The dangers of comparison and how to avoid falling into the trap of it

Growing up in public schools, there are many things I remember well. The craziness in the hallways between class, my favorite teachers, the class where I played cards with a friend and we kept score on the back whiteboard, and the different people that you’ve never seen since.

But one thing, for whatever reason, that has stuck vividly in my mind was the process of taking a test. For years after graduating high school and college, I’d have a recurring nightmare that I’d missed a test or forgotten to study.

Recently, I friend told me that they’d had those same dreams.

At the time, those test felt so important. When you got to a question you didn’t know the answer, you’d sit and think. Naturally, your eyes would wander around the room.

Sometimes, this wandering was innocent. Other times, it was purpose-filled… trying to see if you could find the answer on your neighbor’s paper.

“Keep your eyes on your own paper”

I remember teacher after teacher repeating this phrase.

Just as it’s natural to let your mind wander when struggling for the answer on a test, I think it’s natural to let our minds wander in life.

How could Suzy afford that car? How did Josh get that job? Did you see the Jones’ got a new house?

It’s so easy to look around us and play the comparison game with our neighbors, friends, and colleagues.

The problem with comparison is that it can become leach that sucks the joy out of our current situation. We end up placing our hope in a future situation.

We needed to quit looking for happiness in a future outcome.

When you think of comparison, there are two types.

Comparison for growth

When we compare for growth, we’re working on a skill or towards an outcome and are looking at people who are on a similar path so we can learn from them.

An example is when you’re trying to advance in your career, you look at, and talk to, people who are one or two steps ahead of you.

Once you’ve done this, you apply what you’ve learned and continue to push towards that goal.

Comparison for envy

When you compare in envy, you’re either being critical of the other person or critical of yourself.

This leaves you with a feeling of being less than, or frustration.

You need to be careful, though. Comparison for growth can quickly become comparison for envy. When something doesn’t go your way, that can lead to frustration and rumination on the wrong sort of thoughts.

So how do we stop ourselves from getting into the comparison trap?

Here are just a few ways:

  1. Practice gratitude
  2. Compete with yourself
  3. Write down your strengths
  4. Remove your visibility (social media fast)

How to get a promotion

This week on the podcast I focused on how to get a raise or promotion at your job.

I talk about 17 skills you need to work on and books that will help you with those skills.

Click this link to listen now.


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