A Coaching Power Tool Created by Kathrine Anne Minzlaff
(Young Professionals Coach, AUSTRIA)
Don’t compare yourself to other people. Compare yourself to who you were and who you want to become.~ Unknown
We all compare ourselves to others. Whether it is at work, in social settings, or our relationships, we compare ourselves to others. According to the social comparison theory, we do this to make accurate evaluations of ourselves. Unfortunately, while comparing ourselves to others can be a valuable source of motivation and growth, it can also lead us into an emotionally dangerous trap of self-doubt that can fuel feelings of anger, depression, and envy.
If you continuously compete with others, you become bitter, but if you continuously compete with yourself, you become better. ~ Unknown
Careers, finances, and relationships, for example, can be very frustrating and cause us to question our self-worth when it seems like everyone else is reaching essential milestones while we remain“stuck” in our current situation. This feeling of frustration, if not correctly managed, eventually turns into bitterness. As a result, we become resentful towards ourselves, others, and everything else in our lives where we feel that we are not good enough. When what we should be doing is living our lives to the fullest and focusing our energy on creating a better version of ourselves.
Comparing myself to ME
Focusing on ME
It is natural to compare ourselves to others, but when we become obsessed with our deficiencies or desire to do or be better than others, we focus on the wrong thing. Constant comparison with others causes us to take our eyes off our goals and has the negative effect of lowering our self-esteem and draining us of the mental strength we need to do our best. Therefore, rather than looking at where we stand relative to others, it would be more valuable to focus on using our energy in what we can do now and figuring out how to improve ourselves. By examining our capabilities and needs and placing more of our efforts toward breaking our limits and outgrowing ourselves, we are opening ourselves to experience a deep sense of fulfilment or meaningfulness in life.
Reframingand changing our perspectives
Resisting the urge to compare ourselves to others requires us to understand how we view ourselves and be open to reframing and changing some of our current perspectives. Being aware of our personal needs and values and the negative beliefs and fears that feed into our self-doubt can empower us. It can also give us the confidence we need to take positive actions toward achieving our goals and realising our full potential. Once that powerful shift from our limiting perspective occurs, life becomes all about creating a better version of ourselves. Consequently, we become happier as we free ourselves from the shackles of false comparisons and focus on the present moment.
Redirecting our energy to our journey
We are all on a journey to learn, create, contribute, find something, become something, etc. That journey has everything to do with what we want to do and where we want to go. It has nothing to do with how well other people are doing or what they have. Our gifts, talents, successes, contributions, and values are unique to us and our purpose in this world. Comparing them to anyone else does not make any sense. Therefore, there is no need for us to try to be as good as or better than others. We just need to focus our energy on being the very best version of ourselves. So, whenever we find ourselves using someone else as a benchmark for our worth, we need to make the conscious effort to stop and redirect our energy and attention to our own goals and what is required to achieve them.
Accepting and being grateful for what we have in life
To help us avoid or control our unfavourable comparison triggers, we must take pride in the things we are good at and understand that there are things that we are not good at. We should also learn to accept that there will always be someone better than us, no matter what, due to circumstances or genetics. Comparing ourselves to others only makes it easy for us to see where we fail, rather than where we are strong. Instead of wasting our energy on other people’s successes, it would be more beneficial for us to reflect on, acknowledge, and be grateful for our gifts and accomplishments in life. Then direct our attention to what else we can achieve, using comparisons to fuel our desire to improve, but without letting them overpower our sense of self-worth.
Comparing myself to OTHERS
Learning from others
Comparison is not always a bad thing if we can use it as an opportunity for learning. Comparing ourselves to others can help us reach our goal and feel good about ourselves, irrespective of the outcome if we change our interest from competing with others to learning from them. We must recognise that other people have different talents, skills, and knowledge to us and that we can benefit from these differences and use them to support our personal growth.
Using comparison as motivation
Comparison can also be a powerful motivator when we consciously use it as a tool for self-improvement. Using others as a model for our improvement can help us push forward to achieve our own goals. We can use it as a way to measure our personal development or as a motivation to improve our current level of competence and performance, and in the process, develop a more positive self-image. However, it is imperative to stress that such comparisons can only positively affect us if we do not fall into the pitfalls of unfavourable comparisons.
