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 statement—that 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.
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.
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.
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 mindset—the one I’ve adopted—is 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.
- 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 guideposts—comparisons 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!