“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
― Marcus Aurelius
When I began my journey as a writer, I ran into several fellow writers online. Initially, I loved interacting with them and sharing thoughts about our different journeys. But soon enough, they started to feel intimidating and my internal narrative flipped.
How are they so put together? How have they achieved this accomplishment already? Why can’t the rewards come so easily to me? Why can’t I afford this expensive vacation and write a book and be regularly connected with fellow readers and do everything else with as much ease as others?
Naturally, this made me more anxious. But the worst part of social comparison is that it kills the joy out of all the existing achievements. You might be standing on the greenest grass and still want a slice of what your neighbor has.
I stopped celebrating all the tiny worthwhile accomplishments. Nothing provided me contentment, peace, or joy. But everything changed one day when I saw another social media post.
It was one of those people whose life you witness in neat, aesthetic, algorithm-driven boxes and think “How does she do it all?” But she wasn’t talking about her achievements (that would make me feel not-so-great about myself) today. She was talking about how she’s taking a social media hiatus to combat her social comparison problem.
I was surprised. How can someone’s life that seems so perfect to me be ridden with the same grass-greener-on-the-other-side problem? That’s when I realized that the culprit in both of us isn’t the lack of awards, money, or rewards, it’s the demon within us that social media exacerbates.
Beating social comparison isn’t easy. With 24/7 access to view the best part of literally everyone’s lives right at the click of a button, it’s hard not to measure up yourself against your friends, colleagues, or celebrities. But here is what helps me on quieting that voice most days:
1. Keeping A Gratitude Journal
There are tremendous scientific benefits to keeping a gratitude journal. But personally, for me, the biggest one is how it reminds me of all I do have rather than everything I don’t. In some ways, it feels exactly the opposite of browsing on social media.
I keep it simple: I write three things every morning that I am grateful for on a Notes App on my phone. I revisit those things on afternoons that the comparison bug bites me. I follow the same routine before sleeping – writing the 3 things I am thankful for.
It’s a tiny habit. But it changed my life. The benefits aren’t immediate, but slowly, I started witnessing abundance in my life instead of scarcity.
Instead of diminishing my own achievements with someone else’s bigger achievement, I started to realize there’s enough sunshine for everyone. The dialogue “When will I get that?” shifted to “I am happy where I am, working towards where I will be in the future.”
By the way, I also congratulated (truly this time) others for their accomplishments.
2. Tracking Achievements
A dear friend and I realized that we often keep each other accountable for doing more – reading more books, exercising often, working harder, etc. And it’s awesome. Having a buddy follow up on you creates a system of showing up and getting things done.
While talking about social comparison, we realized, why not do the same? Keeping each other in check for noticing our own achievements forced us to acknowledge that even the tiniest progress counts.
We began by making a group where we tracked our accomplishment(s) of the day. If one hasn’t shown up, the other is supposed to ping “What’s your achievement for today?”
And many days, I have nada. But I have to come up with something. That’s the rule. So, even if I write “I did 1/10 tasks on my to-do list today,” it counts. Seeing yourself being built like that gives a self-esteem boost that no amount of social media brag can beat.
3. Name That Inner Critic
Everyone talks about being self-aware of the negative voice that puts you down. “Don’t listen to your inner critic,” they say. But how? It’s too difficult to realize you’re down a social comparison spiral when you’re spinning in one (trust me, I know).
But one trick that helped me is giving it a name and addressing the voice with it. I chose “Monster KitKat” – feel free to name your own inner monster around your favorite chocolate.
Whenever I would notice myself getting in a slumpy mood, I’d ask myself, “Is Monster Kitkat speaking to me?” And most times, yes. She’s there. And she’s nasty. She doesn’t want me to believe I am ever good enough. Giving her a name made her so much more noticeable when she came up.
So I’d talk myself out of Monster Kitkat’s whims. And I’d be kind too (I am speaking to a part of myself, after all). When she’d go all berserk on not achieving enough, I’d say, “I know you’re scared and anxious, Monster KitKat, but we’ll get there. Comparison of someone’s social media strengths to our weakest weaknesses isn’t a fair scale. Worrying won’t get us there any sooner. So, let’s enjoy what we have now.”
You wouldn’t believe it, but she (Uhm, I) listened.
4. Turn Comparison Into Admiration
I’ll tell you I love connecting with others. Forming genuine connections online and offline fuels me. This is literally how I run my newsletter community where I write – by forming relationships with my readers.
And I love connecting with fellow writers who are more my allies than my competition. But social comparison takes away that genuineness in a conversation. Everything is tainted with that Monster KitKat.
I discovered that transforming my habit of comparison into admiration is the best way to eradicate that voice. Instead of thinking “Wow, I wonder if I’ll ever achieve that,” I thought “Yay, good for him!”
It takes a little deliberate effort in the beginning. But once you get into the habit of admiring instead of comparing, you see yourself forming better connections. A bonus is that you also begin to realize that there’s a person out of these neat boxes of social media – someone who’s just like you having good days and bad days. It opens up room for compassion.
Social comparison makes you rely on external metrics to evaluate the quality of your life. That is not only inaccurate but mentally taxing. Fortunately, there are good habits that you can form to eradicate unhealthy social comparisons. I hope you found my journey relatable and the tips useful!
Let me know in the comments below what you named your inner critic (point #3)!
Rochi is a staff writer at Elite Content Marketer who relishes fresh poetry. She talks about books, poems, and the troubles of everyday life on her website. If you believe there is nothing that cannot be cured by some Mary Oliver poetry or a F.R.I.E.N.D.S episode, subscribe to her weekly newsletter.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.