How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others and Why We Do it

How comparing yourself to others impacts your mental health

As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When I first heard this quote it was at a time in my life where I was in graduate school, sorting my way through the world and trying to figure out where I belonged. My self-confidence wasn’t great, and I found myself constantly comparing my journey to where I saw my friends and peers.

Have you ever noticed that when you compare yourself to others, you either feel better about yourself or worse? That seems kind of mess-up… Because more often than not, this comparison game leads to negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves. And if by some chance or miracle we end up winning the comparison game, then we somehow start to think that we are better than them based on where we are at a certain point in our life.

The problem with this, is that it gives our powers away. When we derive our sense of self worth based off of how we are doing in comparison to others, we miss out on the opportunity to build up our own confidence based on focusing on our strengths and internal validation.

Comparison can impact your mental health in a multitude of ways including:

  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Jealousy and envy
  • Social isolation
  • Body image issues
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of self-compassion
  • Critical self-talk
  • Stress and overwhelm
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Inhibition of personal growth

It’s essential to recognize the negative impact of comparison and take steps to address it. Developing self-awareness, practicing self-compassion, and focusing on your own progress and growth can help mitigate the harmful effects of comparison and contribute to improved mental well-being. If comparison becomes overwhelming and negatively impacts your daily life, seeking support from a mental health professional can be beneficial.

Why do we compare ourselves to others?

Comparison is a natural human tendency rooted in various psychological and sociocultural factors. Understanding why we compare ourselves to others can help us better understand why we continue to fall into the comparison trap. With this deeper understanding we can hopefully give ourselves more grace as we unlearn this habit that’s no longer serving us. Some of the factors to consider:

Social Comparison Theory: Developed by psychologist Leon Festinger, the Social Comparison Theory suggests that as human beings, we compare ourselves to others to gain information about our abilities, opinions, and social standing. We use others as a benchmark to evaluate our own performance and determine how we fit into our social environment.

Self-Identity and Self-Esteem: Comparing ourselves to others can help shape our self-identity and self-esteem. We seek validation and affirmation from others, and comparing ourselves to people we admire or perceive as successful can boost our self-worth in the short term. In the long term, it leads to us constantly seeking external validation and reassurance from others instead of doing this for ourselves.

Survival Instincts: Evolutionarily, comparing ourselves to others has served as a survival mechanism. Early humans needed to assess their skills, resources, and standing within their community to secure their place and resources for survival.

Social Influence and Cultural Norms: Sociocultural factors play a significant role in shaping our comparison tendencies. Cultural norms, beauty standards, and societal expectations influence how we perceive ourselves and others, leading to comparisons to meet those standards.

Achievement and Motivation: Comparing ourselves to others can act as a motivational tool. Witnessing others achieve success can inspire us to set higher goals and strive for personal achievements.

Uncertainty and Ambiguity Reduction: In moments of uncertainty, we may look to others as a reference point to reduce ambiguity and make informed decisions. This tends to happen more often in new or challenging situations.

Social Identity and Belonging: We frequently compare ourselves to others to establish and maintain our social identity and sense of belonging. As inherently social creatures, comparison helps us connect with people or groups who share similar values, beliefs, and interests.

Emotional Regulation: Comparing ourselves to others can influence our emotional state. Seeing others in worse situations than ours can make us feel more content, while comparing ourselves to those better off can lead to envy or dissatisfaction.

It’s important to note that while comparison can offer certain benefits, unhealthy comparison can lead to negative consequences for mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being. It’s essential to cultivate self-awareness and practice healthy comparison by focusing on personal growth and self-compassion rather than solely seeking external validation from others. Understanding the reasons behind our comparison tendencies can empower us to use this behavior more intentionally.

13 Ways to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Avoiding the comparison trap is essential for cultivating a healthy sense of self-worth and positive self-image. Here are some strategies to learn how to stop comparing yourself to others and focus on feeling good in your own life.

Practice Self-Awareness:

Awareness is the first step in breaking the comparison habit. Be mindful of when you start comparing yourself to others. Notice the triggers and situations that lead to these comparisons. Practicing self-awareness exercises can help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself, your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Some of my favorite ways to work on increasing self-awareness are:

Emotional Check-In’s

Set aside time each day to check in with your emotions. Ask yourself how you are feeling, and try to identify and name your emotions. Avoid judging your feelings; instead, practice accepting them without attaching yourself to them.

Journaling: Keep a journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Write freely without judgment. Journaling can help uncover patterns in your thoughts and behaviors and provide insight into your emotional landscape.

Reflection Time: Set aside regular periods for self-reflection. It could be daily, weekly, or monthly. During this time, without judgment think about your recent experiences, interactions, and reactions. Consider what you have learned about yourself and any changes you’d like to make.

Practice Mindfulness:

For many of the people I work with, the topic of mindfulness can feel very overwhelming. As a holistic therapist, I am a broken record when it comes to talking about the importance of incorporating mindfulness to support your mental health. When it comes to comparing yourself to others, I find that mindfulness can be a really powerful tool to help you stop comparing.

A few of my favorite mindfulness practices to incorporate are:

Mindful Breathing: Take a few minutes each day to practice mindful breathing. Find a quiet space, sit comfortably, and focus on your breath. Pay attention to the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body. When your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to the breath. This exercise helps improve present-moment awareness.

Body Scan Meditation: Perform a body scan meditation to increase awareness of bodily sensations. Lie down or sit comfortably and focus your attention on each part of your body, starting from your toes and moving upward. Notice any tension or discomfort and practice letting go.

