069: The Comparison Trap | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
May 8, 2018   |   Episode #:

069: The Comparison Trap

In This Episode:

Do you often look around and feel that the grass is always greener on the other side as you compare your journey to others? I’ll share how we can move past the Grass is Greener Syndrome, which causes perfectionism, FOMO and lack of motivation. Today, we’ll turn this stumbling block into a starting block so your time and energy is focused on you, not the fantasies of the other side of the fence.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

Comparison is an un-winnable game.

Questions I Answer

  • How can I stop comparing myself to others?
  • What can I do to get more motivated and productive?
  • How can I feel better about my work?

Actions to Take

  • Comparison is an un-winnable game. We build up stories in our heads about what others’ lives are like, assuming they gained success with little to no effort.
  • Stop giving the power to others. Your driving motivation shouldn’t be based on others – you should focus time and energy on your work, and do it for yourself.
  • Water your grass. Cultivate gratitude for the things you already have.

Key Topics in the Show

  • How to overcome constant comparisons and the idea that the grass is always greener

  • The truth behind social media and how to shift your misconceptions

  • How social media plays into our need to compare and how you can shift your mindset

  • Learn how to stop trying to build success on top of insecurity

  • Taking 3 actionable steps to quit comparing your journey to others

Resources and Links

Show Transcript

Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on  finding success and happiness through the power of productivity. Each season, Tanya  focuses on specific strategies to help you discover your own priorities and purpose.  Season six is all about turning your stumbling blocks into starting blocks. You can also  join Tanya for more interaction and support in her free Facebook group at  inkwellpress.com/group. And now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton. 

Hello, hello, everyone, welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya  Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press, and this is episode 69. Today’s episode is brought to  you by Blue Apron. I’ll be sharing a little bit more about that later on in the episode.  But I want to go ahead and start diving in to today’s topic.  

All season long, we’re talking about turning our stumbling blocks into our  starting blocks, and we all have these obstacles, these things we have to overcome in  order for us to live our best life. And today, I want to talk about the comparison trap.  You know that idea of looking around you, seeing what everyone else has, and  thinking, “I want that,” or, “I deserve that life.” I like to call it this grass is greener  syndrome.  

It’s this idea that there’s always something better out there that we are missing  out on. You know, we look over that fence and we see that greener grass, and we  think, “I want that for myself,” right? We start comparing ourselves to others, whether  it’s within your relationships, your career, maybe even where you live, but you  constantly feel like you’re living with your foot out the door because you’re not really  experiencing stability and security and satisfaction with your current life.  

And the problem with this, this idea, is that there’s always something better  out there, and this is based off of fear and fantasy, two of our favorite players when it  comes to stumbling blocks. You see, fear underlies so many of these obstacles we  have, but when it comes to comparison, there are several possibilities, fear of missing  out, fear of boredom, fear of the loss of individuality, the fear of commitment. And  rooted within these fears is the idea that when we’re compromising our desires and  our needs and even our values for the sake of conformity, we feel less free. And when  this happens, you start dreaming of somewhere else that you can go that will let you  have it all, and be all that you can possibly be.  

It’s a little bit like Dorothy. We start dreaming of somewhere over that rainbow,  that there’s this better world, a better opportunity, and that is what leads us to fear’s  best friend, fantasy. When we want what we don’t have, we project onto these  potential changes, and we imagine that we’ll get everything we want, and we won’t  have to sacrifice anything for the sake of this change. But the reality is, what often  ends up happening instead, is once the honeymoon phase of making this change is  over, we find ourselves wanting to go back to the other side of the fence again  because we discover this side of the fence has its own set of problems, and the  novelty starts to wear off. We believe that external factors are cause of our internal  happiness. So, we try to focus on bettering that external environment in order to find  

©Productivity Paradox Page 1 of 6

some deeper happiness inside. But after the brief high, the dissatisfaction ends up  being the same. And this is why comparison hurts us.  

