Do you find that you often compare yourself to other people? When that comparison makes you feel bad about yourself, do you find yourself tearing that other person down? I get it; we’ve all been there. This is one of the downsides that come with comparing yourself to others. But there are also upsides, and learning how both of these show up in your own life will catapult your growth and evolution.
Comparison can serve to do one of two things: make you feel better about yourself or worse about yourself. It is a natural human tendency to compare, and it is something that we all do. But it doesn’t have to lead you down a negative road of despair, so this week, I’m showing you how to use it to your advantage.
In this episode, I’m shedding some light on comparison, encouraging you to do less of it, and showing you how to make the instances where you compare yourself to others more productive. Find out why we compare, the upsides and downsides of comparison, and how to know which one the comparison you are making falls under. If you’ve ever compared yourself or felt envious of a friend, family member, colleague, or anybody else you have come into contact with, you don’t want to miss this episode.
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What You Will Discover:
- How comparing yourself to other people can stifle your growth and evolution.
- Some interesting things to know about comparison.
- Where I notice myself comparing myself to other people and what I do about it.
- How self-worth is an inside job.
- What upward and downward comparisons are, and how to spot them showing up in your life.
- Some questions to ask yourself when you start to compare yourself to other people.
- What compare and despair is and how to stop it.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
Full Episode Transcript:
You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #24. It is normal to compare yourself to other people. Let me help you use it to your advantage.
Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer and Certified Life Coach Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.
Hey, how are you? What’s new? What’s good? So, what’s good here is that we are going to dive in and talk about comparison. Part of the reason I want to go over this, is that I see it often, especially in my clients. And what’s fascinating, is that comparing yourself to other people can serve to do one of two things. Certainly, it can help you feel better about yourself, or it can help you to feel worse about yourself.
And, it’s a natural human tendency to compare ourselves to other people.
But like most things, like pastries, social media, TV, Netflix®, really anything, moderation is key. And moderation, as it relates to comparison, gets harder and harder to do with the rise of social media. And really, with a culture where we currently find ourselves, where everything is pretty much smeared all over Facebook® or Instagram® for all to see and comment on.
So, depending on how you use comparison, it can be a very self-defeating way of assessing yourself. And most importantly, it can stifle your growth and evolution. I will fully admit that I am 100% guilty of this. So, I see it often. There are other physicians who have become full-time life coaches, who appear way more successful than I do. Who are doing tons of public speaking, or running retreats, or doing amazing interviews.
I will admit it incites all kinds of thoughts and feelings for me. And most often, it makes me start ‘shoulding’ all over myself. Meaning, I think I should be farther along than I am. I should be doing more social media posting. I should be writing a book, or creating a webinar, or doing this, that, whatever.
I will see these people, many of whom I don’t even know, other than by the Facebook groups I am in with them. And in full transparency, I have to limit how much time I spend looking at what these people are doing. Because honestly, it just doesn’t help me at all. But now, I have gotten onto myself. And when I noticed myself going down a negative spiral, and when I start to boohoo that there is no way I will ever be as good as they are, or as successful as they are, I stop myself.
I have realized that this is not at all a healthy view to take, and I actively coach myself on this regularly. So, from the get-go, know that I use my own tools on myself. I pay attention to my thoughts and my negative self-talk. And I make use of self-coaching tools actively, to stop myself in my tracks. Some days it is easier than others; I’m not gonna lie.
My point here, is to share that we all compare, and it does not have to lead you down a negative road of despair. I hope that today, I can shed some light on comparison and encourage you to do less of it. And to make the instances where you do compare yourself, actually be productive. Because that is entirely possible, really.
Okay, so here’s what we’re going to talk about. We’re going to talk about why we compare. Then the upsides of comparison, and the downsides of comparison. Some alternatives, and questions to ask yourself when you do start to compare yourself to other people. All right? So, let’s go.