Mindful Observation: Take a few minutes to observe your surroundings mindfully. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations without judgment. Engaging your senses can bring you into the present moment.

Focus on Your Own Journey:

Reminding yourself that everyone has a unique path in life. While someone else’s life might look amazing from the outside, we have NO idea what’s actually going on behind the scenes. Instead of comparing your progress to someone else’s highlight reel, bring your attention back to your own goals. I promise you that your perception of what you think people are doing is not accurate. I can’t tell you how many clients I have worked with who are convinced that everyone else has things so much easier, that no one feels the way they do and what I can tell you, is that sooooo many people are struggling. Some are just better at hiding it than others.

When you notice that you are comparing yourself to others, focus on your own goals and strengths. This is where being clear on your values can be really beneficial. When you know what your goals are aligned with YOUR values it’s a lot easier to focus on yourself. So often when you compare yourself to others, you’re unintentionally trying to do things that aren’t aligned with what you actually even want.

Highlight your strengths:

Highlighting your strengths can be an amazing way to boost your self-confidence and self-esteem. But it can be particularly helpful when we find ourselves falling into the comparison trap. If you’re struggling with self-confidence or having a hard time thinking of any strengths, the below exercise is an amazing practice to help you get objective feedback from others.

360-Degree Feedback: Seek feedback from trusted friends, family, or colleagues about your strengths and areas for improvement. This exercise can provide valuable insights into how others perceive you and your behavior. Through this feedback you can better understand yourself.

Get clear on your values:

Being clear on your values can have several positive effects on mental health, contributing to overall well-being and emotional resilience. I find that so often, many of my clients are making decisions and choices that aren’t aligned with their values and based off of what they think they “should” be doing or what they see their friends doing. This is a recipe for disaster. Getting clear on your values can help you make more intentional choices for yourself. When you do this, you take back some of your power and don’t feel the need to compare yourself to others, because you’re making decisions based on your own wants and needs. Doing a values sort is one of my favorite ways to reflect and get clear on your core values and beliefs.

Limit Social Media Consumption:

One of the biggest ways you can stop comparing yourself to others is to limit social media consumption. Social media platforms often contribute to the feeling of inadequacy by showcasing carefully curated and sometimes unrealistic portrayals of other people’s accomplishments and lives. Consider limiting your time on social media or curating your feed to include positive and inspirational content. Limiting your time on social media feeds can have a huge impact on avoiding comparing yourself to others other people’s lives. If you’re fed up with the comparison affect on social media, consider taking a social media fast or removing/muting accounts that don’t align with how you want to feel.

Practice Gratitude:

Incorporating a gratitude practice into your daily life has been shown to have a multitude of benefits on your mental health and wellbeing. Some research has even found that having a gratitude practice can help shift you stop comparing yourself to others. Below I share some of my favorite ways to start a gratitude practice.

Write down 3 things:

An easy way to start a gratitude practice is by writing down three things that you are grateful for each day. If you are having a particularly challenging day and can’t think of anything you’re grateful for, get really specific. Express gratitude that you have a body that allows you to move about your day. Be grateful for the roof over your head or the blood pumping through your body.

Gratitude thought exercise:

Imagine waking up tomorrow and only having the things you expressed gratitude for the day before. This practice really puts things into perspective. You’ll notice how quickly you start to think of things you are grateful for.

Set Realistic Goals:

Establish goals that are meaningful and attainable for you. Avoid setting unrealistic goals based solely on what you see other people doing or think you “should” be doing. Bring your awareness back to your own goals, hopes, and dreams. Remember that setting realistic goals means that you’re being mindful of your capabilities and resources while working toward meaningful goals. In doing this, you can break free from the comparison game and create healthier habits, feeling more satisfied in your own life.

Challenge Negative Thoughts:

When you catch yourself comparing yourself to others or notice negative thoughts, challenge the thoughts. I have a whole blog post where I share 7 strategies for stopping negative self-talk. I also have a free eBook to help you challenge negative thoughts if you need some extra help.

Practice Self-Compassion

When you notice yourself falling pretty to the comparison trap, acknowledge whatever feelings are coming up. In doing so you’re better able to practice self-compassion. If you start to judge yourself based on what other people are doing, talk to yourself how you would a loved one. Remind yourself that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and it’s ok not to be perfect.

Celebrate Others Success:

Instead of feeling envious or threatened by others accomplishments, genuinely celebrate their success. Embracing a mindset of abundance can help diminish the need for comparison. When we shift into this mindset of abundance, we realize that there is room for all of us to be successful at the table.

Stop comparing yourself to your past self:

This one is super sneaky because so often we aren’t even aware that this can have negative effects. When you notice yourself comparing yourself to your past self, take a second to ground into the current moment. Take some deep breaths and check in with how you are feeling. Acknowledge that you are different now than you used to be and that’s ok. When you notice this comparison popping up, it’s a great opportunity to practice self-compassion.

Did you find this article helpful? Share it!

As an anxiety therapist working with millennial and gen z women, I’m well aware of how tricky comparison can be. We can be so busy constantly comparing ourselves to see how we measure up to everyone else that we make ourselves miserable. If you struggle with comparing yourself to others, I hope you found some useful strategies to implement next time you find yourself falling into the comparison trap. If you’re ready to start working on this with a therapist who understands, you can schedule a FREE intro call to see if we would be a good fit.

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional advice of your own attorney, accountant, physician, or financial advisor. Always check with your own physician, attorney, financial advisor, accountant, or other business or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.


That's So Well Therapist Arielle

It's me, Arielle!

Holistic Therapist, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Yoga Instructor in Elk Grove, California.

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