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The Psychology of Comparison and How to Stop

Posted By Ellen Jackson 28th of June 2017 Mindset + Motivation 0 Comments

Psychology of Comparison

By ProBlogger expert Ellen Jackson of Potential Psychology

Bloggers, solopreneurs, consultants, writers, founders – we’re solo species. Lone hustlers,  tucked in cafe corners with laptops and lattes. We’re perched at breakfast bars tapping keyboards in the early morning light. Hunched at the spare room desk deep into the night.

We’re inspired and driven. Focused and fearless. Joyous in our independence.

And often consumed by what others are doing.

“How do my stats compare to hers?”

“His Facebook following is bigger than mine.”

“Her Instagram feed is so slick.”

“Are they launching another new product?”

“I’m falling behind!”

Blogging is ripe for comparison. We measure by metrics; social media, readership, subscribers, conversions. We lap up the data. We compare and contrast. Are my numbers good? Am I getting this right? Am I doing okay? Am I winning? Or losing?

Isolation feeds the monster. With no colleagues to calm, reassure and soothe us, comparison messes with our heads. The human mind abhors a vacuum. We fill the space by watching others, measuring our performance against theirs. One question ever present: Am I doing okay?

Don’t Worry, You’re Human

Comparison is not unique to the blogger and solopreneur. Humans are social creatures. We live in a network of others. We compare to understand where we fit. What’s my social worth? How do I stack up? Who am I in relation to everyone else?

Psychologists call this social comparison and it’s fundamental to the human condition. We compare ourselves in every interaction; immediately, subtly, often unconsciously, We start as little children. Comparison is a strategy we use to cope with threats, build ourselves up and establish our identity in a world of others. We do it to learn who we are.

Look down to feel better, up to feel worse

Social comparison exists in two types. We compare upwards and downwards.

We look to people we perceive as less capable to feel better about ourselves. It’s a boost to our ego and our mood. Downward social comparison, as it is known, helps us affirm and reassure. Compared to him, I’m doing okay. I must be doing something right *Breathe out.*

This feels uncomfortable but it’s okay. Social comparison is a way to regulate our mood. It’s normal human behaviour and most of us have the requisite social skills to keep our thoughts to ourselves.

But downward comparison is a short term solution only. You might feel better for a while but it won’t help you get more done. Productivity, success, even happiness are dependent on taking action.

Tip for success: Do more than just compare. Rather than looking to others to manage your mood, set your sights on your goals and plans. The satisfaction you feel from achieving even one small task will give you a boost far beyond the momentary gain from comparing yourself to others

Beware of Success

The danger is in comparing upwards.

When we look to people we consider more successful or ‘superior’ in some way we risk despondency and derailment. It can flatten us and prompt us to question ourselves.

My site will never look that good.

I will never have stats like hers.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

At its worst comparing upwards can be the path to defeat. I will never do as well as him. I may as well give up.

The perils of social

Social media is the ultimate upward comparison trap. Studies suggest that immersing ourselves in those feeds filled with beauty and success may damage our self-esteem and put us at risk for depression and anxiety. (e.g. Vogel et. al., 2014; Vogel & Rose, 2016)

Don’t despair!

It’s not all bad news. When we feel good about ourselves and our progress, checking in on others’ success is motivating. It’s a kick in the pants to raise our sights and strive onwards. We push ourselves to achieve more. If she can do it, so can I – and I will!

Our successful peers act as role models. Their achievements are our inspiration.

The paradox?  When we’re happy with our hustle we’re not looking at others. Our heads are down. We’re hard at work. We’re not hanging out on competitors websites, or checking their social feeds.

It’s in our moments of doubt that we compare, looking for reassurance. On our best days we know where we’re going. We don’t need validation or support.

But what do we do on those difficult days? How do we avoid comparison and the risk of defeat?

Tips for avoiding the comparison trap

1. Be a racehorse

A racehorse does not watch his competitors. He is focused straight ahead and galloping towards that finish line. He knows where he is going and what he has to do to get there. Be a racehorse. Be clear on your goals, your finish line and the steps you must take to achieve them. Everyone is running a different race.

2. Know your motives

Why do you compare? Is it for inspiration and motivation? Or to manage your mood? Rising anxiety prompts us to look for reassurance and sometimes we compare to boost our self esteem. If you’re using comparison to manage your mood, does it help? Or hinder? Would your time be better spent working towards your goals?

3. Aim for personal bests

Comparison with others may be fraught with danger but there is profit to be gained from comparing with yourself. Look back and I ask, ‘What have I achieved so far?’ Regular review of your wins, no matter how small, boosts your mood. When you’re feeling good you’re motivated and creative. Worry less about how you compare with others. Focus on achieving your personal best.

4. ‘Don’t compare your beginning with someone else’s middle.’

This quote from author Jon Acuff reminds us that we all start somewhere and we move at different rates. Successful people also have their struggles. They’re just further along the path.  We’re all human and fallible. We’re also equally capable of greatness.

What do you do to avoid comparison affecting your blogging mojo?

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

About Ellen Jackson

Ellen Jackson from Potential Psychology is a psychologist who does things differently. She writes about people and why we do what we do. She coaches, she teaches and she helps workplaces to do the people part better.

  • Bo Miller

    Thanks! I needed to read this today. :-)

  • Hello Ellen,

    Great Post. I think comparison is a human nature and it is also have some negative impact to individuals life especially when you struggling to get success. It will distract you from your goal. Thanks for this beautiful post. You really nailed it.