When we believe the myth that the grass is always greener on the other side,  we can be taken over by envy, believing that others have all the good things in life  and we don’t, which can leave you feeling depressed or anxious, or even persecuted  by the belief that we have so little when the others have so much. And this makes it  hard to make the most of what we have. We become so busy thinking about what we  don’t have, we often lose sight of the good in our own lives. By ignoring all the good  in our lives, we begin to believe we have nothing good to work with, and there’s no  way to make our lives better, so, we lose our focus and our self-confidence. We lose  our hope.  

The grass is greener syndrome feeds into some of these other stumbling  blocks, and it keeps making them stronger. It feeds into perfection. You’re constantly  searching for the fantasized ideal. It’s one thing to go from a terrible environment to  a positive one, but it’s another thing to move through a string of supportive and  healthy environments and just never feel good enough because we’re seeking out  perfection. It feeds into that fear of missing out, FOMO, and we talked about this  back in episode 14.  

So, you want to have everything, but even if you have everything you could  possibly want or need, you’ll probably still feel like something’s missing. It feeds into  our lack of motivation, a stumbling block that we’re actually going to be talking  about next week, because when you compare yourself to others, it can lead to you  not really wanting to get up off that couch and live your own life. You can become so  busy living the life vicariously.  

Often, when I find my son, Jack, buried deep in YouTube, and he’s sucked into  watching videos, I’ll ask him, “Are you living your life or are you living someone  else’s?” And that idea of living through somebody else’s life, that really feeds that  lack of motivation. There’s nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong with looking  around and seeing what’s going on in your industry or with your peers if it fulfills you,  but if it’s feeding into a need for constant change, or it’s repeatedly leading you to  feeling dissatisfied, and you’re running up again and again against these stumbling  blocks, you need to acknowledge that there’s a deeper problem at hand.  

So, if you have a pattern of an ever-changing life, being unable to settle in one  geographic place, one relationship, or job, you need to ask yourself, “Are there  deeper reasons than just “not being in the right place?” Really looking at what your  underlying reasons are for thinking the grass is greener on the other side really  ultimately helps you recognize all the green grass you already have. And this will help  build an internal sense of stability, rather than changing your external environment in  seeking that security. We can look within ourselves to find that stability.  

We have to reorient ourselves to dealing with what we have in this life. When  we accept our reality, we have the chance to cultivate it, to improve it, and to really  grow. Buddha once said that the way to find happiness is actually quite simple. The  secret is to learn to want what you have and not want what you don’t have. Not really  that simple, is it?  

©Productivity Paradox Page 2 of 6

We could change the grass is greener on the other side to the grass is only as  green as we keep it. Nobody’s perfect. Despite what you think based off of social  media, the grass you see probably isn’t as perfect as you think it is. You see, social  media feeds into this idea of the grass is greener. You see, when you compare your  life to others, or what you perceive is their life through this lens of social media, you  start worrying that you’re not getting all the opportunities that everyone else has. So,  to soothe that fear, you might check social media right after waking up, during your  meals, and right before going to bed.  

Studies have actually shown that this stumbling block can have a higher  engagement level in time spent on social media. And people who suffer from this  comparison trap tend to use these platforms more often during the day. The problem  is the repeated use ends up making us feel worse.  

There’s a study from psychologists at University of Houston and Palo Alto  University, as well as the study from the University of Cologne, that seemed to  confirm an association between Facebook and mild manifestations of depression  syndromes, and when these psychologists took a look at why people were feeling this  way, they found that the underlying cause is social comparison. So, the more time we  spend on Facebook comparing ourselves to others, the more we end up feeding this  beast. It’s really a vicious cycle. The more we compare, the more we want to look at it,  the more we want to feed that beast, and it becomes a cycle of feeling again and  again like we are not nearly as good as everyone else, or we don’t have all the  opportunities that the others have.  

This social comparison theory was popularized by psychologist Leon Festinger  in the 1950s, and he argued that people have the innate tendency to track their  progress and assess their self-worth by comparing themselves to other people, which  leads to these feelings of insignificance and insecurity. This, by the way, is in the  1950s, long before the advent of social media or even the Internet. If he was finding  these social comparisons back in the 50s, think about how much that has grown  since that time.  

