If you’ve read my post “Why You Should Ditch the Mom Guilt,” you know that I believe the comparison game and mom guilt go hand-in-hand. But it isn’t just our parenting skills that most of us are comparing to others around us. It’s everything. Our bodies, our hair, our makeup skills, our bank accounts, our houses, our kids’ behavior, and skills. It’s a never-ending list, right?
A funny thing happened to me when I finally decided to go for it and start writing. Reading, one of my all-time favorite activities, morphed overnight into a completely different experience. Every beautiful word which had previously filled my heart with such delight, now had me judging myself harshly.
Thoughts like, “Ugh, that sentence was so well-written. I’ll never be able to write that well” quickly became commonplace.
Even as I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic” which told me to just go out and create despite the outcome, I was completely inspired but totally intimidated. Her writing is beautiful, and I know that I am not nearly as good. And it is possible that I will never be near where she is.
But does that mean that I don’t have anything to offer? Does that mean that I shouldn’t attempt to put forth my work? No, I don’t think it does. I’m sure she would agree.
Comparison is a Trap
How often do you compare yourself to others? Maybe you’re the person who goes to visit her friend’s house and you spend most of your time together wondering how she possibly keeps it so clean when she has three small kids.
What happens next in that scenario? My guess: Either you see yourself as inferior and wish you could keep your own house so spotless or perhaps you tell yourself that there is no way she could keep her house that clean and pay any attention to her children, so she must ignore her kids (therefore you feel better about yourself because at least you have your priorities right). You either feel superior or inferior to her. Both are bad places to be. You are not better than anyone else and it doesn’t help to believe that you are, even if it makes you feel better temporarily. And it doesn’t help you any to degrade yourself when you believe that others are somehow doing better than you. The fact is, we all struggle. We all have weaknesses, problems, insecurities, problem areas, and things we wish we could change in our lives. Just because that manifests differently for someone else, doesn’t mean that they are better than you.
Maybe you compare your body to your friend’s or someone you follow on Instagram. Maybe it’s cars, clothes, business success, bank accounts, musical talents, personality (that was a big one for me). We all have our own insecurities and more often than not, it’s in those insecure areas where we’ll compare ourselves to others. Think about it. If you felt confident and self-assured about _________ (whatever it is that you compare in your life), would you still feel the need to measure yourself against other people? I doubt it. So, it’s time for you to stop.
Comparing yourself to others rarely leads to anything positive. Unless, of course, you chose to be inspired by others and what they show is possible. For example, if you are in the business world and you are using someone else’s success to inspire you, then that’s great. But if you are comparing yourself about something that you can’t change, like some model’s long legs when you are 5 feet tall, tell me, what can that do for you?
I know it’s hard to stop comparing cold turkey. It’s probably something you’ve been doing every day for the majority of your life. But first, recognize this destructive behavior for what it is. Try to tell yourself that you are just as beautiful even though you’ll never have those long legs. Focus on the qualities that you like about yourself. So, you’ll never have her legs, but maybe you love your eyes. Be grateful for those beautiful eyes. Everyone has qualities that they don’t like about themselves, including that model.
Why Do We Do That?
Why do we focus on what we don’t like about ourselves? I think it’s human nature, but it’s really very silly when you stop and think about it. We all have things we like and don’t like about ourselves and yet we spend all of our time focusing on what we wish we could change. While all know that no one is truly perfect, we seem to believe that there are people who are at least closer to perfect than we are.
Maybe you’ll never paint as well as your best friend (I know I never will) but if I want to paint, I’m gonna paint. We all have our own unique talents, but you also don’t have to be the best out there to do something. Who really is the “best” at anything anyway? If you want to learn to paint better, then paint! You don’t have to be the best and you don’t even have to be good. Do it because you want to do it. Maybe a thousand other people are doing exactly the same thing and by most people’s standards, they are somehow doing it “better.” Does it really matter?
I imagine my 90-something-year-old self reflecting back on my life. I’m sure she’ll recount some failures, but I think she’ll be more disappointed about the times that she let fear and insecurity hold her back from trying anything that she knew she really wanted to do. And I think she’ll wonder, “What if?” I don’t want to put myself in that place.
I also find it helpful at times when I’m experiencing a problem or stress in my life, to imagine if one of my children came to me with the same issue. What would my advice be to my child? What would I say to one of my beautiful girls if she came to me and said, “Mom, I really want to learn how to play the piano, but I feel like its no use because I’ll never be as good as my friend. She’s been playing for years already and she’s so naturally talented.”? My immediate answer would be, “So what?” followed, of course, by encouragement and a lecture about how we don’t judge ourselves against others.
Lectures are all fine and good, but the best way to make sure my girls all learn that lesson is to model it for them. It’s quite possible that the book I’m writing will never be read by anyone outside of my family and friends. And, if it miraculously finds some success, readers and critics may tear it apart. But I will have tried. And that’s all that I can do.
So You Want to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others, But How?
So maybe you’re with me here. You agree that comparing yourself to others constantly is a distraction and is not good for anyone. But you’re wondering, how do you stop? That’s where I was a few years ago. I was comparing myself to everyone around me all the time. Some people more than others, of course, but it was constant. I would let it ruin my enjoyment of all kinds of events and get-togethers because I was tearing myself down as I built others up in my mind. Over time, though, I have gotten better at disconnecting from those thoughts, and I’ll tell you how.
The first step, as I mentioned and as is true for almost anything, is to decide to stop. So, if you’re there, great. The next step is to recognize the thoughts of comparison for what they are and when they begin. You need to catch yourself in the act, which means becoming more aware of the thoughts running through your head.
OK, so you catch yourself. You’re looking at Instagram at some woman’s beautiful kitchen and wishing your kitchen looked like that. Now, what do you do?
First of all, you don’t beat yourself up for the thought. It isn’t helpful to compound negativity on top of negativity, but we don’t want to allow ourselves to keep thinking that way either. When I catch myself comparing myself to someone at a party or on social media, instead of chastising myself, I try to think more light-heartedly, like “There I go again!” and then move right along with my day. It’s all right to yell at yourself a little bit, as long as you’re gentle about it.
These negative habits won’t fix themselves overnight. You have to choose to stop doing this to yourself and then work at it, just like anything else. Truthfully, the comparison game may try to stay with you forever. The choice you have to make is whether or not you’ll let yourself get caught up in those thoughts and let them rule your life. Even if you can’t silence them completely, you have the choice to disconnect from the negative voices. Recognize them for what they are—lies and distractions from what’s most important.
I recommend reading The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt by Russ Harris for more information about disconnecting from unhelpful thoughts— it’s a game changer!
It just blooms.”
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