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
- Related Episodes:
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
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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?
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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.
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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
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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?
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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