Pressing Pause Podcast episode 58 How can I stop comparing myself to others?
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers, brought to you by The Calm Mind Club where overthinkers can find calm, confidence and community.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I share ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to worry less and enjoy life more.
Hello and welcome to episode 58. If you’re listening to this before Tuesday 12 November you still have the chance to join my Break the Overthinking Loop online workshop which is taking place on Tuesday 12th! If you can’t join me live at 8pm UK time that’s fine, sign up to the workshop and you’ll get the recording.
So if you get stuck going over and over the same thoughts this is the workshop for you. You will learn how to deal with the thoughts that go round and round and round in your head – for example overanalysing what someone said or did for fear of what it means they think of you, or not knowing how to let go of a problem even though you can't do anything about it at that moment, or wondering if your workmates don't like you, or re-replaying past conversations, or feeling stuck with hurt feelings or frustrations, or what if-ing what could go wrong – they’re the thoughts you go over and over in a loop with.
You'll come away from the workshop with a clear process that you can put into action to help yourself any time you get stuck in an overthinking loop, along with a workbook and the recording of the workshop.
You can book your place in the Break the Overthinking Loop workshop, it’s online so you can join me from wherever you are, by going to gabrielletreanor.com, and I’ll put the link in the show notes too. It’s taking place at 8pm UK time on Tuesday 12 November and everyone who signs up to the workshop will get the recording so it’s not a problem if you can’t join me live, you can still get all the benefits from the workshop. I hope to see you there!
Now, for today’s episode I’m answering a question sent to me on Instagram, and if you have a question you’d like me to answer please do let me know. So the question is: How do you stop comparing to others? I know it’s unhelpful but can’t help but feel inferior.
Thank you for this, it is a great topic, and a pretty big one, to get stuck into.
So, comparing can help us to make sense of the world. Comparing neighbourhoods when you’re looking to move home, comparing pairs of shoes or recipe books is one thing but when you try to compare people it’s a whole other ball game. Because it isn’t actually possible to truly compare one human being to the next, to compare yourself to someone else, because there are just too many variables.
There may be some really clear and obvious differences, some boxes that you can tick off or leave unchecked but you can never truly know a person, what they’re thinking or feeling, what goes on inside their head. You can guess and imagine but you can’t know for sure.
So when you look at someone and think they have a great life, they’re successful, they’re happy, they’re healthy, they’re popular… how do you know for sure? Perhaps you feel pretty convinced because their lifestyle suggests they’re not short on money, their job title gives the impression they’re successful, they look fit and healthy and they’re busy meeting friends or have thousands of followers on social media. But what do you really know for definite? They may have lots of money coming in but how much is going out? Who else are they supporting, who relies on them for their ongoing success and income – employees, family, other service providers? How do you know if they feel successful, secure, or happy? Just because they act it or even say it, how do you know that’s how they truly feel when they’re alone with their thoughts?
I’m not saying that everyone’s pretending, that whatever they show on the outside is a lie and they feel radically different inside. I’m just saying that we don’t know. We see someone on social media or in the office or in the pub, we know a bit about them and we fill in the rest with what we assume. We guess, we imagine, we suppose, we assume and with these assumptions we make judgments of them and ourselves. We decide what kind of person they are, we decide what kind of life they live, we decide how they feel, how they think, and we use our judgment of them to judge ourselves.
We all have something called confirmation bias. It’s where we look for or pay more attention to information that confirms a belief we have. And it’s subtle, you may not even realise you’re doing it because you’re subconsciously looking for evidence to support what you believe.
For example, if you think that someone on Instagram is really popular you look at how many followers they have and how many likes their latest post has and it confirms what you thought – they’re popular. But maybe they don’t have any comments on this same post and rather than take the lack of engagement into account as you judge their popularity you dismiss it as a meaningless blip and focus on the proof you’ve found that confirms your belief that they are super popular.
Confirmation bias works two ways. You can use it to look for evidence that supports what you think of someone else, whether that’s favourable or not. So if you’re convinced that one of your work colleagues is treated better by your boss than you are, even if there are plenty of examples to the contrary you dismiss them and concentrate on the evidence that your boss likes her more than you.
