At the heart of most of our problems, both within and without, is fear and insecurity.
We fear that if others really knew us that they would neither love us nor like us. We fail to 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 a person becomes aware of their own thoughts and shortcomings, we tend to focus on those things. Commercials call attention to our lack of white teeth, our bad breath, our lack of hair, and an assortment of other physical defects that are common to all of us.
This type of social comparison is often painful and rarely sparks any real change in our lives. That’s because 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 of these 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 that we wish we had at our own 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 if left to itself, can lead to bitterness.
Bitterness is a dangerous emotion. It causes us to begin having immense pity parties and can rob the heart of its passion. Often, this bitterness causes us to find faults with this person where we explain WHY they simply don’t deserve whatever it is that 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 start to 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 be riding the bench.
We feel that 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. With bitterness as the core of their existence, there can be NO happiness.
Life seems like a waste. Yet we can get bogged down here and live out this paradox for a lifetime while it eats away at our very 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 and rarely studious enough to get to his level of proficiency.
But seeing him lead made me want to be better at leading meetings. I felt motivated. Think of how it feels to see an athlete do what is reported as 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, to be totally honest, it does not even 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 demonstrate great honor makes me want to be more.
Yet, I must look in the mirror each morning knowing that I am falling short of my potential. This may keep me humble, but the vision of superheroes accomplishing great things starts to make that image in the mirror a bit hazy. While I am not fearing or fretting, I am also not content to stay the way I am.
My family deserves more. My community deserves more. I choose to never 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, my judgments, and my training. I call them my dead people council. As I step into situations, I wonder how they might look at the situation.
Beethoven often would look at a situation very different than Napoleon or Mother Theresa. I can look at more options that way and I will be able to 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 don’t agree with. Often, we will not look to the training of those in a sport that does not interest us.
What a mistake! Take time to learn from all sources. Listen to others. 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 of things that 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 to walk the aisles of book stores, particularly old book stores. 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 that are in our world that gives 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?