First, why do we even compare ourselves to other people? Why do we do this? Comparison is a natural human tendency. Humans have an intrinsic need for self-evaluation. Once again, this goes back to our caveman days. We humans, we are a social species.
In the caveman days, it behooves you to fit in and fall within the bell curve of your fellow humans. Otherwise, you’re kicked to the curb to freeze to death, or to be a tiger’s dinner. So, comparison was how you knew you fit in, and met the group standard. Because not fitting in or being rejected, meant fending for yourself; no good.
While humans have a fundamental need to evaluate ourselves, how exactly do you do that? Most often, when you’re evaluating yourself, it’s in reference to something else, or to be more specific, to someone else. In order to evaluate yourself, you look to see how you stack up to other people.
So, on a more practical level, comparing yourself to other people helps you understand where you fall in within your social group, within your community, within your career, within your cul-de-sac. When you compare yourself to others, you discover how you measure up to what is your perceived normal, or your perceived good enough.
Getting a little nerdy here, but in some psychology texts, you’ll find that humans don’t define themselves independently. But instead, we define ourselves in relation to other people. In relation to other people. So fascinating. When I was digging through the literature about this episode, it was making my head hurt. But what I boiled it down to is this: We compare ourselves to other people to know where we stand, and to know who we are.
So, think about it. How do you decide that you are an upstanding citizen? How do you know that you are an athlete? How do you know you’re a good mom? How do you know you’re good at your job? So often, when it comes down to these big stare-at-the-sky-and-ponder-these-questions, the questions about who we are and who we want to be, we look around and compare ourselves to other people in order to determine the answers.
And think about it more, there really isn’t an objective way to measure yourself. As far as I know, there aren’t any universally accepted checkboxes that are used to determine how you measure up to your peers, right?
So, instead of comparing yourself to other people in order to gauge how you’re doing, it’s often an internal job. It’s an inside mental game that we play with ourselves to determine where we fall in. I’m asking you to really think about that for a second. Because comparison, really, is that it’s often an internal, quiet, mental mind game that we play with ourselves.
And when I say quiet, I mean, most often, you’re not broadcasting your comparisons out for all to hear. Instead, you’re doing it in your head, quietly; comparing yourself quietly and finding all the reasons you don’t stack up. And most often, it just shoots you in the foot.
What’s crazy, is we do this for pretty much anything; looks, career, finances, kids’ social status. Anything you perceive that is important is fair game. So, here are some interesting things to know about comparison. First, you’re most likely to compare yourself to someone else close in your circle. Meaning, you’re less likely to compare yourself to the CEO of your company that you never see, than to someone at the same director or VP level that you have.
You’re less likely to compare your appearance to a supermodel than you are to your friends who run in the same social circle. Maybe, you compare your weight loss to your friends at work. Maybe, you compare your job status to your friends who graduated with you in the same med school class. In general, you tend to compare yourself to other people not too far from your own circle. What that does, is it makes the standard more attainable.
Second, often, when we stop comparing ourselves to someone within our circle that we see as better than us, it’s usually replaced by negative sentiments toward that person; that person at work who does an awesome job and is promoted or given a new title that you wanted. So, instead of comparing yourself to them, you rip them up.
Or, the person who was losing weight much faster than you, when you both started your weight loss journey around the same time. Instead of cheering her on, you secretly think mean things about her. So, we’re gonna get into this much more in just a minute. But I see this all the time. When comparisons make us feel bad, we tend to respond by stopping the comparisons and resorting to tearing the other person down.
This is really unhelpful, and I want to help you move away from this. If you’ve ever felt envious toward a friend, family member, colleague, or peer, because of her accomplishments, and then, in your mind, it started turning against them, whether outwardly or not, you know what I’m talking about. And this is not uncommon, at all.
If it makes you feel icky inside to hear me say this, just as it makes me feel icky inside to say it, because I’ve been there and I’ve done it, it means we’re human.
