We are wired to compare ourselves to others; doing so can actually help us thrive. Noticing the achievements and talents of our peers can motivate us to set new goals and aim higher. Coming to terms with our own relative strengths and weaknesses by means of comparing ourselves to others can help us to focus on honing our strengths. But this mechanism for social comparison evolved when we were comparing ourselves only to those in our immediate circles. Social media offers a glimpse into the lives of others all around the globe: our closest friends and complete strangers alike. This surplus of information can overload our social comparison mechanism and lead us into the “comparison trap”, leaving us feeling depressed and thinking we’ll never be enough.
The good news is this: the choices we make can help protect us from the despair and hopelessness of perpetual comparison. Here are actionable steps you can take toward getting out of the comparison trap:
1. Build boundaries into your social media experience
Since we tend to check our social media accounts in our downtime and during periods of self-reflection, mindless scrolling can leave us even more susceptible to getting caught in a comparison trap. If you notice that you often feel bad after spending time on social media, think about how you can construct your experience differently. This might mean unfollowing accounts that often leave you feeling down. It may also mean seeking out accounts that help you feel more connected to your higher values. The more time you spend scrolling social media, the more you’re susceptible to getting stuck in the comparison trap. Try setting time limits on your social media apps in your phone’s settings.
2. Practice gratitude
Intentionally taking stock of what you’re grateful for, what’s going well, and what you like about yourself and your life is an important antidote to the weariness that can come from spending too much time focusing on what you don’t have. Practicing gratitude is most effective when it becomes habitual. To build a new habit, it can be helpful to incorporate it into a routine you already have. What’s something you already do every day? For example, you might think of three things you’re grateful for every time you brush your teeth. Maybe you choose to journal about your gratitude while you drink your coffee in the morning or you jot down your thoughts when you climb into bed at night.
3. Compare yourself to yourself
Remember, that uncomfortable feeling we get when we compare ourselves can be healthy; it can help motivate us to take action toward our goals and live a life in line with our values. It’s only when our wishes become unrealistic that we are left feeling hopeless. When we’re stuck in the comparison trap, we are wishing for ideal outcomes instead of focusing on taking actionable steps to make progress toward our goals. Give this exercise a try: take some time to journal about your values. What’s important to you? What are you already doing that is in line with your values? What else could you do to take action in line with your values? Now, what are some goals you have? Reflect on the goals you’ve already achieved in your life. What did it take to achieve them? What will it take to achieve the goals you have now? This exercise can help to reorient your perspective by positioning your own experiences as the example from which to compare your present and future self.