In three words: Stop playing it.
I am aware of the toxicity that can result from comparing myself to others. I have heard, read, watched and learned about the detrimental effects of playing the social comparison game with “others.” I haven’t spent a lot of time on social media for this exact reason. Documentaries like “The Social Dilemma” (Netflix) bring this dynamic to light.
“Comparison is the Thief of Joy” so says Theodore Roosevelt. This quote too, captures the idea that when we look side to side and see how we “measure up” to others in a variety of ways, we create a no-win recipe for disaster.
Books like The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer illustrate that focusing on our own progress is what brings us joy and fulfillment. Makes sense. I guess this could be considered the antidote to the social comparison game. Focus on our own progress and celebrate that, in order to be fulfilled.
But what happens when the Progress Principle and the Comparison Game get tangled up? For me this looks like: I know better than to compare myself to others (it steals joy) and to focus on my own unique, idiosyncratic progress, but somehow I manage to compare myself, to myself, in the form of “other versions” of myself (be them past remembered or future imagined.) This steals joy too.
I think back to former parts of my life when I exuded elements of my “highest” self, be them fitness (remember when I used to run marathons?), creative (remember when I started and ran that consulting business?) or relational (remember when I was in love?)… and I opine, with criticism: Why can’t I be “that” again!?!!!
Or… I fantasize to future points in my life where I wish to exude elements of my “highest self” that are yet unattained: I aim to be a thought leader, I know I can be more efficient, I want to help others in pain. I imagine feeling enlightened, generous and present all the time. And I delay the gratification that I want to feel, by putting those elements in a future tense, which takes them out of the “now.”
My point? Our minds and our egos are tricky, determined forces. Comparing ourselves to others can be painful and detrimental, particularly when we are looking to falsely created realities, images, and stories that others create in their own attempts to win the comparison game.
But we need to be equally vigilant, and on the lookout for playing this game against ourselves. Our former, and future constructs of our “egos” will always tell us we are not worthy, not enough, that we are inept. The comparison game can be a joy killer whether we play against others, or against ourselves. It is not sufficient to avoid “keeping score” relative to others, we have to avoid keeping score as ourselves, against ourselves, too.
Imagining that we “were” our best selves, or that some day we will earn “best self” status in the future, is that same no-win recipe we want to avoid.
For me, true fulfillment is rooted in the belief that the only chance I have to be my best self, is this one. The moment I am in is the only moment that actually exists. And since we are all changing every single second, from our thoughts to our cellular material, it only seems fair to change the game from “comparing” to just “being.”
I agree, that focusing on our progress can instill feelings of fulfillment. But for me, I am more drawn to the idea that avoiding comparison altogether provides me a more desirable, and achievable moment to moment life experience, than looking at the perceived “progress” of others OR my (past and future) selves.
In three words: Stop playing it.