The Psychology of Comparison and How to Stop

Psychology of Comparison

By ProBlogger expert Ellen Jackson of Potential Psychology

Bloggers, solopreneurs, consultants, writers, founders – we’re solo species. Lone hustlers,  tucked in cafe corners with laptops and lattes. We’re perched at breakfast bars tapping keyboards in the early morning light. Hunched at the spare room desk deep into the night.

We’re inspired and driven. Focused and fearless. Joyous in our independence.

And often consumed by what others are doing.

“How do my stats compare to hers?”

“His Facebook following is bigger than mine.”

“Her Instagram feed is so slick.”

“Are they launching another new product?”

“I’m falling behind!”

Blogging is ripe for comparison. We measure by metrics; social media, readership, subscribers, conversions. We lap up the data. We compare and contrast. Are my numbers good? Am I getting this right? Am I doing okay? Am I winning? Or losing?

Isolation feeds the monster. With no colleagues to calm, reassure and soothe us, comparison messes with our heads. The human mind abhors a vacuum. We fill the space by watching others, measuring our performance against theirs. One question ever present: Am I doing okay?

Don’t Worry, You’re Human

Comparison is not unique to the blogger and solopreneur. Humans are social creatures. We live in a network of others. We compare to understand where we fit. What’s my social worth? How do I stack up? Who am I in relation to everyone else?

Psychologists call this social comparison and it’s fundamental to the human condition. We compare ourselves in every interaction; immediately, subtly, often unconsciously, We start as little children. Comparison is a strategy we use to cope with threats, build ourselves up and establish our identity in a world of others. We do it to learn who we are.

Look down to feel better, up to feel worse

Social comparison exists in two types. We compare upwards and downwards.

We look to people we perceive as less capable to feel better about ourselves. It’s a boost to our ego and our mood. Downward social comparison, as it is known, helps us affirm and reassure. Compared to him, I’m doing okay. I must be doing something right *Breathe out.*

This might feel uncomfortable but it’s okay. Social comparison is a way to regulate your mood.

The danger is in comparing upwards.

When we look to people we consider more successful or ‘superior’ in some way we risk despondency and derailment. It can flatten us and prompt us to question ourselves.

My site will never look that good.

I will never have stats like hers.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

At its worst comparing upwards can be the path to defeat. I will never do as well as him. I may as well give up.

The perils of social

Social media is the ultimate upward comparison trap. Studies suggest that immersing ourselves in those feeds filled with beauty and success may damage our self-esteem and put us at risk for depression and anxiety. (e.g. Vogel et. al., 2014; Vogel & Rose, 2016)

Don’t despair!

It’s not all bad news. When we feel good about ourselves and our progress, checking in on others’ success is motivating. It’s a kick in the pants to raise our sights and strive onwards. We push ourselves to achieve more. If she can do it, so can I – and I will!

Our successful peers act as role models. Their achievements are our inspiration.

The paradox?  When we’re happy with our hustle we’re not looking at others. Our heads are down. We’re hard at work. We’re not hanging out on competitors websites, or checking their social feeds.

It’s in our moments of doubt that we compare, looking for reassurance. On our best days we know where we’re going. We don’t need validation or support.

But what do we do on those difficult days? How do we avoid comparison and the risk of defeat?

Tips for avoiding the comparison trap

1. Be a racehorse

A racehorse does not watch his competitors. He is focused straight ahead and galloping towards that finish line. He knows where he is going and what he has to do to get there. Be a racehorse. Be clear on your goals, your finish line and the steps you must take to achieve them. Everyone is running a different race.

2. Know your motives

Why do you compare? Is it for inspiration and motivation? Or to manage your mood? Rising anxiety prompts us to look for reassurance and sometimes we compare to boost our self esteem. If you’re using comparison to manage your mood, does it help? Or hinder? Would your time be better spent working towards your goals?

3. Aim for personal bests

Comparison with others may be fraught with danger but there is profit to be gained from comparing with yourself. Look back and I ask, ‘What have I achieved so far?’ Regular review of your wins, no matter how small, boosts your mood. When you’re feeling good you’re motivated and creative. Worry less about how you compare with others. Focus on achieving your personal best.

3. ‘Don’t compare your beginning with someone else’s middle.’

This quote from author Jon Acuff reminds us that we all start somewhere and we move at different rates. Successful people also have their struggles. They’re just further along the path.  We’re all human and fallible. We’re also equally capable of greatness.

What do you do to avoid comparison affecting your blogging mojo?

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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