And we apply confirmation bias to ourselves, to back up whatever opinion we hold about our own lives, and again that can be favourable or not. So if you think you’ve got a pretty good sense of direction you’ll remember the times that you found your way through an unknown area and you’ll feel confident that you won’t get lost the next time you’re in a new place. Even though there may have been times when you did lose your way.
And if you’re sure that you don’t have a creative bone in your body you’ll bring up your school art teacher’s criticism as evidence, dismissing the doodles you like drawing in meetings or the stories you make up for your niece, and you won’t try a jewellery-making class even though you want to.
So when you compare yourself to someone else your confirmation bias can be at play. You’re looking at what you can see and know about them and cherry picking what will back up the judgments and beliefs you have about them AND yourself. For example, if you think that other people must think you’re boring because you like to spend hours curled up with your cat reading you may then pay more attention to people who are spending their time going out doing activities because it confirms the belief you have about yourself.
If you think that you’re rubbish at talking to camera on Instagram Stories you focus on the slick, super professional videos you’re seeing rather than the plethora of videos of people with messy hair, no make-up and an untidy room in the background. And you don’t take into consideration what it takes for that person to make those super slick videos – the time, the team, the equipment, the energy.
So when you’re realise you’re comparing yourself to someone else think about what judgment or fear or doubt this is highlighting that you have for yourself. Are you focusing on how confident someone else is because you don’t feel confident? Are you telling yourself that other people are so much better than you at writing blog posts because you’re scared that no-one will want to read your blog post?
When you compare yourself to others you’re telling yourself a story. You’re taking what you know, and what you think you know, and you’re filling in all the gaps with what you imagine. So when you catch yourself deciding what a great life someone has, or how much better they are than you, ask yourself what story you’re telling yourself. What evidence, real evidence, not assumptions, do you have to back up this story?
And you know what, sometimes you will focus your attention on someone who really is doing brilliantly. Who really is great at taking photographs or who’s great at talking to strangers at a party or who’s hitting their work goals. Rather than diving straight into using this person’s success or skill or dedication to beat yourself, stop for a second and choose to take a different approach. I say choose because you get to decide how you respond to what you encounter and who you see in the world. So choose to pause and ask yourself what do you know for sure here versus what are you making up. And if you are really sure that yes, this person is doing really well at this thing, whatever it is, look at what you can learn from them.
How can they inspire you? So their photographs are beautiful, what is it about them that you think is so gorgeous? Is it the lighting, is it the way they’ve arranged the items, is it that the subject is in action or it’s a candid rather than posed shot?
If you have a friend who seems really confident starting conversations with people they don’t know at parties, tell them that this is a skill you admire and you’d love to learn from them. Or pay attention to what they do, can you notice that they often start off asking the other person about themselves for example?
We have zero say over other people and how they live their lives. What we do have a say over is how we respond to what we see. By being more aware of the thoughts running through your head as you see people on and offline you can recognise the stories you’re telling yourself. You can notice what belief you have about yourself that is being reflected by what you’re seeing in someone else. You can choose to look for how you can be inspired by the person who you think is doing brilliantly and see what you can learn from them.
And above all else I encourage you to be kind to yourself. Comparing yourself to others often makes you feel pretty crappy, and being mean to yourself, beating yourself for feeling this way, isn’t going to help, it’s just going to keep you feeling stuck. So self-compassion is called for, as it is so often in life.
And self-compassion is actually the topic we’re focusing on in The Calm Mind Club this month because it’s absolutely not a nice to have, it’s essential to help us deal with our overwhelm and overthinking. And if you join The Calm Mind Club now you will get to join the Break the Overthinking Loop online workshop for free! It’s just one of the many benefits from being a member of The Calm Mind Club and of course you get access to all the content from previous months like the fear of failure and worrying what other people think of you topics, along with a library of resources and bonuses and the lovely, supportive community.
So, you can find out more about and join The Calm Mind Club at thecalmmindclub.com and I’ll put links to the Club and the Break the Overthinking Loop online workshop in the show notes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.