Thought Point: Why It Makes Sense to Compare Yourself to Others

Introduction

It is a commonly accepted piece of advice that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others.

But this has never resonated with me.

I get the general premises that give rise to such a statementthat it can make you feel worse about yourself, that the focus should be on one’s self and not others, that what you see on the surface of others’ lives is not always analogous to what’s underneath. While this is all true, I don’t think that simply comparing yourself to others is the transgression here. I think the idea of not comparing yourself to others is a false conclusion drawn from a carelessly calibrated mindset.

Instead, I think it’s healthy to make those comparisons. By seeing where you’re at in relation to others, you have guideposts to either aim towards or aim away from. These guideposts also act as shortcuts, allowing you to forecast where a path may lead without having to blindly stumble about in the dark.

There is a caveat, however. You have to see yourself as an individual with a unique set of circumstances. You have to make the distinction between what has gone on in your life and what has gone on in the life of whomever you’re comparing yourself to, and realize that the two cannot be mapped directly on top of one another.

That said, healthy comparisons will help you figure out what you do and don’t want in your own life. They should leave you feeling inspired and/or grateful, not jealous or smug; and above all, they should motivate you to continue iterating on your life’s path so that you end up in a place you’re happy with, all things considered.

Edmonton, Alberta, Making Comparisons

Frame Your Comparisons as Guideposts

Comparing myself with others has helped me form mental guideposts around which to navigate the course of my life. I’ll give you two recent examples.

Example #1

I used to go to my university gym where you’d only see students; in more recent times, my visits to the local community gym have exposed me to a wider diversity of people. I’m not sure if this is specific to the location I go to, but it has surprised me how many of the people there have exhausted-looking bodies, to try and say it politely. It’s not uncommon to see people limping around the running track with a hunched back, doing stretches for an injured limb, or manifesting other signs of a noticeably unhealthy body. While some of these people probably had some bad luck, I think it’s highly unlikely that the majority of them had any sort of regular exercise routine before their health went downhill.

Don’t get me wrong, I commend these people for having the drive to get their butt to the gym and reverse some of the harm done to their body. I have compassion for them, and think they’re demonstrating a lot of strength. And I realize I am only judging them on the outside; who knows the exact circumstances under why these people are there in that condition. Gyms exist in the first place for people to have somewhere to go and get healthy, so it makes sense that this population of people would be there.

However, I can’t help but think: Does it take downright bad health for people to get the message that they need to regularly exercise for good health over their lifetime? Where are the healthier people at, looking to the gym as a place to maintain their health?

My health isn’t in a wonderful state either due to tickborne illness and other complications. But I have seen enough people with worn out bodies to have a guidepost for what I don’t want to fall further to in the future. As a result, I have learned to see regular exercise as a major key to avoiding that outcome, even if at my low BMI right now I could delude myself into thinking I could “get away” without exercising.

Making these comparisons at the gym has also made me thankful of the parts of my health that are in good standing. Besides my neuropsychiatric struggles (brain fog, depression, anxiety), for the most part my body functions well and I have my full range of mobility. I’m grateful to be able to say this as there are so many people who can’t. It’s a gift I don’t take for granted.

To conclude: if you find yourself making a comparison that makes you a little uneasy, move away from that guidepost. You don’t want to find yourself manifesting the characteristics of whomever you are mentally comparing yourself with. Be compassionate towards others, appreciate the things you have, and use the comparison as motivation to better your own life.

Example #2

Chronic illness is a major drain on financial resources, especially as a Canadian who is under the care of a doctor in the US. There’s the direct cost of things like flights, lab tests, and medical appointments; but there’s also the opportunity cost that comes from having worse job prospects than you otherwise would if you didn’t have an illness.

Just recently, I started reading a lot of income and traffic reports of people who make money from blogging. It’s been really eye-opening to see that some people actually make a living from this. While I am here first and foremost because it’s a passion for me to share my story and thoughts, to be honest I would love it if I could also use my writing to pay some bills one day.

On one hand, I could be envious and feel bad over the fact that I haven’t made any money from blogging. On the other hand, I could be happy for the people successfully making money from their passion, be grateful that they have shown me what’s possible, and be inspired to create a reality for myself that incorporates elements that I desire and see in the lives of others.

The healthy mindsetthe one I’ve adoptedis the latter. By comparing myself with these other bloggers, I have a guidepost that I would like to navigate towards. I call these sorts of guideposts aspirational comparisons. They help you envision a greater future for yourself and inspire you to achieve a goal.

The best part about identifying people who have something you want is that you can analyze how they attained that thing. In my case, studying other bloggers and what they do is straightforward because their work is out there for me to browse and many of them publish the aforementioned income/traffic reports.

