As a child you’re always told not to compare yourself to others. If another kid was better at math, a faster runner, skinnier, more popular, you were told to ignore that and just focus on yourself. If you’re always comparing yourself to others, you’ll never be happy, because there will always be someone better than you.
Have you ever met a person that doesn’t compare themselves to others? Maybe some adults with amazing discipline, but how about a child? It’s natural to compare yourself to others, so why do we think it’s such a bad thing?
You can drive yourself crazy if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others, but I don’t think that’s any reason to completely stop doing it. If it’s something we as humans do naturally, there has to be a reason for it. Comparing yourself to others was likely a necessity in the early days of our history. If you couldn’t make a strong fire, you would need to observe others who were better at it so you could learn from them. If you couldn’t catch a fish, you had to watch someone who knew what they were doing to figure out how you could improve. And even if you were already good at these things, if there was someone better than you, he’d get first pick of the ladies, so being the best was important. It was all about passing along your genes and finding the best female to mate with.
If you were one of the females, you needed to be the most attractive so the alpha male would choose to mate with you. Comparing yourself with others was vitally important so you could strive to be the best and pass your genes along to the next generation.
Survival of the fittest has mostly disappeared in the modern world, so being the best among your peers is no longer as important as it used to be. But it’s still innate in us to compare ourselves to one another and strive to be the best, so how can we harness that natural instinct and use it in a constructive way?
Turns out, in much the same way our ancestors did (minus the silently killing the alpha male in his sleep part): to improve yourself.
When you’re told as a child not to compare yourself to others and to only compete against yourself, how are you supposed to know how to improve if you don’t compare yourself to others? If you haven’t observed others and identified the areas where they’re better than you, how do you figure out what you need to improve?
No, it’s not helpful to just say “she’s smarter/richer/faster/prettier than me, I hate my life.” You do actually have to look a little deeper than that. Figure out why she’s smarter. Does she read more books? Does she study harder? Does she refuse to give up until she’s figured out an answer? Why is she richer? Does she put in extra hours at work? Did she start a side business? Does she save more money? Does she research her investments? Why is she faster? Does she practice more? Does she have better form? Why is she prettier? Does she know how to accentuate her best features? Does she take better care of herself?
These are the ways you should compare yourself to others. These are the questions that will help you identify how to improve yourself. When a child whines that someone else is better than they are, “don’t compare yourself to others, you should just focus on doing your best,” is not the right response, in my opinion. The right response is “why is he better? What can you learn from him?”
When it comes down to it, I think the intention behind telling people not to compare themselves to others is good; people shouldn’t waste time feeling bad about themselves because someone else is better. But it’s not really constructive advice because it doesn’t tell you how you can improve yourself. It’s only by observing others who are better than you that you can learn what works and apply it to your own life.
Do you compare yourself to others? How do you push aside the feelings of defeat when others are better and focus on learning from them instead?