Stop living through social media
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like can be a fun pastime, but their negative effects quickly become apparent, says Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist who studies the impact of social media on our lives. Everyone is showing their best selves online and we end up comparing our worst to their best. “Since we’re only getting people’s ‘highlight reels’ and comparing it to ourselves, it is natural to have painful reactions to what we’re watching. It’s become the new version of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses,'” she says. The solution: Limit your friend list to people who are really your friends, unfollow people who make you feel bad (including celebs), and make sure you’re spending more time socializing in real life than online. (Or take a break from social media all together!)
Fifty percent of people in Silva’s study reported regularly feeling FOMO (fear of missing out), leading them to negatively compare their lives to their friends’. Forget FOMO by getting out and doing things you love, she says. Find a hobby, take up exercising, join a club, or attend a church, and definitely turn off the notifications on your phone in the meantime. (Or try one of these smart strategies to ditch FOMO.) When you’re happy with what you’re doing, you’re much less likely to worry about what someone else is doing.
Drive down memory lane carefully
Comparing yourself to others can be obviously detrimental, but so can comparing yourself to previous, idealized versions of yourself. How often have you looked in the mirror and compared what you see now to your taut, tanned high-school body? Or remembered how simple things were when your kids were little, compared with their current, teenage selves? Instead of obsessing about how great the past was, remember all the things you’ve learned on your journey and focus on those, Silva says. (For more, try these 50 tiny changes that will immediately make you happier.)
Stop worrying so much about your self-esteem
Popular culture has self-esteem backwards: Feeling good about yourself isn’t necessary to make positive changes; rather, making positive changes will help you feel good about yourself, says Tanisha Ranger, PsyD, a licensed psychologist. “At some point we collectively, as a society, decided that self-esteem was the most important thing for people to have and in some ways that made sense,” she says. “However, ‘self-esteem’ is basically all about comparison! Do I view myself as good as compared to others? And this is where, I think, our problems are born.” The solution: Focus more on doing good than being perceived as good—like one of these 30 little things guaranteed to instantly boost your self-confidence.
Being mindful—that is, taking time to really be aware of your body, your internal self, and your environment—provides a ton of great benefits. And you can add “fewer temptations to compare” to that list, Dr. Ranger says. “Often times, comparison can be used as an escape from current life discomfort by focusing elsewhere, but escaping the present moment guarantees that you will have regrets,” she explains. “Being able to be present with our thoughts, feelings, and circumstances without judging or comparing is an important life skill.” Bottom line: Be here now and you won’t be so tempted to wish you were someone or somewhere else. If you think you don’t have time, use these 11 easy ways to fit mindfulness into your life.
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Look for commonalities, not differences
The basis of comparison is finding what you have that is better or worse—i.e. different—than someone else. But true happiness comes from finding what you have in common with others and connecting with them, Dr. Ranger says. “We all experience struggles, pain, and hurt and recognizing and acknowledging that in others will help you feel connected to others rather than feeling ‘less’ or ‘better’ (and therefore separate) from them, she adds. Hint: This is one of the ten strategies for making friends as an adult.
Talk to yourself with the same kindness you’d speak to a child
We are often our own harshest critics and that can be magnified by comparisons. Combat this instinct by practicing self-kindness, Dr. Ranger says. “This is the act of relating to yourself in an understanding and caring way, in the same way you would treat your closest friend or a child if they were struggling,” she says. “If you are not harshly judging yourself, then you will be open to positive comparisons, the kind that can inspire hope and spur positive changes in your life.” And that’s not the only benefit you can expect: Here are 12 powerful health benefits to being kind to yourself.
Resist the urge to judge others
Comparing yourself to people whom you feel are better is problematic but so is comparing yourself to those you see as worse, says Pei-Han Cheng, PhD, a licensed psychologist and career coach. The issue is when you judge others you’re implicitly judging yourself as well and assuming that others judge you as harshly as you judge them. “According to research, while comparing yourself to people who are superior and successful can sometimes inspire and motivate you, it often leads to feeling inadequate and deflated,” she explains. “And comparing yourself to people you see as inferior can make you feel bad by showing you how things can be worse.” Nobody wins when you compare. Are you a Judgey-McJudgerson? Use these 11 ways to stop judging others.
Count your blessings
The absolute fastest way to banish bad feelings from comparisons is to focus on all the great things you have, and are, right now. Sure, some other people may have it better or worse than you but you aren’t them. Make a list and actually write down things you are grateful for, including material blessings, characteristics about yourself, loved ones, experiences and thoughts. Make it a daily practice and you’ll find your urge to compare is almost entirely extinguished. Need a little inspiration to get you started? Check out these 16 powerful quotes on gratitude.
Figure out what you can and can’t change
Comparing yourself doesn’t have to be 100 percent negative. In fact, it can inspire you to make good changes. The key, Dr. Cheng says, is to look at the comparison and “understand what is the underlying feelings or accomplishments that might be missing in your present life, and what you can do to bring back those things.” For instance, people who think everyone else is smarter than they are may be feeling inadequate due to challenges at work—challenges that can be worked on or fixed. On the other hand, if you’re comparing something that you have no control over—your hairline, say—it’s best to recognize that and move on. “Remember all you can control is you, in this present moment of your life, and develop strategies for tackling those challenges and restoring your self-esteem,” she adds.
Toss the gossip mags
It’s natural to want to know all the juicy details about others’ lives, including celebrities. But while reading up on the latest scandal may give you a quick boost, in the end this will come back to hurt you—particularly as celebrity ‘lives’ are the most manufactured, Photo-shopped, edited, and manipulated on the planet. “Celebrities are often a source of comparison due to the perception of that they lead luxurious lives,” explains Christopher Grant, PhD, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology at Franklin & Marshall College. “In many cases, their lives are on full displays. They have beautiful friends, wonderful talents, creative personalities, and the most desirable lovers.” But what you don’t see is everything that goes on behind the scenes; chances are if you really knew their life, you wouldn’t want it, he adds.