    Regards,
    Vishwajeet

    • You’re very welcome Vishwajeet. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

  • IBG Digital

    Its a natural to people to do comparison or called its their instinct. But wonder the psychology behind this is fascinating.

    • Glad you liked it. It’s completely naturally and normal. Just not always helpful if we let it get us down.

  • Great article that I’m going to reference on fb!

  • Hi Ellen,

    This is so true, I think that it’s so easy to fall into the trap of “they’re doing better than I am.” I know that I’ve done that in the past. Like you said, it’s only human nature.

    I refuse to do this anymore, because that doesn’t get me anywhere. Like you said, you can’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” The easiest way for me to stop comparing is to stop looking.

    I’ve stopped reading income reports or reading a lot of other bloggers blogs. I’ve set both short-term and long-term goals for my blog. This helps me stay on track so I can measure my own metrics and see if I am growing.

    I’ve also started writing down what I need to work on each and everyday. This definitely helps me stay on track and work on my blog. If I know what needs to be done, I’ll do those tasks early in the morning.

    This always ensures that I get those important tasks done everyday. No excuses.

    We all want to grow and the great news is that if we keep taking action and never quit, we will grow. If we just keep our ours own our own blogs and goals, we’ll be fine.

    Thanks for sharing these tips with us. Have a great day :)

    Susan

    • Sounds like you’ve got some fabulous strategies in place Susan. Great work – and good luck with it!

  • Isabel Dias

    I think it’s inevitable to compare yourself. Most of them time, I try to compare myself with successful people in an inspirational way, as you said. Using the mindset that if they’ve achieved it, so can I.

    • It is inevitable Isabel as we are all human. Looking to others for inspiration is a sign of excellent self esteem. Rock on!

  • Byrone

    Thanks for the article.

  • Hi Ellen, I think it’s best to just compare yourself to yourself and your goals. We can certainly learn from those more successful but it’s best not to compare if you will beat yourself up over it.
    Thanks for the inspiring piece! I love Jon’s quote!

    • I try very hard to compare my current with my past too Lisa and it does help. Jon’s quote is fab isn’t it. He puts it so succinctly and so well.

  • Wow, what great timing… It’s a rollercoaster of up and down as a consultant and you have put it in perspective. I’m learning to celebrate how far I have come, rather than how far there is to go.

    • I’m a consultant too Steve so I know EXACTLY what you mean. Best of luck with your journey.

  • Navin Rao

    Nothing happens over night, so it’s better not to compare..
    I like the first point “Be a race horse,” best to avoid comparisons… Thanks Ellen :)

    Navin

    • No worries Navin. I’m glad you liked the piece.

  • Brad Graber

    I love that line – don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Perfect. And I would add – don’t sweat those who are not interested in Networking with you. Everyone is at a different stage of their growth. Some Networks are full. Go head and start your own.

    • I love that line too Brad – and you’re right, there are plenty of networks to go around and we all find our tribe eventually.

  • Ben Killoy

    Ellen I love this article. I find solace in the fact that these feelings are natural and that their is nothing wrong with me. This is the natural course of blogging and knowing is the first step to getting through to the next phase. Its like a 12 step obstacle course and the challenges at each step are the exact same for everyone. What appears to be a struggle free environment ahead, it mostly like filled with them we just can’t see them because our vision is foggy when we look ahead on this road to being a pro blogger.

    Even this website problogger looks like its a struggle free business but I am confident that behind the curtains problems exist, just a different kind.

    I find the best way to get through this obstacle course is to find that buddy that is right with you either the side coach pushing you through or the friend running it with you who lends that helping hand to get through this step.

    Either way it is the natural course of events without shortcuts and each one teaches us bloggers something we need to find in our selves to make it to the next one and also sustain success at the end. Without all the pieces we might be running on borrowed time because we thought we could skip a step.

    • Beautifully said Ben. It’s a steep learning curve but a fun one and I agree that finding others to share the journey makes it less lonely. We can all learn from each other, no matter where we are on the path. Thank you for your thoughts. I appreciate it.

  • Great read Thank You Ellen!

  • Hi Ellen,

    Everything I do online is the farthest thing from being on a competitive plane. I am the hyper opposite of doing things competitively because I feel we all worth together. We are one. We are for. Not against. So since I don’t think competitively, I do not compare. I did compare in the past but almost went made due to fearing I was not enough. Now I just do me, celebrate my success, celebrate other folk’s success and leave it at that.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    Ryan

    • Very true Ryan, it is all one, there should not be any competition. Just cooperation and sharing the abundance of life.

    • Fabulous to hear that you have moved on from comparison Ryan. I think we all do it early on. Once we find our feet and our niche it’s easier to be happier in our place and to celebrate all success. Just as you suggest :-)

  • kinder

    hello
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  • Nicole

    Thanks very much tor this! I need to remind myself not to compare my progress with other’s all the time. All it does is stress me out!

    Nicole | The Professional Mom Project

    • It stresses us all out Nicole. It’s so easy to do but I think by understanding a little more about why we do it and the impact it has it’s easier to give it up. I hope that’s the case anyway. Best of luck!

  • Lucas Smith

    Wow. Great article Ellen.

    The world needs more of these. Nowadays, people just can’t seem to stop comparing themselves to others and it never brings good results in the long run. People should know that we are unique in our own ways and should strive to earn a name for ourselves rather than trying to copy others’.