I went to a party last night and I was feeling honestly really great about myself. I had a really great day at work and I felt really good on my outfit.
But after a couple of conversations at the party about people’s amazing vacations with their friends I started to feel like we weren’t measuring up because we don’t have a couple friends that we going vacation. That somehow because we prefer to vacation just our family we were not social enough. Which in my brain goes straight feeling left out like Mindy Kailings’s book “Is everyone having fun without me?”
I was comparing our fabulous family vacations to their multifamily vacations. WHICH I DON’T EVEN WANT TO DO. I’M AN INTROVERT and it does NOT sound relaxing.
But that’s what compare and despair does. It doesn’t require us to be logical. It just freaks us out.
Not just a teenage problem
There is a lot written about the effects of social media on teenagers. There are dozens of studies showing that teenagers are going on Instagram and increasing their own levels of depression and anxiety by comparing their lives to those of friends.
And while I agree with the research that is a problem for teens for teenagers I’d like to add that really it’s a problem for us too. And since you’re the one listening I want to help you address it for yourself so that will feel better and can model better moves your teens.
And this is the perfect time of year to work on comparison! There is something about this time of year that everyone can find a reason that other people’s lives are better. And because marketers use that tendency to sell products…that tendency gets stoked on overdrive this time of year.
So if you feel a little “not quite good enough” in October then in December you are going to feel a lot “not good enough”.
And while everyone basically agrees that we shouldn’t do it. We all do anyway. In fact, our brain has evolved to do it.
Why do we do this?
Social psychologist León Festinger researched these ideas way back in the 50’s and he found we do it for 2 reasons…
1. Reduce uncertainty. humans evolved as social creatures. we evolved in tribes. so in order to survive we had to stay connected to our tribe. So we evaluate our worth as a way to make sure that we stay connected to our tribe. That makes us feel safer. it reduces uncertainty.
So if you think of a work example, you compare your performance to that of your coworkers. Say it year-end reviews are coming up and you’re feeling nervous. You might look around and compare your performance to that of your coworkers. You might think of things leg I was little late on that deadline but at least I’m not like Joe he blew that client presentation completely. So you’re comparing to reduce your level of uncertainty about your performance review.
It doesn’t ultimately work. Because of inherent in that comparison is you noticing where you wish you had done better. But that’s why you’re trying to do it you’re trying to feel better about your performance and reduce your level of uncertainty.
2. Define ourselves. because things like “beauty’ are hard to define, we define them “in relation to other people”.
Like everything else our brain is trying to do, it’s our brain is trying to help us when it compares us to other people. So nothing has gone wrong when your brain compares. It is legitimately trying to help you.
But like so many of the other things that we’ve talked about in this podcast and we are going to talk about, just because your brain is trying to help you doesn’t mean it actually helps. This is the leftover impulse from earlier times.
Our brain is trying to help
Just like our brain’s preference for fat and sugar was created in a time when food was scarce and is now making American’s obese. This false idea that comparing ourselves will lead to self-improvement or security is leading us to insecurity instead.
And this is especially true around the holidays and especially true on social media.
There are dozens of studies that show that after spending time on social media comparing our actual real vacation to our friend’s carefully curated glamor shots, we are going to feel like crap.
There is a great piece in the book “Everybody Lies” where it contrasts what the most common words that people use about their husbands on Facebook; they are the best, my best friend, amazing, the greatest, so cute. Versus what words they google search about their husbands:
At least amazing’s the same!
How do we fix this?
How do we manage our brain so that we don’t spend our lives feeling like crap every time we go to a party or log on to facebook?
Think of compare and despair as all one word. Compareanddespair Think of it is all one word. Because it all comes together. Even when you compare and think you are awesome it’s not actually working in your favor. Because you are still subtle feeling anxious that someone else will come along and be better at it than you are so you are still losing energy when you do this because you are still holding the possibility of future despair even if you feel like you “won” this round. So when you notice yourself comparing make sure that you’re down with Despairing.
Hopefully, the answer to that question is Hell no. I’m not cool with despairing.
Figure out what you’re trying to get out of this particular round of comparing.
You want to think about how you think you would feel if you had that woman’s cute sweater. Or that woman’s smart kids. Or that woman’s high-paying job Or fabulous vacation. Whatever it is that you are Comparing over, think about how you would feel if you had that thing.
Because the only reason we want that thing in the first place is because of how we think it will make us feel. It’s never actually about the sweater. It’s about how we will think we will feel in that sweater. Or with that high-paying job. With those perfect kids.
So in the case of the cute sweater think I would feel more stylish OK and if I felt more stylish I would feel more confident at this party. So what you really want is not the sweater but the feeling of confidence. So what could you think right now that would have you feeling more confident? Because that’s what you’re really after not the sweater but the feeling of confidence.
OK let’s do one more because this is so fun and because I have one last helpful ninja move. What about compare and despair when it has to do with physical attributes. Again this is super common with teenagers and it’s super common with us.
We look across the party and see someone who is thinner or they have better hair. or they are looking super fit and we are feeling like flabby. It’s not a surprise we compare in this area because Society tells women that our value is related to how we look. A recent Guardian article said that children as young as 7 believe that they are valued more for their appearance than their character.
And let’s just talk about what to do when we catch ourselves looking around a party and decide who we stack up with other women. So step 1 you’ve noticed yourself comparing. You’ve remembered that comparing despair is all one word.
Now you can ask: how do I think I would feel if I that woman skinny behind or super toned arms? I think I would feel more attractive or confident or strong. You can try thinking a thought that makes you feel attractive, confident or strong. But if you can’t get traction there, consider the ninjia move.
Drum roll please…
You can just say to yourself So what. Good for her? That woman has tight, toned arms. So what. Good for her.
Does that mean my arms are less worthy? Of course not. Her success at the gym doesn’t mean squat for me. It doesn’t make her a better person than I am? Of course not. Does it somehow reduce the quantity of toned arms available to me? No! It literally means nothing about me. Nothing. So we can truly get excited about our friend’s success because we know it means nothing about us.
We can feel happy for them without feeling unhappy for ourselves.
You can use this ninja hack in any circumstance in support and love and enjoy the people around you.
Compare and declare
I like to call that compare and declare. Your brain naturally compares because that’s just what it does. It’s just your brain being your brain. But instead of despairing, you declare what you’re going to think and by doing so you declare how you’re going to feel.
Remind yourself you can choose how you feel about yourself no matter what. There is no “who wore it best” in your mind! When you do that, everything gets easier.
We get to enjoy social media. (Bring on the puppies riding horses!) We get to enjoy holiday parties. We stop being shy about sharing our own success.