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In an imperfect world, where we have so much going on, where there is so much competition to find a job, keep a job, build a successful career and progress towards  our goals, knowing how to respond to criticism, loss, or judgment matters.

But why is it, that we are often our own harshest self critic? We put ourselves down, we berate ourselves for not doing enough, succeeding enough or being enough.

Self-comparison holds us back because we have bought into the idea that we have to be ‘perfect’. 

In the song of love and loss “Nothing compares to you,” Sinead O’Connor sings about  how one unique person influences our life and our love.  

Because no one is the same. No-one thinks the same, speaks the same or behaves in exactly the same way as anyone else. On a planet of around 7.3 billion souls that’s a lot of uniqueness.

Our world view is the one we create, coloured by our beliefs, values and cognitive biases. We read glossy magazines about the lives of celebrities who appear to have it all, we go onto social media channels and see images of happy smiling faces all doing fantastic things and enjoying the good life. And it can make us feel bad if we feel somehow inferior or less successful by comparison. 

This one sided view fails to reveal the time, the effort, blood, sweat and tears any particular person may have endured to reach where they got to. Neither does it share any personal heartache, difficulties or tragedies they may have had.

The trouble is we’re very good at filling in the gaps in another person’s story we don’t have access to. 

Choosing to celebrate our own uniqueness allows us to switch off the self-comparison TV and stay on track with what is important to us. The mindset of champions is to block out any extraneous noise and just get on with the job required. As Sally Pearson said “If you hold back in hurdles, your’e going to fall over.”

Self-comparison can lead to self-doubt and anxiety, and reduces our capability.

We are social creatures hard-wired to connect with others and the thing that scares us the most is not being accepted or included in our “in group”.

A fearful mind is closed off to new ideas opportunities and possibility thinking. A mind that feels safe and secure is relaxed, more confident and forward looking.

Kristin Neff in her book Self Compassion : Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind talks about the three things we can use to maintain our own self esteem:

  • Self kindness
  • Recognising our common humanity
  • Using mindfulness to retain a balanced awareness

Rather than trying to be special or “the best” its about seeing ourselves  as fragile, imperfect and magnificent in our own unique skin.

My friend and leadership development thought leader Zoe Routh suggests that when we find ourselves lost in the mire of self comparison it can be useful to slap ourselves with a cold, wet haddock (metaphorically speaking!) to wake ourselves up to what we are doing to ourselves.

The real magic is that as we practice greater compassion towards ourselves, we silence that internal self-critic, reduce anxiety and feel more positive.

How useful could that be in a situation where you are:

  • Waiting for a job interview
  • Having a performance review
  • Dealing with failure in an exam/ project/competition

Feeling better about our own self worth also allows us to take a more compassionate view towards others. We feel less defensive, less angry about perceived slights or hurts from others. We can look to learn from our mistakes and take responsibility for errors with less humiliation or embarrassment.

Could learning how to lessen social comparison help you in your life?

There will always be those times when it can feel hard not to make comparisons, but remember:

“Nothing compares to you.”

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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