Finding inspiration without comparison
We typically compare the worst we know of ourselves to the best we presume about others. We tend to focus on their success, but not on the time and effort preparing and working for their achievement. Instead of letting other people’s triumphs make us feel bad about ourselves, we should view them as new possibilities for our own lives. They can serve as an inspiration for what we can be, do, and have in life. Using others as a model for our improvement can help us see where we want to go in life, and who we aspire to be. It can help us set new goals and encourage the competitive spirit that can lead us to become more motivated.
Clients who are generally unable to set or meet significant goals in their lives or frequently feel unhappy and dissatisfied with their living situation could be experiencing excessive self-doubt. This behaviour could be the result of their chronic need to compare themselves to others. In expressing their frustration about their condition, they may provide statements like:
- I am never quite where I want to be
- Everyone else is doing better than I am
- Even my best effort just isn’t good enough
- I never do anything right
- Life is just so unfair to me
- I can never be the best/win at ________
- I don’t understand why he/she ________ and not me
- I’m just not successful/lucky at anything
- I will not even bother to try because for sure there will be someone else much better than me
Such clients base their self-worth on how they think others perceive them and their appearance, what they own, and the number of successes in their lives compared to others. As a result, they often become stuck and disempowered with their ability to do well at work, in social circles, and other aspects of their lives. A coach can help change this situation by supporting these clients in being more conscious and understanding how they view themselves. By gaining awareness in their pattern to compare themselves to others, they can learn to stop comparing themselves to others and build their self-esteem by focusing on achieving the goals that matter to them.
Supporting clients to shift to an inward focus
It is essential to help clients see that it is more constructive for them to use their values as the barometer upon which they compare, rather than the accomplishments of those around them. By using certain types of questions, such as the ones listed below, coaches can help drive a shift in perspective of the client from looking at others to measure their self-worth to looking within:
- What type of life do you envision for yourself?
- What kind of a person do you want to be?
- Which relationships do you value the most?
- What do you aspire to be in life?
- What/who are you grateful for?
- What makes you feel proud?
- What do you want to achieve for yourself?
- What life matters to you the most?
- If you could fast-forward a decade, where would you see yourself?
- What does success mean to you?
- Are your current goals in life bringing you joy?
Exploring the use of favourable comparisons
Comparing ourselves to others can also result in something positive if we use it for self-improvement. The person we use for this purpose and often refer to as our role model most likely has specific achievements, qualities, and personal attributes. There is a power in seeing how the people we admire and look up to have achieved something we want. When we have a model for what we would like to aspire to do or be, it can motivate us to better ourselves. Therefore, asking the clients any of the following questions may be useful in helping them move forward in their lives:
- Who is your role model? What makes him/her a role model for you?
- Who do you admire? What do you admire the most about him/her?
- What information does that person have that could be helpful to you?
- What can you learn from this individual?
- What knowledge, ideas, or areas of expertise does this individual have that could be valuable to you?
- Who inspires you to live better, in the way that matters most?
- Who do you often compare yourself to? What effect does the comparison with this person have on you and your life?
- What circumstances or situations trigger you to compare yourself to others? Are they mostly positive or negative comparisons?
- When giving your best does not mean being the best, how does that make you feel about yourself?
- What things in your life are you proud of/grateful for?
- Do you often value yourself based on what others have, say or do?
Blundell, A. (July 2015). Comparing Yourself to Others – Can It Ever Be Helpful? Harley Therapy.
Breines, J. (2016). The Perils of Comparing Ourselves to Others. Psychology Today.
Caprino, K. (August 2017). When Comparing Yourself To Others Turns-Self Destructive. Forbes.
Haas, S. B. (2018, March 5). How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others.Psychology Today.
Nortje, A. (April 2020). Social Comparison: An Unavoidable Upward or Downward Spiral. PositivePsychology.com.
Robins, T. (2020). How to stop comparing yourself to others. Tony Robbins.
Webber, R. (2017). The Comparison Trap. Psychology Today.