But the same mentality can be applied to other comparisons. Maybe you think your sibling has a better body, you have a friend that travels all the time, or you hear about someone who beat an illness you are currently challenged by. Look at those peoples lives and how they arrived at their present reality, and if it’s unclear to you, just ask them. Many people don’t mind talking about their success.

And if that’s an unfeasible option, look online. There are all sorts of discussions out there on how to achieve xyz goal. If there’s something you want, you probably don’t have to stumble around aimlessly for it in the dark, because it’s likely someone before you has come along and attained at least a variation of what you want.  Take the general principles that they used and apply it to your own individual situation.

To conclude: if you find yourself making a comparison that leaves you in a state of desire, move towards that guidepost. Done correctly, you can start to manifest the characteristics of whomever you are mentally comparing yourself with. Be happy for others, be grateful to have a framework to aspire towards, and use the comparison as motivation to better your own life.

Final Thoughts

  • Making healthy comparisons between yourself and others can be used as a barometer for what you do and don’t want in your life. At the same time, you must recognize that you are an individual with a unique set of circumstances that can’t be neatly mapped on top of someone else’s.
  • Comparisons can be framed as guideposts that help you see what is possible. If you move towards them, you will likely manifest some of the characteristics of the person/people you are comparing yourself to (whether good or bad). Some guideposts you want to move away from.
  • Aim to have some aspirational guidepostscomparisons with people whose characteristics you’d like to manifest. With these comparisons, be happy for others, be grateful to have a framework to aspire towards, and use the comparison as motivation to better your own life.

What do you think about making comparisons between yourself and others? Do you think it’s helpful or harmful to you? Let me know in the comments below!

28 Comments

  1. April 22, 2018 / 7:39 pm

    I agree on this. It is a lot better to compare yourself in a healthy way than to be jealous and blame yourself because someone else achieved what you don’t.

    • April 22, 2018 / 7:55 pm

      Glad to read your feedback and know I’m not the only one who thinks so!

  2. April 23, 2018 / 12:05 am

    Am loving your writing.

    I started going to the gym recently, so this really resonated with me.

    • April 23, 2018 / 11:00 am

      Glad to hear it! I appreciate your comment and hope that you’re having a wonderful Monday.

      • April 23, 2018 / 12:25 pm

        Thank you!

        I hope you’re having a wonderful Monday as well.

  3. Sahara
    April 23, 2018 / 12:37 am

    I must admit, I often compare myself to others… out of curiosity. It’s because I like to know what makes someone tick, and in doing so, I hope to learn more about myself, in the process. I try to frame it as ‘learning from others’, rather than making a direct comparison.

    I think as long as you don’t get caught up in either envy and jealously or else pity (which can also be destructive), then making a simple comparison is fine. You just have to realize that you don’t know all there is to know about someone… so you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

    For example, once at a function, I saw a beautiful woman with the most slender figure in an eye-catching dress. I felt envious, because I don’t look like that- I’m short and more curvy. Then someone told me that the reason the young woman was so slim was that she was a chronic alcoholic and did not have long to live! I felt disbelief, then confusion. How could I have envied someone who was so unwell? I had no idea. So it’s kind of wrong to assume anything about others.
    Great post, by the way.

    • April 23, 2018 / 11:04 am

      “Learning from others” I think is another great way to put it. Whatever works for you so that you reach the outcome of moving towards self-growth 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your anecdote. It can be quite a wake up call when you catch yourself making totally inaccurate assumptions. When I have those moments, it’s humbling and a good reminder to keep an open mind.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my post and hope you have a wonderful week!

  4. April 23, 2018 / 1:07 am

    It reminds me of a community- how you root for others, but strive to be your best and use them as strength to continue. I used to compete in academic ways with friends. Cheer others on, help others to study. But in the end, you are just striving for your best, and its not like one person can beat out another person in school. Its not (usually) a ranking system. You compete, but its all good natured. I like to think of that community aspect in this sort of situation.

    • April 23, 2018 / 9:52 am

      That’s another great way to frame it! That was me in school too, and in the end it betters everyone to have that healthy competition. Having that community aspect around you can be so encouraging.

  5. April 23, 2018 / 9:50 am

    I appreciate your feedback! I agree with you, without the right mindset it’s easy for jealousy and anger to crop up.

  6. April 23, 2018 / 12:20 pm

    I’m really thinking about your words and I definitely can see what you mean although I think comparing ourselves in indebtbly leads to negative emotions. I think you can look at examples of choices people make but there is absolutely no way you can compare something without knowing every detail of what your comparing or you could very easily draw the wrong conclusion. I do like the point you are making though because we can’t make ourselves better people by learning from the examples of others. Great post!

