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Comparisonitis, and what to do about it

Comparisonitis is what I call the condition of getting into one of those spirals where you feel like you’ll never match up to the people you look up to, and feeling terrible about yourself and your abilities. Why do we do it? Why do we look so hard at what other people are doing? And why do we use that to judge ourselves?

If you’re prone to this, know that it’s normal. We’re wired to look at what other people are doing, and adjust our behaviour accordingly. Cave people would have watched other hunters to find out how to get food, and how to not become food themselves. But now we do it because we’re trying to figure out how good we are at something, to feel better about ourselves, or to get some idea of what our future might hold.

Now, it’s also not necessarily a bad thing. We develop by looking at what others are, or have been, up to and using it in the context of our own life and work. It’s how scientific theories have been developed and proven, it’s how artists have created great works (everyone’s inspired by something), and it’s what motivates changemakers.

What’s important is recognising when your comparisonitis takes that darker turn, and steering yourself back on track.

How to do that? Well, here are some thoughts.

  1. Take a good, hard look at what you’re consuming. And ask yourself, why am I consuming that? Is it because I’m genuinely getting enjoyment from it or learning something? Are you feeling good about what you’re getting from it, or are you trying to measure up to other people? Yeah, this is a lot of soul searching! But it’s really important to understand when your comparisonitis is tricking you into thinking you’re gaining something, but it’s actually a feedback loop. it. A bit of thoughtful unfollowing for a while might be in order. Social media literacy is really, really important. Pay attention to what the algorithm is suggesting for you next, and hit stop and do something else if it’s starting to make you feel doubtful.

  1. Ask yourself, what am I really thinking and feeling? Are you thinking, ‘I’ll never be good enough to do it like that’, or ‘I need to start doing that or…’, or ‘I’ll never know as much as he does’? How is this making you feel? Like there’s no point? Like it’s way too hard? Like you’ve got to get out there and learn ALL THE THINGS right now? Like you’ll never get there? Then ask yourself what evidence you really have for any of those thoughts and feelings. Does that person’s style or skills mean you can never have skills or style of your own? Because that person does that thing, do you absolutely have to do it too (even if you hate the idea)? Does everything really have to be done right now, or would it actually be better and easier to learn and bring things in things gradually?

  2. Consider what you want for yourself. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Is it because you feel compelled to do it, and you know in your heart it’s the way forward for you? Or is it because someone – a friend, a parent, an influencer, a celebrity – told you you ‘should’ do it? All this stuff you’re comparing yourself with – is it in line with your ‘heart’ goals or your ‘should’ goals? Be really honest with yourself here. What excites you about the picture that your comparisonitis is painting for you? Is it money, free time, status, lifestyle, values, image? Is there a way that you could look to achieve that with what you already have? Maybe you’re already halfway there and didn’t realise.

  3. Remember what’s different about your life and situation. It’s really easy to see what someone’s doing ‘better’ than you and feel frustrated because you can’t have it. But whatever’s going on in your life – school, work, family, exams – you can’t compare it to someone who’s not living your experience. This is especially helpful if you find yourself comparing yourself to influencers and celebrities – remember, they have entire teams helping them to look like they do, or do what they do. It can help to turn it around – I have this that she doesn’t, I get to do this and he isn’t. Stop for a second, and think honestly how others might compare themselves to you. Because if you’re comparing yourself, other people are doing the same.

  4. Know how unhelpful negative comparisons are. Easier said than done, I know – but when you’re comparing yourself to someone else, you’re the only person that misses out. Things happen that you can’t control, but you can choose how you react and respond. You can do this. You’ve got this far. Think back to where you were a month, six months, a year ago. Would you be comparing yourself then with yourself now?

Things to remember when you’re deep in comparisonitis

  • Do you show your entire life publicly? No? Neither do other people. Most people don’t show the really hard bits, the bits where they also feel completely lost and terrible about themselves. Or if they do, it’s in hindsight, with a positive spin. You hardly ever get to see other people’s messy middle.

  • Don’t compare your chapter 2 with their chapter 6. We all progress at our own pace, because we all start at different places with different resources.

  • Comparisonitis is very good friends with imposter syndrome. You are good enough for where you are now – that’s how you got here. You know a lot more than you think. Keep learning and you’ll keep moving.

  • Nobody does what you do in the same way that you do it. You’ve got your very own set of experiences and knowledge that nobody else has, or at least uses in quite the same way. That’s your advantage.

Comparisonitis is the stop before Procrastinationville.

The last thing I’ll say here, and I think it’s pretty important, is that if you find yourself regularly procrastinating, ask yourself if you’ve been suffering a bout of comparisonitis recently.

Comparisonitis can lead to analysis paralysis, where we overthink so hard that we don’t know what to do and can’t make ourselves pick a path, so we do nothing. And that’s basically procrastination right there. Suddenly it becomes easier to decide that now’s the time to take a consuming interest in Y2K fashion, or Stranger Things fan theories, or basically anything else.

So watch out for comparisonitis. We all get it, but it’s easier to beat it if you can diagnose and understand it quickly.

You’re you, and I’m me, and they’re them, and we’ve all got our own strengths that the world can use.

Now get out there and show what yours are.

Author - Coach Lucy Smith Lucy Smith studied at the University of Waikato, completing a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Professional Coaching from the Southern Institute of Technology. Lucy is available to support students and schools in Hamilton and the Waikato face to face and for anyone else via zoom. Don't Miss A Thing. Our subscribers are the first to know about new courses and special offers. Simply let us know you're interested by emailing us at

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