Third, the more important you feel a group is, the more there is self-created pressure to measure up. So, think about it. Comparison matters most when the group you’re comparing yourself to matters. The best example I can imagine for this is high school and college reunions. Most people don’t aim to show up at their 20-year high school reunion looking all schlumpy, driving a beat down car, with a oh-hum career, right?
So, even if that is your reality, and maybe at home it isn’t such a huge deal, when you go and see a bunch of people you know, or did know at one time, that group is important. And, the comparison takes on more weight than it normally would. So, why? Because this peer group is one that you have decided is important. When you show up at your reunion, most of you aim to show up and show out. And this is why so many people go on crazy diets before reunions.
Alright, so fourth, often, when we compare ourselves to other people, we already have an idea in our minds of how we stack up. Those ideas about yourself, generate your self-concept, how you see yourself. And what’s crazy is this, you know who you are, and then you go and look for comparisons with other people to confirm what you already think you know about yourself.
So, once again, what you believe, you will seek evidence to confirm. And, we do this to uphold our beliefs about ourselves. If you are someone who generally has low self-confidence, or if you spend a lot of time feeling less than, those are your beliefs. When you are around other people, you look for evidence to reinforce your belief that you are less than.
If you just did a really awesome job on your work project and got all kinds of positive feedback about it. Or, maybe, you just got accepted to speak at a huge conference. But then, you’re around your friend who just got a promotion, or got accepted to speak at a bigger conference. Despite your own accomplishments, you use your friend’s achievements as evidence to prove to yourself that you are not good enough.
I see this all the time; no good. But it makes sense. Your brain likes to be right, even if it’s hurting you. So, if you spend most of your life having already decided that you do not measure up, your brain will most definitely find every example it can to prove this to you. It’s amazing.
Okay, so let’s talk about the two different types of comparison. We’re gonna go over how they can both help you and hurt you. Alright, so first; upward comparison. As it sounds, upward comparison is comparing yourself to someone you feel is superior to you in some way. So, in short, the person you’re comparing yourself to is better than.
Here’s the thing, upward comparison, when it’s used in a healthy way, can most definitely have a positive impact. When can it actually be helpful to compare yourself to other people? So, when you compare yourself to someone you see as superior to you in some way, meaning she is further along in her career, she is losing weight in a healthy way, she is keeping up with regular exercise, those type of comparisons show you what is possible.
This is especially true when people are close in your social circle; think role model. Think about someone you know who has made what appears to look like 180° lifestyle shift. So, maybe she was previously inactive, ate really poorly, and generally did not take the best care of herself. And then, for whatever reason, she decided to change her life.
Maybe, she started exercising. Maybe, just a little bit at a time, but she stuck with it. And now, she works out before she comes to work. And along with that, she stopped getting takeout for lunch. She started bringing salads and food that she made at home. She’s about your age. She’s also got kids, and she’s busy.
But somehow, she’s taken the bull by the horns and is making legit positive change for herself. So, this person just showed you what is possible. Whether she realizes it or not, her decisions, her actions, and her outcomes, they can be an example for you. They demonstrate to you, “When I do these positive things for myself, it’s possible that I can have these positive outcomes, too.”
This is not to say that you should go and do exactly what your friend did. That is not the point. But the point is, if you see your friend and acknowledge that she put in serious work and made a conscious effort to change, and now she’s seeing the benefit, that might be the inspiration you need to show you, you can do the same thing.
When comparing yourself to other people inspires you, you know it. It feels good, it feels empowering, it feels hopeful and exciting, and says, “Hey, maybe that’s possible for me, too.” And you know what? Those changes are absolutely possible; your friend just proved it to you.
This is an example of using comparison for self-assessment. Meaning, when you compare and see possibility. When you feel inspired. When you see something that you’re not currently doing that you could start doing. When you get excited at the idea, “That could be me,” that’s when you’re onto something. That’s when you know that your comparison has an upside.
So, second; another upside to this type of upward comparison, is that it compels you to do better. Meaning, it moves you to take action. After your friend, coworker, family member, whoever it is, after you have been inspired by this person, then you go and take positive action for yourself. That feels really stinking good.
