Why you shouldn’t be comparing yourself with others
Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else today. That’s what Jordan Peterson recommends in Rule 4 of his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. If you evaluate your worth by comparing yourself with others, you will always lose. To become happier and create a greater feeling of self-worth (and avoid feelings of jealousy, bitterness, and resentfulness), it is better to compare yourself with who you were yesterday and not to someone else today.
Comparing yourself with who you were yesterday
The game of life is not fair. It never was, never is, and never will be. No matter how proficient you are or how you rank your accomplishments, there is always someone better, more successful, prettier, richer, fitter, or faster than you. It is helpful to recognize and accept this fact without falling into the nihilistic trap of saying to ourselves, whats the point of life? This inequality is nobody’s fault and cannot be fixed in our lifetime.
“Comparison is the thief of joy”Theodore Roosevelt
This inequality is nobody’s fault and cannot be fixed in our lifetime. Strangely, in a paper published by the journal Nature Human Behaviour called Why people prefer unequal societies, a research team from Yale University argues that humans, even young children, actually prefer living in a world of inequality.
It can be argued that to compare yourself with others is helpful to create a more accurate evaluation of ourselves. Fair enough. Using others as a point of reference can be good and be a valuable source of motivation and growth, but can also bring frenzies of self-doubt. Focusing on specifics, on the angle this person has it all and I haven’t got anything that’s not a good way to look at things and it may cost you dearly.
Comparing yourself on social media
Before social media, we would compare ourselves with people close to us; our siblings, family members, school friends, colleagues, etc. Within this small group, we had a fair chance of looking good. We now have insights into billions of people worldwide, including the rich and famous, the beautiful and wealthy, and this voyeurism can leave us feeling a little inadequate. Using others as a benchmark to evaluate your own self-worth is filled with downside and pitfalls.
We suffer a lot because we only think about how life is unfair to us, ask a lot of whys, compare ourselves to others, we don’t want to accept it and just move on. Everyone in this life has a place they stand, orchestrated by the laws of the universe. You need to fight for yours. Don’t ever compare yourself.
There are two key ways you can compare yourself to someone else, upwards or down. Studies like this have found that upward comparison, i.e., comparing ourselves to those more fortunate (the rich and famous), breeds feelings of envy, low self-confidence, and depression. Downward comparison, i.e., comparing ourselves to those less fortunate, can provide some benefits to one sense of self; but this form of comparison comes at a price. It requires that we take pleasure in someone else’s failures or misfortune, leading to mean-spirited competitiveness.
Learning from others is what should motivate us to be the best version of ourselves. We should use other people’s success as a motivator and not a downer. Remember, life is a game; learning from other people’s successes and failures will teach you how to play that game; but first, you must understand that there are many good games to play, not just one.
Success is failure turned inside out
In Rule 4 of his book, 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson teaches us that all activities come with their own internal standards of accomplishment. If something can be done, it can be done better or worse. Every game comes with its own chance of success or failure.
Those words success and failure are very black and white. You are either a success, a comprehensive, overall good thing, or its opposite, a failure, a comprehensive, irredeemably bad thing. The words simply provide no alternative, no middle ground, and no shades of grey.
Remember, there is not just one game at which to succeed or fail. There are many games, and more specifically, many good games — games that match your talents, involve you productively with other people, and sustain and even improve themselves across time. Engineer is a good game, so is plumber, physician, carpenter, or schoolteacher. The world allows for many ways of Being. If you don’t succeed at one, you can try another. You can pick something better matched to your unique mix of strengths, weaknesses, and situations. Furthermore, if changing games doesn’t work, you can invent a brand-new game and try to get people to come and play with you. You might come to realize that the specifics of the many games you are playing are so unique to you, so individual, that comparison to others is simply inappropriate.
And don’t forget that you are not playing just one game you are playing multiple games. You have a career, friends and family, personal projects, artistic endeavors, and athletic pursuits. You might consider judging your success across all the games you play. Imagine that you are very good at some, middling at others, and terrible at the remainder. Perhaps, that’s how it should be. You may think you should be winning at everything. But winning at everything might only mean that you’re not doing anything new or difficult. You might be winning but not growing, but in the long term, growing might be the most important form of winning.
How to stop comparing myself with others
When we are very young, we are neither individual nor informed. We have not had the time nor gained the wisdom to develop our own standards. In consequence, we must compare ourselves to others because standards are necessary. Without them, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. As we mature, we become, by contrast, increasingly individual and unique. The conditions of our lives become more and more personal and less and less comparable with those of others.
Symbolically speaking, we must leave the house ruled by our father and confront the chaos of our individual Being. Who are you? You think you know, but maybe you don’t. You are interested in some things and not others. Some activities will always engage you, and others simply will not. How hard can you force yourself to work and sustain the effort required in any worthwhile endeavor? What is it that you genuinely love? What is it that you genuinely want?
You are nested in a network of social obligations, for sure you should live up to those obligations. But this does not mean you must take the role of a lapdog, obedient and harmless. That’s how the dictator wants his slaves. Dare instead to articulate yourself and express what would really justify your life.
So next time you catch yourself using someone else as a benchmark for your own worth, stop and remind yourself how ineffective this strategy really is. Instead, compassionately redirect your energy and attention to your own goals and what is required to achieve them. And don’t forget that the only person you should compare yourself with is the person you were yesterday.
And this my dear friend, is your Quest.
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