All you want is
What you can’t have
And if you just look around man
You see you got magic
So just sit back relax
Enjoy it while you still have it
Don’t look back on life man and only see tragic
Because you could be better than that
Don’t let it get the better of you
What could be better than now
Life’s not about what’s better than
-Lyrics to “Better Than” by John Butler Trio
Life’s not about what’s better than. Full stop.
I love this song. The message is so simple. And so spot on.
Comparing yourself to others is probably one of the single most self-sabotaging things you can do. Most of us know this. But how do you stop yourself from doing it?
One of my readers asked me this question recently, and I thought it’d be helpful to dive deeper into this. It’s SUCH a common problem, especially for women, and especially as it relates to our bodies.
Let’s start by looking back at history and understanding where this desire to constantly compare ourselves comes from.
The thing is, we are evolutionarily wired to compare ourselves to others.
In the days of the Stone Age, resources were extremely scarce. Our prehistoric ancestors lived at the mercy of wild predators and unpredictable natural disasters. They spent most of their energy trying to avoid danger and preserve their scarce resources. A “survival of the fittest” or dog-eat-dog mentality was absolutely necessary for survival.
Yet this scarcity mindset that helped us survive for so long is biting us in the butt now.
We don’t live in a zero-sum world anymore (i.e. zero-sum = my win has to come at somebody else’s loss). We’ve advanced in a way where we have an abundance of resources, especially in developed nations. Yet the scarcity-oriented mindset still exists. And it manifests in our desire to size ourselves up against others.
In fact, it’s exactly this “my win is going to come at somebody else’s loss” mentality that makes us engage in social comparisons. We think there can only be one right way to do things, and we’re constantly competing to be the best.
And it’s not just our lizard brain that causes us to think this way, but also the culture we live in.
“Because our culture demands that we perceive ourselves as special and above average, we routinely engage in an egoistic process of social comparison with others.” -Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion
If we’re not above average, we’re not good enough. But if you think about it, this really doesn’t make any sense. By definition of the word average, only 50% of us can ever be above average at something at any given time. So to put so much pressure on ourselves to be the best in every way, or to always have the newest, latest thing, is just . . . well, silly.
Well darn, if I’m evolutionarily wired to be this way and live in a culture that perpetuates it, what do I do??
HOW TO OVERCOME
Understanding where the urge to compare ourselves to others comes from is a good first step toward overcoming it. When you’re aware that you have a tendency to compare, you can better understand what to do to change it.
And it’s simpler than you think.
A lot of it comes down to challenging yourself to think about the other side of things. Choosing positivity over negativity. Choosing inspiration over jealousy.
Here are five tips that help me when I feel myself getting stuck in comparison mode:
TIP #1: REMEMBER THE SOURCE
When we understand that our desire to compare ourselves is just a relic of our evolutionary past, we can look at it more objectively.
OK, the pressure I’m putting on myself to have a body like hers isn’t a legitimate thing. It’s just my silly brain not knowing any better. Noted. I can learn from this and work on teaching myself to approach this differently next time.
When we look at it this way, it allows us to take a step back so that we don’t personally identify with our comparisons.
TIP #2: ADOPT AN ABUNDANCE MINDSET
“Just because you don’t look like somebody who you think is attractive doesn’t mean you aren’t attractive. Flowers are pretty, but so are christmas lights, and they look nothing alike.” -Kayla Itsines
Takeaway: There’s more than one way to be beautiful. There’s more than one way to be feminine or womanly. If you don’t look a certain way, it’s not bad. Or wrong. It’s just different.
When you embrace the mentality that you don’t need to fit a certain mold, that things aren’t black and white, you start thinking of things in terms of abundance, rather than scarcity. It’s easier to adopt this mindset if you proactively focus on what you DO have (and how it’s great in its own way), rather than what you’re missing.
And when I say proactive, I mean you gotta take action girl. You have to put some real werk into practicing an abundance mindset, especially if you’ve been stuck on the hedonic treadmill for many years. Note: this work will be much more enjoyable than the work of keeping pace on that treadmill. Trust me.
And it doesn’t take much. It can be as simple as routinely listing out all of the things that you love about yourself and your life.
For example, each day take a few moments to appreciate all the wonderful things you have in your life. List three positive things that happen to you on a daily basis. And also list WHY you are grateful for them. The WHY is just as important as the what because it helps your brain focus on the deeper meaning and what actually makes you happy.
What if you’re having a terrible day and nothing good happened? Well, there’s always something positive you can pull out, some days you might just have to look harder than others.