When your comparison results in inspiration that compels you to take action on things, that will result in self-improvement, there it is. That’s when you know you’re making upward comparison work for you. I’ll use my very first career coach I ever had, as an example.
I met her at a conference. I saw her give a lecture and I thought to myself, “Hey, maybe I could do that. Maybe, I could put together a presentation that would inspire and excite other people, and get up in front of an audience and share it.” I still remember that. And, I remember feeling inspired.
When I did exactly that this year, at the same conference where I met my coach, no less, it felt really awesome. I thank her for inspiring me to do more and be more. And I’m guessing, she didn’t even know it.
So, here’s the thing, there’s a check here. The action that you take should come from a positive place. The actions you take to drive your self-improvement, should come from a clean, positive, genuine place. Remember, positive thoughts drive positive action, and negative thoughts drive negative action.
Meaning, you can’t go and kill yourself at the gym from a place of, “Well, if Sally can do it. If Sally can go to the gym and get all jacked, and eat better and lose weight, then, so can I,” teeth gritted and a chip on your shoulder. Determined to look better than she does in your little black dress at your next work holiday party. That is not the kind of inspiration I’m talking about here.
When you are truly inspired and see what is possible for you, the action you take is going to feel very different from the action you take from a place of feeling less than or inadequate. I am not talking about working your tail off to show someone up. No, no, no.
When you eat better, and start moving your body because you feel inspired and hopeful, and because you genuinely want to do better for yourself, that feels very different than doing it to one up your friend or family member. Okay, more on this in a few minutes.
Or, imagine someone you know who is killing it in her job. She walks in with a positive attitude. She does not waste time gossiping or saying how toxic her work environment is. And, she genuinely brings her A game to work. Subsequently, she is rewarded with a promotion or leadership position. Take note; she just modeled for you what it takes to move forward. She just showed you what’s possible.
And again, this is not to say that you have to follow her exact footsteps. But instead, think of it this way; if there are actions your friend is taking that you are not taking, there’s data; she just showed you what skills and attributes are important to advance. You can make it a point to practice those yourself.
So yeah, you could easily choose to gossip about her behind her back, all the while secretly wishing you had what she did. You know what I’m talking about, and it doesn’t feel good. Or, you could choose to be inspired by your coworker. Pay attention to see how she carries herself at work, how she talks, how she participates, how she produces results. And, model your behavior after hers.
Those two options will feel very different. One will feel like forward progress, the other will feel just straight-up heavy and yucky. So, while upward comparison may inspire and motivate you, and drive you to take action towards self-improvement, it can also be used negatively.
When it’s used in a self-defeatist way, comparison can make you more judgmental, more competitive, and make you feel superior or inferior.
So, if you use upward comparison to spell gloom and doom; there is no way you could ever change the way you eat and exercise like your coworker did. And, that she has some magical unicorn it-factor, that you just don’t have. And you’re forever stuck to feel less than; that’s no good. That’s using upward comparison to keep you miserably stuck.
I have seen this in many of my clients. As an example, I had a client who was doing really awesome with the changes she was making at home, in relation to dinner. She was cooking more meals at home. She was getting less takeout for her family. She was incorporating whole foods into their meals.
And then, she learned what some of her neighbors were having for dinner. And after that, it became a downward spiral of how her dinners were not good enough; she was not measuring up. She was less than, because she wasn’t making all of her dinners from scratch. And some of her food was premade or prepackaged. Isn’t that fascinating?
What started as a positive for her, that she was making her own food at home, quickly became a compare and despair. And this was after one eating out, in her yard with her neighbors. Because she let what everyone else was doing in their kitchens make her feel less than. And I bet you can come up with your own example.
Imagine you’ve been working hard taking care of yourself and decide to wear a killer dress on your vacation, because you feel confident in yourself. You’re proud of the work you’ve done to get where you are. And then, five minutes later, you see someone walk by who looks totally phenomenal.
