7, May 2021

To compare yourself or not to compare yourself?

Written by Victoria Sardain in collaboration with kaio swim

We’re constantly comparing ourselves to those around us. This is a human tendency that has allowed us to evolve as a social species in highly functioning societies. We look around to gain perspective on what others are doing, how they’re doing it, helps us look up to those who inspire us and give us the drive to follow in their footsteps.

Comparison has gotten a very bad rap lately, but as usual, it’s a lot more complicated than simply dismissing it all together. There are situations in which comparison is helpful and definitely moments in which it’s not.

Imagine you’re by the pool enjoying the sun and reading a book. You notice a woman a few meters away and you find yourself naturally comparing your body to hers.

When we gain clarity on both the negative and positive sides of comparison, we can train ourselves to keep the positive aspects and let go of the negatives.

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

When you feel comparison bubbling within you remember that someone else has nothing to do with your worth as a person. Someone’s success does not make you any less successful, someone’s achievements do not diminish yours and there is no limit to how much happiness, wealth or beauty is available in the world. In other words; we’re not splitting a pie into parts. Let’s think of it instead like a candle. Someone else’s light does not make yours any dimmer.

In every negative emotion there lies a nugget of wisdom…

Negative emotions should not be swept under the rug, even emotions of envy or jealousy that often bring about shame or embarrassment. Every emotion is an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. Often there’s something we’re not entirely satisfied with internally or an unsaid, unrealistic expectation lingering below the surface. The other person has simply shone a light on it.

When feelings of comparison come about, take it as an opportunity to reflect inwards. It’s not about the other person, it’s about you.

Ask yourself…

What did this trigger within me?
Why am I feeling lesser-than?
Is there an area of my life where I have set unrealistic expectations?
Is there an area of my life where I know I’m not reaching my potential and it’s realistic to bring about change?

From this reflection you can start to understand if there is an expectation you need to let go of, or if there’s an element in your life where you’re ready to bring about change.

Taking responsibility and creating a new response

Comparison is innate to us as humans and it won’t be going anywhere. However when we take responsibility for our reactions and remember that everything is a choice, we can pick up a new response that is helpful and not harmful.

When we feel lesser-than, we often follow the reaction below…

Comparison → mentally list what the other has that we don’t → jealousy, envy, sometimes resentment → decrease self-esteem

What if we flipped that and created a new reaction?

Perhaps we can try the following…

Comparison → revert internally and reflect → notice expectations to release → notice areas to bring in change → decide how to release expectations or bring change → feel empowered → increase self-esteem

Let’s demonstrate this with our pool example.

Your reaction might be to mentally examine all the ways in which you envy this other woman’s body, start feeling envy and perhaps frustration towards yourself. You start feeling self-conscious and you sense a decrease in confidence so you decide to go home with your self-esteem in the dumps.

Alternatively, perhaps you use this natural comparison as an opportunity to revert inwards and ask yourself why this is triggering. You arrive at the conclusion that since your new role at work and your family have been your main focus these days, your sport routine has taken a back seat. Seeing this other woman’s athletic physique has reminded you that you’ve let that part of your life slide. Then you ask yourself if something needs to be changed or if there’s an unrealistic expectation you need to let go of. You realise that with everything going on at the moment, sport is not your priority. Maybe it will go back on the priority list later on, but for now, expecting yourself to uphold all the tasks you’re juggling plus maintaining a solid fitness routine is simply not realistic. You smile, and return to your book.

Rule of thumb in comparison…
Don’t compare your step one with someone else’s step 50. Life is a lot more complicated than what can be shared on a CV or an Instagram feed. Everyone’s journey looks different. The only true basis you can compare yourself to is yourself. When you find yourself comparing yourself to others, bring it back to you, reflect on how far you’ve come and where you want to take it from here.

Victoria Sardain