It can be as trivial as “I received a cute text from my mom and I’m grateful for the unconditional support she gives me.” Or more serious, “I did well on a big project at work, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to make an impact through my hard work.”
When you focus on what you DO HAVE, you have less time to fixate on what you don’t have. Plus, it gives you a foundation of gratitude to fall back on. You’ll find yourself saying, I don’t mind that I don’t look like her, because I love x, y, z about myself. I don’t need to look at others and want that, because I want what I have already.
If you look at this list on a daily basis and make an active effort to be more aware and conscious of your thought patterns, you’ll start to notice a change. You can do this in whatever way works best for you. Journaling works great for me, as does reflecting for a few minutes in the morning or at the end of the day.
TIP #3: DON’T GET JEALOUS, GET INSPIRED
This may sound cliche, but hey, it works.
Comparing yourself to others is SUCH an easy trap to fall into. It’s hard not to envy and want what others have. And it’s going to happen.
But it doesn’t have to get the best of you. You may not be able to completely get rid of this involuntary emotion, but you can control your response. The key is to avoid reprimanding yourself when envy does happen. Criticizing yourself will just send you farther down a spiral of negativity.
Instead, observe that you have a tendency to compare, and then use it as a lesson. Ask yourself, why you do this and what it means about YOU. Jealousy is nothing more than a reflection of the insecurities we feel about ourselves.
Does how you feel signal that you want to change something about yourself? How can it motivate you to take that plunge or try something new? And if you’re jealous of something you can’t have, how can it be a lesson to practice acceptance?
TIP #4: DAILY REMINDERS
In one experiment, people received a daily email to remind them to make decisions that maximize happiness. These people reported being happier than the control group who didn’t get the email. It sounds simple, but little reminders help.
Try using the same logic to help your brain resist going into comparison mode. It can be as simple as writing down positive quotes on Post-it notes and sticking them to your mirror so that you see them each morning and night.
TIP #5: LOOK INWARD
Rather than look at others around you, look at YOU. Focus less on the extrinsic, and more on the intrinsic.
Avoid this: “I want to change this about myself so that I look like her” (extrinsic).
Instead, do this: “I want to improve this about myself because I want to honor my body and do what’s healthiest and best for me” (intrinsic).
And if it’s something that you can’t change, maybe you need to give in and learn to accept it.
The lesson here is, don’t tie your self worth or happiness to an outcome or result. Instead, tie it to your own progress.
Consider this scenario and see if it sounds familiar:
You search Instagram for hours, liking pictures of fitness influencers and checking out cute bikinis. Then you try on your own swimsuit and find yourself thinking . . .
UGH, this swimsuit still feels too tight…I want to look as good as that girl does in hers. I need to be more disciplined about working out. That’s it, no more dairy or sugar for the next two weeks. And I look so flat chested, I’m going to look like a tween next to all the other girls at the BBQ…
Notice what you are doing here. You’re punishing and chastising yourself for not meeting a certain external standard. This is no way to motivate. Your brain is motivating you with fear, rather than with self love.
So what can we do?
To counteract this tendency, instead of comparing yourself to others, try comparing yourself to YOU. For instance, you can ask yourself, did you make more progress with your fitness goals today than yesterday? Are you getting better at self-compassion than you were yesterday?
Or for things you can’t change (like your genes), are you getting better at accepting yourself and appreciating your body as a whole? Or are you tearing yourself apart and criticizing individual pieces of yourself?
Notice the difference? If you start focusing on your internal motivation, and the small wins that you make on your own personal journey each day, you’ll start to develop a new type of confidence. And this inner confidence is what will help you fend off comparison mode.
You’ll no longer longingly look at others and want what they have. Because your own progress is enough. You are enough.
We’re wired to compete and want the next best thing. That’s what has helped us evolve, and it keeps us advancing as a civilization. But the trick is to not let this tendency get the better of you. Like the song says, you can be better than that.
Survival of the fittest doesn’t always need to apply. Especially when it comes to our appearance and body image. It’s not about being better than or winning out over others. It’s about appreciating the abundance of ways you can shine. And about being inspired by the differences among them.
So the next time you catch yourself comparing yourself to others, remind yourself that it’s not about being better for perfection’s sake, but about being better for YOU.
Instead of focusing on how you fall short, focus on the lessons and the inspiration that you can get from others. And use that as fuel to motivate you to make progress on your own journey.
You can give in to your desire to be better than. Or you can choose to be better than that. It’s up to you.
I’d love to hear how you deal with social comparisons. Have you tried any of these tips or do you have any of your own that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!