Who, by your account, has a better body than you do. Wearing an even better dress. And suddenly, your heart sinks. So, what just happened? Comparison. Comparison just happened. You made an upward comparison to someone you decided is better than, and allowed it to make you feel terrible.
I bring these examples up because they are ones I run into commonly; you compare yourself to someone you feel is better than you in some way. And what you do, is use it as evidence that you’re not good enough. But what does this get you?
If you really want to dig into this, ask yourself one of my most favorite questions: How does it feel to think this way? How does it feel to think that you are less than, because you didn’t make your dinner from scratch? How does it feel to think that you look terrible in your outfit, because you decided that someone else looks so much better than you do? How does it feel to think that way? And often, the answer I get is not a positive one.
Here’s the thing, this is a really powerful question. And if you’ve noticed, I’ve shared it multiple times, because it is truly a key piece to self-awareness. If you haven’t tried it on yourself, please do, especially in relation to comparison. Ask yourself, how does it feel to think this way? We’ll get back to this in a couple of minutes.
All right, so now, let’s talk about downward comparison. This one is sneaky. But I think it is so crucial to address this because I see it all the time. Not only in social media, but very often in the women I coach. And, I think we need to tackle this one head-on. So, downward social comparison means comparing yourself to someone you think is worse off than you.
If you have ever started a sentence with, “Well, at least I…,” fill in the blank, that is a downward social comparison. And again, this is human nature, we have all done it. While it is most definitely cringy, we got to talk about it, because this type of comparison just does not get us anywhere.
While, at first thought, it may seem that any type of downward comparison would be negative, there are actually some times where downward comparison can be used to your benefit. The most obvious example would be, that a downward comparison can lead to gratitude.
So, imagine you observe someone who is worse off than you, meaning they don’t have the career status that you do, or they haven’t lost the weight that you have, or whatever metric it is you’re using to compare yourself. You find yourself having gratitude for what you do have. It can also promote empathy.
When you’ve got a friend who’s been working her tail off to find a new job, but she’s really struggling, and then you just landed your dream position, you have an opportunity in front of you to be supportive, kind and empathetic toward your friend.
In both examples, the downward comparison can lead to a positive outcome, because you’re using it as a way to create positive thoughts for yourself. Whether it’s being grateful for what you do have, or empathy for your friend who doesn’t yet have what you do.
On the flip side, downward comparison can lead to a false sense of superiority. We often use downward comparison when we’re already not feeling so great about ourselves. And then, we go and find a comparison with someone who is worse off to make ourselves feel better. It’s a really interesting phenomenon.
So, here are a few ways that I have seen this play out. First, at the grocery store. Do you compare your grocery cart to other people’s? I’ll use this example. I was working with a client, and she often talked about how she would stand in line at the grocery store and compare the contents of her grocery cart to the contents of the people around her. And then, she would start to think really negative things about the people with carts that she deemed less than hers, and walk away feeling better about herself.
She would also do this at restaurants. She would take stock of what other people around her were eating. She’d look at the plates and assess the fried food or the big dessert pastries that the other people were eating, and she would decide that she was better off than these people, because she had salmon and salad, and skipped dessert altogether.
I’ve also seen this when people will compare body types. I had another client who was on vacation, and she was proud because she had lost some weight. And while she was there with her friends, she noticed how she stacked up to the other women in her group. She was basing her place within her group on her weight, and how her weight compared to the weight of her friends.
She reminded herself multiple times that at least she wasn’t the largest of her friends. And I would bet $1, that if every single one of us took a hard look inside, and got into the recesses of our deepest thoughts, we would find our own examples of this type of downward comparison.
It is not uncommon. We use downward comparisons to make us feel better about ourselves, but it’s not genuine. So, just like the upward comparison, there’s a check here. How do you know if the comparison you’re making is positive? Here we go again, ask yourself: How does it feel to think this way?
