The Comparison Trap
I felt really jealous all of a sudden. As I put my phone back in my purse, I wondered why my anxiety always increases when I peruse the various social networks each day. I didn't like it.
The more I think about it, I realize we are living in a world where comparison is the default. Paul Angone calls it the new OCD, Obsessive Comparison Disorder. The result is that we forget to stop and think for ourselves. We let family, friends, social media, and even strangers weigh in and affect our decision making. Not to mention, the constant pressure to always keep it together, strive for perfection, and hide the things we don’t like about ourselves - in fear of judgement and rejection.
You do it.
I do it.
In fact it's nearly impossible to escape the reach of how deeply we can be influenced by these powerful things. I often have this message looping through my brain, “Do more, try harder.” Does this thought sound familiar? This overall expectation is unrealistic and full of pressure to be 100% all the time. Instead, we should try telling ourselves, “You’re doing your best or do what you have capacity for today.” As a result, we make space for grace, self-love, and acceptance of ourselves, flaws and all. No one is perfect and it doesn’t help us to assume that we are.
So, let’s talk about some helpful tactics to avoid the comparison trap…
1. START YOUR DAY WITH INTENTIONALITY
When you wake up, what is the first thing you do? If it’s looking at your phone, I encourage you to start a new routine. The way you set your intentions for the day matters. Identify what you want to focus on, enjoy your coffee or tea, and name what it is you are looking forward to in your day. The power of positive self-talk can change the way you think about yourself and others as you start your morning. Leave your phone face down or on silent if that helps the desire to check the latest social posts or text messages. Give yourself a time limit before diving in to your screen. Notice how you feel, what changes have been made in your day?
2. CHOOSE WHAT YOU LOOK AT CAREFULLY
Is there a theme to the social feeds you follow? Does that bring you encouragement or pressure to be something other than your unique self? If so, it might be time to purge the social channels and unfollow the people or companies that are causing you stress. Change is good, but when the motivation behind it is causing you to desire someone else's life, you are avoiding living in your own story. You may even miss an opportunity to influence others in the way you were created to be and with the passions you are excited about. The goal here is to believe the idea that YOU and YOUR unique story matters.
3. IDENTIFY HOW OFTEN YOU CHECK SOCIAL MEDIA AND FOR WHAT PURPOSE
How many times do you check back at your post to see how many “likes” you have? The frequency of social media use has a clear correlation to how we feel. A CNN study of 13-year-olds and their relationship with social media, found that participants who looked at Facebook or other networking sites between 50 and 100 times a day were 37 percent more distressed than those who checked just a few times a day. Those who checked more than 100 times a day were 47 percent more distressed on average. The average U.S. adult looks at their phone about 10 hours a day - There’s only 24 hours in a day and we sleep for about 7-8 hours of that time.
Bottom line: Whether or not your are dealing with a mental health issue, excessive time spent on social media is never a good thing.
Did you know that the response in our brain to this constant obsession of checking our “likes” on social media actually activates the same circuits in the brain that are activated by eating chocolate or winning money? That’s powerful. A new study shows that, “the brain responds to social media the same way it responds to real-life connections, with a release of dopamine—a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of pleasure and works in the reward center of the brain.” The positive reinforcement follows when the posts on social channels receive likes, shares, and positive comments from peers. Resulting in a rush of dopamine, creating a ‘high’. For some, this can feed into the comparison trap and desire to recreate that feeling with more posts and more time on social media.
4. IDENTIFY YOUR OWN GOALS
Have you made any goals for yourself lately? It’s easy to spend time comparing yourself and confuse your goals if you don’t have any clear ones set for yourself. Take time to write out and develop your short and long term goals and then put a plan in place for making them happen. Then, when you feel the comparison thoughts starting, take a break from social media, reach out to a friend or go on a walk to help if that helps to “unplug,” but then start back on your goals that you have made to help you refocus.
5. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
Practicing gratitude can benefit your overall mental health. In a past blog post, Health Benefits of Positive Thinking can lead to longer life, lower stress, and better coping skills when dealing with hardship. Spend some time identifying what you are thankful for. Try this as you set your intentions each morning and notice how this daily practice will start to benefit your routine and overall view of yourself and others. Another way to practice gratitude is to help others. The comparison trap can foster negative feelings about yourself and others, but when your time is spent helping and enjoying time with others, it becomes an effective way to stop these negative feelings. Try calling a friend, going on a walk, or volunteering. Focusing on others can take your mind off of comparison and give you the perspective shift you may need.
Does any of this resonate with you? My challenge to you is to pick one of these tactics listed above and try fighting against the comparison trap for a week (even longer if you can) and notice how you feel. Write out what changes you are hoping to experience before you start, and then write out what you actually experienced after the fact.
You got this!