And even if you only compare yourself to people that you feel are inferior to  yourself, say, a friend who lost a job, which then makes you feel better about the job  you’ve had for five years, even though you hate it, research suggests that the act of  frequently socially comparing yourself to others, regardless of whether you’re looking  up or down on them, is related to these destructive emotions. Any benefit gained  from comparisons are temporary, but the negatives are much longer lasting.  

Sound like imposter syndrome, anyone? Remember, we talked about that just a  few weeks ago, and how that feeds into this idea. What you have to keep in mind, is  platforms like Facebook were set up to be a place to show off your accomplishments  and your events, your engagements, the babies, the new jobs, and graduations. So,  we can begin to feel that everyone on your newsfeed is living this amazing life and  you’re not. But no one’s going on there and posting all the bad things that are  happening to them. They’re not posting about how they didn’t make it to work on  time or how their umbrella broke in the rain, right? They’re talking about all the things  that are going well, and that’s what these platforms were designed for. They were  designed to celebrate.  

©Productivity Paradox Page 3 of 6

So, I want to point out that the researchers of this Facebook study share that  the point of their work is not to say that Facebook causes depression, or that social  media is inherently bad. It’s all in how you use it. Be conscious of how you’re using  these platforms, and keep in mind that the real world, you don’t have a constant  barrage of this kind of information about other people. That can be kind of jarring,  especially if you weren’t expecting some sort of news.  

For instance, a certain person that you know gets engaged, and how happy  they are, and how surprised they were, and you just broke up with someone. Now, the  juxtaposition of these two events can really end up making you feel a little bit of this  comparison syndrome. So, you just have to be conscious of it while you’re looking at  social media. It doesn’t have to be all bad, it can really be a good place to go and  celebrate and find connection with others.  

But here’s the truth, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence  because it’s fertilized with manure. Okay, I usually say a different word instead of  manure, but this is a family-friendly show, but it’s true. Think about the things that  you post when you’re sharing on social media. Are you sharing the bad things? Or are  you focusing on what’s great and what’s exciting in your life? So, keep that in mind  when you’re scrolling through social media. And I want to talk about how we can turn  this stumbling block of comparison trap into a starting block. But first, I want to have  a quick word from our sponsor.  

Blue Apron is a weekly meal delivery program that I’ve been using myself for  several years. It’s my go-to to help make hectic weeks feel a little less stressful. I  simply choose the recipes I think my family will like, and all the ingredients are  delivered to my door. The instructions for all the meal prep is easy to follow. So, if  you’re looking for a quick and simple meal solution, give them a try. Just go to  inkwellpress.com/blueapron to sign up. It really is that easy.  

So, let’s talk about how we can take this stumbling block, this grass is greener  syndrome, and turn it into a starting block. I have three ways for you to do just that.  The first one is to remember comparison is an unwinnable game. It’s seeping with  fantasy. We build up these stories in our heads of what life is like for these people  that we’re comparing ourselves to. We tell ourselves life is easier for them. They have  more opportunities.  

A few weeks ago in the episode, I mentioned that overnight success is a  bedtime story we tell ourselves, and it’s true. Don’t equate happiness with an  endpoint. We want to assume that others reach their success with little to no effort,  but rarely is this true. And it paints an unfair picture for them and for you to pretend  that their success was unearned, it was effortless, or just pure luck. It’s unwinnable for  everyone, including the social media stars so many people are jealous of. The people  with the most exciting, enviable, fashionable lives are the same individuals with the  most hyperactive FOMO. It takes a lot of exertion, a lot of work to make your jam packed social media life look effortless.  

Too often, we’re checking social media in the morning, and seeing people that  we know, people that we look up to, or that we envy, and we see that they post these  incredible things they’ve been working on, while we’re still drinking our morning  

©Productivity Paradox Page 4 of 6

coffee, and we wonder, am I falling behind? And then, we’re reminded of all the things  we haven’t done. The problem isn’t the social media, it’s the comparison. In our  comparison-soaked culture, it’s impossible to avoid looking around at what others are  doing without subconsciously slipping into the how-am-I-stacking-up mode.  