How does it feel to think, “Well, at least I’m not wearing the largest pant size of all my friends here. At least my plate looks better than hers. At least I got my exercise done in the morning, and she doesn’t do it at all.” How does it feel to think that way? Is that coming from a clean place?
Here’s the other most fascinating thing about this type of downward comparison. Looking at someone else’s grocery cart and deciding that yours is better, does not get you any closer to your weight loss goal. Deciding that the person’s dinner at the fancy restaurant is a grease bomb, while you feel good about yourself for the salad that you had; that does not take your weight off any faster.
Building yourself up by deciding, “Well, at least, I’m not the largest one of my friends here on this vacation,” does not take your weight off any faster. So, do you see the difference? When you make these assessments about yourself in comparison to other people, it ultimately gives you a temporary false elevation in your confidence.
But it does absolutely nothing to get you closer to your goals. It does nothing to make you better than your own previous version. And, that’s what this is about. That’s why this matters. So, we are here to grow and evolve. We are here to set goals and go after them, hardcore. We are here to bring our best versions to ourselves and to the people who will benefit from all of the gifts we have to offer to the world.
Comparing yourself and deciding, “Well, at least I don’t have an ugly husband,” that does not do anything for you, like literally nothing. It does not make you any better of a human being. Tearing someone else down does not make your goals any more attainable. Please, really think about that. I see this too often.
The comparison trap is an ugly one; it does nothing for us. And, what this ultimately comes back to is self-worth. So, remember that self-worth is an inside job. So many of you are looking for validation or are looking to feel good about yourselves. But you do that in relation to how you stack up to other people. And as long as you base your self-worth on external validation, by nature, you will measure yourself against other people.
This is a losing battle. Let me remind you; you have to validate yourself, first and foremost, before anyone else will. You have to own your self-concept and have your own self-worth, before you can look for it from anyone else. Don’t use external validation in the form of comparison, instead of internally validating yourself.
I don’t know about you, but it does not feel super awesome to feel good about myself by feeling better than, or feeling superior, to someone else. Instead, I want to feel good about myself because of who I am, not because of who anyone else is and where I match up. Life really is not a competition. This is not a game of sorting.
Okay, so here is what I want to offer to you. Yeah, it would be really easy to say, “Hey, just stop comparing yourself to everyone.” Okay, but frankly, that is naive. And that would be like me asking for you to stop letting your human nature exert itself. And, that’s a pretty tall order. So instead, consider this: When you find yourself making comparisons, whether they are upward or downward, ask yourself how it feels.
There are a number of questions you can ask yourself when you find yourself comparing. So first, does the comparison make you feel less than? Does it make you feel miserable? Like, you simply do not measure up? Does it give you a false sense of confidence that keeps you comfortably in the status quo, because at least you’re better off than someone else? If the comparison doesn’t come from a clean place, it will lead to negative action or no action.
On the flip side, does the comparison give you inspiration, motivation, gratitude, or empathy? Does the comparison help you get closer to your goal? Does the comparison compel you to take action, and grow and evolve into your next best version? If the comparison is coming from a clean place, then it should compel you to take positive action.
So last, I want to offer this: Instead of comparing yourself to everyone else, here’s one other question I want to leave you with; is your current version, your best one yet? So no, I’m not talking about being at the same weight you were in high school, and comparing your past self to what you think you should weigh now. No, that is an entirely separate podcast.
What I mean is, are you thinking in a way that supports you? Are you managing your mind to feel good about yourself, on purpose? And are you taking inspired action that is moving you forward and getting you closer to who you want to be, right now?
Your definition of success is uniquely yours. It has nothing to do with anyone else. And that, is actually a really beautiful thing. Because it means you can go and do and be whatever you want to be, right now.
All right. Thank you for hanging out with me, and I will catch you again next week.
If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And, share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. And, be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram® or Facebook®, so I can follow along and engage with you.
This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better, or eat and move differently, but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that, is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.
Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.
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