    • April 23, 2018 / 12:20 pm

      I mean we can become better people by looking at both good and bad examples

  7. April 24, 2018 / 7:27 am

    Great perspective. People like to use very black and white language when telling us how to live our lives. We are human and so very rarely does black and white match our reality. The key here, as you stated, is healthy comparison. What could be and should be a guidepost, used for information and inspiration, we quickly turn to envy and self-deprecation.
    Great post. Thank you.

    • April 24, 2018 / 4:55 pm

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment! I’m glad you really understood the essence of the point I was trying to make. No room here for envy and self-deprecation 😀

  8. April 24, 2018 / 5:17 pm

    Thank you for your feedback! I’m humbled to hear that I have challenged your thinking, and perhaps that I’ve helped to grow it for the better. I think you’ve got the right idea now, about comparisons allowing you to see where you want to go 🙂 ahhh thank you for your encouragement and I hope you are having a most excellent day!

  9. April 25, 2018 / 6:54 am

    I have come to truly enjoy your writings – they are quite beautifully written. I’ve learned that the fastest way to kill something special is to compare it to something that it is not. For instance: when you compare, what does it do? It either makes you feel superior or inferior; neither of which honors God… We each have our own race to run; we were designed for our own purpose; no one else can fulfill our purpose. Check out https://youtu.be/dE2W7kazyg4 <3

    With Love in Christ,

    • April 25, 2018 / 9:28 am

      Thank you for the compliment on my writing! You do bring up a good point about the peril of comparing things to something they’re not. I think it goes back to the mindset which you approach comparisons with. Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out. <3

  10. April 29, 2018 / 9:49 am

    Wherearemypillows, I want to say I like your choice in name for your blog. Secondly, I think your post on “Thought Point: Why It Makes Sense to Compare Yourself to Others” Is a well thought out assessment on having a bench point for a comparison in relation to others is interesting.

    I also use this comparison at times, when I see others working hard at something that I am trying to achieve myself. When my tank for determination, desire, seem to get low, I say if they can do it, so can I. Comparing to others is also inspiring and allows us to dig into a deeper resolve within ourselves to push forward, preventing us from giving in or giving up.

    However, I am also aware that everyone’s “why” is different and can be the ultimate reason for achieving a certain thing. Our why can be the critical ingredient that can make all the difference when in comparison to relation of others may fall a little short. Having said that, we still must have a bench mark which to compare. Another common comparison is, our selves. We compare today’s performance to yesterday’s performance allowing a bench mark for which to compare.

    Enclosing, we can have the best of both worlds with comparing ourselves to others as well as our own last performance. Whether, it be academically, financially, or simply losing weight like myself. I really enjoyed to blog post and have also started following you. Thanks again for liking my post. Had you not found me, I would perhaps never found your wonderful blog.

    • April 29, 2018 / 4:14 pm

      Hi Evan thanks so much for taking the time to comment! It brings me joy to know that my words are reaching others and leaving them with some food for thought.

      I think your word “benchmark” is another great one to add to this conversation. I agree with you that comparing yourself with others or yourself yesterday enables you to establish that benchmark to meet or exceed.

      Ultimately, I just hope for people to have a framework that enables a mindset to strive for self-growth. I just find that the one that I’ve delineated in my post works for me. If it can help others improve their mindset, then great! It’s great to connect and I wish you the best in your weightloss journey.

  11. May 6, 2018 / 9:28 pm

    I believe comparing yourself to others can give you drive. You don’t have to compare yourself to others to see the downfalls of yourself, on the contrary you can compare yourself to others to see how you can improve yourself or even use others as an example of what you don’t want in life. It’s important to remember that each of us are extremely different in our own ways and that we were made to be different not the same. If you can remember that as a base for your thinking then you’ll be fine.

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 6, 2018 / 9:39 pm

      Yes, that’s exactly what I was getting at with my post 🙂 comparing yourself with others is just a way to reflect on your own individual journey and refine it. Thanks for your feedback and I hope you have a wonderful week ahead!

  12. May 11, 2018 / 10:40 pm

    I think this post was absolutely wonderful. What a beautifully stated and elegant way of healthy comparison and learning from others. I love posts that make me think, and this was so thoughtfully put together and so informative. I loved the examples that you provided, they really shone a light on what healthy comparison is.
    Great job!

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 12, 2018 / 12:15 am

      Your comment makes me smile; thank you for taking the time to visit and leave your thoughts! I’m happy my words reached you and provided food for thought. If I can help someone view the act of making comparisons in a healthier light then I feel I achieved my goal 🙂

  13. May 12, 2018 / 2:00 pm

    It seems helpful to me, and thank you for liking one of my blog posts.

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 12, 2018 / 3:18 pm

      Thanks for your feedback! And of course; I like reading the words of others.

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