Comparisons are a part of human life. We compare our status, our skills, our knowledge and so many other traits with the people in our lives. Whether it’s with a sibling, a neighbor, a classmate, or just a random acquaintance, we constantly evaluate our own life’s progress with those around us. And while some comparisons can help us better our lives by motivating or inspiring us, some comparisons can have adverse effects on our mental health, especially those that come post-grad.
Her Campus spoke to Rachel Eddins—therapist, career coach, and Executive Director at Eddins Counseling—and Matt Langdon—Chief of Wellness & Mental Health at The Great Brain Experiment—about the impact of comparing yourself to the post-grad successes of others.
“A lot of people’s perception of success is determined by outside factors, and not necessarily intrinsic factors,” says Eddins. “We tend to place success in a box that is determined by comparing ourselves to others, and not how we actually feel. This often leads to us diminishing our own personal successes, which is extremely unhealthy for our mental well-being.”
These thoughts can make us feel unworthy and bring our own self-esteem down to the point where we stop believing in ourselves. Post-grad, these intrusive thoughts can lead us to downplay our past achievements and make us feel like we’re never going to be able to accomplish anything we want to.
“Comparing ourselves to others can be demoralizing,” Langdon tells Her Campus. “It’s easy to feel like we’re not good enough if we constantly compare ourselves to others who seem to have it all together. What’s more, when we’re constantly focused on what others are doing, it can be difficult to stay motivated and achieve our own goals.”
While it can be hard for us to completely stop this way of thinking, there are ways to channel these thoughts in a healthier way. From taking active steps to change our futures to finding strength in our own accomplishments, here are some strategies to help change the way this negativity affects us, from the experts.
Make a plan for your future.
Humans are evolving creatures. We constantly aspire for more and are always on the lookout for ways to be better. So, why not put those personal hopes and wishes into words and finally get started on those things you’ve always put off for the future?
Make a list of all the things you want to achieve out of life. Whether it’s something you want to do today or something you want to do five years from now, write it down. Instead of just swirling around your brain, seeing these thoughts in a more concrete setting can help motivate you to actually put in the work to achieve them. And maybe it’s just me, but checking things off a list is one of the most satisfying feelings ever.
But just writing them down is not going to get you out of that negative slump. Actively taking steps towards achieving these goals and knowing you're putting yourself out there can not only make you feel more accomplished, but can also give you the feeling of progress rather than being stuck just waiting for the good things to fall into your lap.
Make a vision board.
Vision boards are a great way to visualize what you want your life to look like. Taking the list of your future and making a visual board of your dreams can show you exactly what you can achieve when you're not bringing yourself down with thoughts of other people’s successes.
“It’s important to remember that we all have different skills and abilities as well as ambitions that make us different from other people,” says Eddins. “We are all different, and our successes are and should be based on our personal conception.”
Every person has a different path in life. We have different interests that lead to different aspirations. Making vision boards can also be a fun, social activity that you can do with your friends to see just how different your goals can be and why your positions in life can be completely different, and that’s okay.
Observation and Gratitude.
Comparing yourself with others puts you in a vulnerable place that can make you judgemental towards yourself. Actively observing and noticing the situations that provoke these comparisons can help to prevent similar behavior in the future. Once you know what puts you in this position, you can take steps toward counteracting these thoughts.
It can also help to find ways to be grateful for what you do have instead of coveting what you don’t. In a world of social media and the internet, we’re not just pitting ourselves with those around us, but we’re also faced with the lives of the strangers we see on our screens. Acknowledging what we have and finding joy in the goodness in our own lives can bring us out of the gloom and shine a light on the dark thoughts in our heads.
Talk to a mental health professional.
When the going gets tough, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out for support. Psychologists and mental health professionals are there to help with the good days and the bad. Talking to someone about the negative thoughts in your head and working through them with the help of a licensed professional can help better your own life and can only aid you in finding a more positive way forward.
“Ultimately, the best way to stop comparing ourselves to others is to focus on our own journey,” Langdon says. “We need to set realistic goals, focus on our own strengths and weaknesses, and stay motivated by our own accomplishments. When we do this, we’ll be less likely to compare ourselves to others, and we’ll be able to achieve our own goals in our own time.”
At the end of the day, we are the masters of our own progress and we can only measure our successes and losses against ourselves. Rather than comparing ourselves with others, we should start measuring our place in life in comparison with our own past selves. Finding strength in our past achievements and our own progress can help us move forward in a healthier and more positive way. You got this, I promise!