When someone else achieves a degree of success that you envy, remember,  you have no idea what it took for them to get there, or what’s going on behind the  scenes. Really make sure you’re giving that grace, not just to yourself, but to others,  to know that they’ve had a journey to get where they are today.  

The second thing you can do is stop giving the power to others. Stop  competing with others and seeking security from these external sources. Otherwise,  you’re trying to build success on top of insecurity, which is an unstable foundation.  You have to stop caring so much about what others are doing. Do your work for you  and the people that you impact. Focus your time and your energy on what you can  do, and stop wasting your energy on looking around. Is it good to know what others  are doing? Absolutely. We all want to know what’s happening in the world around us,  but if that’s your driving motivation, or if it’s your measuring stick, you’re always  going to feel like you fall short.  

South Africa swimmer, Chad le Clos, is a great example of the importance of  this lesson. You may remember Chad because he had a fierce rivalry with Michael  Phelps, and the two of them were constantly pushing and goading one another, and  battling it out verbally and in the pool. Their heated competition came to a head  during the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, and during their signature race, the 200-meter  butterfly, they were within milliseconds of one another for most of the race. There  were mere fingertips separating first and second place, but then, in the last 50  meters, Chad was in the lead, but he turned and took a quick look at Phelps to see  where he was, and in that flash of a second, he lost the race. He was expected to win,  but he ended up fourth. He was so busy checking out what Phelps was doing, he  forgot to run his own race.  

I want to encourage you to really stop giving that power to others. And the  third thing you can do is water your grass. Author Robert Fulghum said, “The grass is  not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence, no, not at all. Fences have  nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it’s watered. When crossing over  fences, carry water with you, and tend the grass wherever you are.” You see, the grass  starts out beautiful and green, but it wears with use, so it needs to be maintained in  order to be a healthy green. The lush grass on the other side is what we wish for  ourselves, but it’s really just an illusion. So, you need to take the time to tend to the  things that are really important to you. Water your grass, and sometimes what that  means is you need to be still.  

Stop for a moment, take in the good things in your life. Realize all you really  have is the present moment, and that’s enough. Instead of reactively thinking and  over simplifying the process, ask yourself a couple of tough questions. When you look  at who you’re comparing yourself to, ask yourself, what do they have that I really wish  I had? What do I admire about them? Is it superficial or do I genuinely respect them?  What have they realistically done to get to where they are today? And then, how  does this fit into my own values?  

©Productivity Paradox Page 5 of 6

These questions help flip comparison mode inward to reflection on our own  desires and our own fears. Aberration and envy help point us toward what we really  want most. And if you admire someone who takes, for example, creative risks, find  the part of yourself that wants to be more daring. If you envy those in your network  who easily promote themselves, reflect on how you might share your own work and  your wins in a way that feels comfortable to you.  

Cultivate gratitude for the things that you have. If you’re aware of and grateful  for those things, you won’t be as bothered as much by what others have as well.  There’s plenty around for all of us. So, I really want to encourage you to stop worrying  about what the grass looks like on the other side of the fence. Worry about your  grass.  

And I want to close with this idea. Montesquieu once said, “If one only wished  to be happy, this could easily be accomplished, but we wish to be happier than other  people, and this is always difficult, for we believe others to be happier than they really  are.” I want you to keep that in mind. Think about, and take some time to reflect on  what you truly have in your own life, and see if what you don’t have really isn’t all that  great.  

All right, next week, we are going to be talking about waiting for inspiration,  getting that extra motivation we need. That’s definitely a stumbling block I’m hearing  from many of you, and during my Weekender episode, my mini-episode on Friday, I’ll  be talking about the fear method. You’ve heard me talk about fear a lot throughout  this season. It’s definitely a theme that underlies all these stumbling blocks. So, make  sure you tune in for that.  

I also want to take the time to encourage you to join my free group. You can  join that at inkwellpress.com/group. I would love to see you in there. All right, until  next time, have a beautiful and productive week.  

Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To join  Tanya’s free groups, simply go to inkwellpress.com/group