Social media has done so many good things. It has allowed us to connect with people all over the world, and build/join communities we otherwise couldn’t have. But it has also given us a million and one moments a day to feel like we don’t measure up. And this, I’m sure you’ve heard, is what’s been coined the ‘comparison trap’.
Recently I read this article that talks about the link between twitter and increased anxiety. One line that hit home for me said that social media ‘is a megaphone for achievements and a magnifying glass for insecurities, and when you start comparing your insecurities with another person’s achievements, it’s a recipe for anxiety’. This hit home for me, and I think it’s true across the board – whether your platform of choice is Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, Weibo… or perhaps all of them. Don’t get me wrong, the act of comparing is a normal human instinct, and in its best form, it encourages us to improve our lives. But at its worst, it can make us feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious.
After going through a bit of a comparison spiral myself last year, I looked around online for advice. What I found is that most focus on reminding ourselves about the reality of other people’s lives and remembering that social platforms are a highlight reel rather than a true reflection (thoughts echoed in my interview with Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso). Both of these are useful tips, but at the end of the day they still focus on others, rather than being actual tools that help us to avoid or halt comparisons. Over the last six months or so I’ve been testing out a few tactics for dealing with the comparison trap in a practical way, and wanted to share them with you. There are probably lots of other ways to approach this, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Tactics For Avoiding The Comparison Trap
1. Start Your Day Without Comparisons
You’ve heard of starting the day on the wrong side of the bed right? Well, the absolute definition of starting the day poorly is on the wrong side of the bed, and with your phone in your hand and your head full of comparisons. If you’ve been following for a while, you’ll know that I’m all for the daily digital detox, in the form of an overnight phone ban. This allows you to start (and end) your day without feelings of comparison crowding your head.
Activity: Leave your phone outside of your bedroom overnight and don’t turn it on until an hour or so after you’ve woken up. Start your day without scrolling, comments, tweets and other people’s filtered lives. Grab some magazines or a book if you want something to do in the morning! More on morning routines here.
2. Curate Your Feed
You can choose the imagery that you see and the lives you connect to, so make sure that you do that mindfully, with the goal of only allowing that which is useful and inspiring. Avoid people who make you react with a feeling of comparison. In addition to that, purge your feed of the ‘hate follow’ (people you follow or check for negative entertainment or that can’t-look-away train crash phenomenon).
Activity: Have a look through who you follow and purge yourself of any people or companies on your feed that you follow out of anything other than inspiration, love or genuine interest.
3. Focus On Your Own Goals
If you run your own business or blog (and even if you don’t), the comparison trap can amplify not only feelings of not being good enough, but stress related to wanting to succeed at everything at once, a feeling that (in my case at least) paralyzes rather than motivates. Late last year I was stuck in a bit of a terminal loop, spending too much time unproductively on social media, with everyone’s success highlighting a feeling of being a bit stalled. Looking back it’s clear that this feeling was such a waste of my time and brainpower, both of which could have been channeled into working more on my own goals, which ironically would have made me feel anything but stalled. Avoiding the comparison trap takes the same type of willpower as it does to move on from a relationship – and if there’s one thing that helps to get over that crappy boyfriend is focusing on you. So while comparing yourself to others online is normal, think about how much time you are wasting when instead you could be focusing on your goals and moving your life in the direction you choose.
Activity: It’s easy to waste time comparing yourself and confuse your goals if you don’t have any clear ones for yourself. So sit down and take some time to develop your short and long term goals and then develop a strategy for making them happen. Then, when you feel a twinge of comparison coming on, disconnect from social media and make a start on your goals – whether it be starting that website or learning floristry.
4. Put Life Into Perspective
Recently I was waiting on some medical tests for a few days, and it was pretty stressful (everything is fine!). During that period, I got plenty of perspective. I realised that so many things are much more important than any comparison points I might have. And while I’m not saying you should get an MRI and wait for the results, at times when you feel neck deep in comparisons, it’s worth reminding ourselves what is important in life…
Activity: You don’t need to experience something awful to put life into perspective, it’s simply a case of reminding yourself of what else is happening in the world and how little some things will matter to you in the long run. If you find yourself going down the rabbit hole, take a moment to ask yourself, will this matter in 20 years? It might sound cliche, but it works!
5. Stop Obsessing Over Numbers (!)
If you’re in the industry (whether you’re a brand, blogger, creative or whatever) sometimes the comparison trap isn’t only about the content you are seeing, but people’s reaction to the content in cold hard numbers. It’s easy for likes, views and follows to be comparison points in themselves. But again, this is such a futile feeling that distracts you from focusing on creating a loyal community or engaging content. And in an industry where there are so many ways to generate false numbers, it’s important to remember that you could be wasting time comparing apples (a genuine audience) and oranges (engagement faked using comment pods, loop giveaways, bots) .
Activity: Stop looking at other people’s numbers and comparing them with yours, focus instead on your own community and creating amazing content and speaking directly to your audience. That is what will win you a truly loyal audience in the long run.
6. Do One Thing For Someone Else
If all else fails? Do something that takes you outside of yourself and into the realms of others around you. Because the comparison trap is, in essence, a self-indulgent emotion, going out and being with other people and helping them in whatever way you can (call a friend, walk a neighbor’s dog, volunteer) is a simple but effective way to stop yourself from indulging in these, let’s be honest, pointless thoughts.
Activity: Feeling awful because everyone’s life seems so much better than yours? It might be time to go and do something for someone else, something that will be sure to take your mind off it and give you the perspective you need.