learn things I would never want to do.
Either way, I win because I have learned from it.
Finally, read like a mad person.
One of my favorite hobbies is walking the aisles of bookstores, particularly old books.
I don’t have to buy anything.
But inspiration and dreams can be seen in the titles and in short screenings of the books on the shelves.
Reading blog posts, book summaries, watching videos, and taking courses are all things in our world that give us a healthy visual to compare ourselves and inspire us to do more.
All our lives, we always feel either secure or insecure.
It’s time to stop comparing yourself to others.
Once you understand the paradoxes of social comparison, you can choose the path for yourself.
Which reason will you give when the day is done?
Let us know in the comment section below!
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