When we compare our lives to other people’s lives, we usually come up short.
As humans, we know rationally that no matter how other people’s lives appear from the outside, we usually have no idea what’s actually going on in their minds, or in the dark and twisty nooks of their existence.
And the older I get, the more I’m certain that no matter how polished we may seem, we all hold secret, shaded, and decidedly unsavory parts within us. It’s just part of the human experience.
So, why then is it so tempting to judge ourselves based on our projections of the people around us?
Why do I, for instance, compare my parenting style to friends of ours? Why do I secretly admire how infrequently their kids seem to fight with one another, how their kids probably aren’t obsessed with YouTube, and how much healthier they probably eat—even though I don’t know any of those things for sure?
Why do I beat myself up by comparing myself to authors my age—or, gasp, younger—who’ve published multiple books, while I’m still toiling away on my first?
Why do I even bother comparing myself to that woman in yoga class who can do side planks without her arms shuddering like mine do?
Why, if we know that comparing ourselves to others is like picking the burgundy chunks off a scab—painful, pointless, and just plain gross—is it such a hard habit to break?
My understanding is that we compare ourselves to others because we’re social beings. Our survival, historically, depended on our remaining a member of our tribe, as getting ousted would lessen our chances of survival. Despite the fact that we might not need to, say, be part of the pack of the cool, tattooed crunchy moms at our kids’ preschool in order to survive, our brains are wired for connection and belonging.
And, we live in a time where it’s incredibly easy to soak up, even subconsciously, the best parts of our Facebook and Instagram friends’ lives—the exotic vacations, the beach bodies, the healthy meals, and glossy, polite children—and use that highlight reel as a way of making ourselves feel like crap.
Between our brain wiring and our internet habits, it can be hard to step off the comparison escalator to hell—here are a few things that help:
- Talk to real people. Spend time with friends who are willing to be vulnerable about the ups and downs of their lives. Cultivate relationships that go beyond surface small talk, with people you can tell the truth to—that you sometimes yell at the people closest to you, that you can’t stop binge-watching TV shows whose target demographic is 15, that your pubes have gotten so out of control they are now engaged in their own trade war. Laughing at ourselves with a friend is both a tension reliever and a way of remembering that we humans are some ridiculous, quirky creatures—and that we’re not alone in our oddities and imperfections.
- Be grateful. It sounds simple, but when I start getting sucked into a comparison spiral of doom, focusing on gratitude centers me and refocuses me on the goodness in my life. When I remember to be thankful for my current health, for my husband and kids and friends, for our home, for the beauty of nature, gratitude short-circuits the “not enough” place within me that reaches for comparisons.
- Compare yourself with only one person. Comparing ourselves can bring one positive outcome—it can serve as a motivator to work on bettering ourselves. But it’s not really fair to compare ourselves to other people—we’re all such textured, complex creatures and comparisons are very subjective. So instead of seeing how we stack up against others, we can use ourselves as our measuring stick. For instance, instead of judging my yoga practice based on the people around me, what if I referenced my own progress instead? What if I focused on how much more flexible I am than I used to be, and not on what the woman in front of me—whose hamstrings maybe aren’t made of brick—can do? It makes more sense to keep the focus on ourselves, and it’s a lot saner.~