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  • Matthew Trethewey

How I Avoid the Comparison Trap

Updated: Jun 28

"When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everyone will respect you." —Lao Tzu.

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When we compare ourselves, we tend to feel either worse or better than other people. But, whatever we think, the bottom line is that we always lose out. That's why it's called "The Comparison Trap."


If we believe we are worse off than others, maybe they are more popular or more successful than us, we convince ourselves that they don't want to talk to us, be our friend, or do business with us. As a result, we also feel unhappy or depressed.


If we believe we are better than others, maybe we see ourselves as more attractive, wealthier or "better" than others in some way; we consider any time spent with these people as a waste. As a result, we see our ego grow or can feel arrogant.


In either case, comparing ourselves to others creates separation. We don't connect or interact with these people for fear of rejection or wasting our time. We also feel different: either worse or better than others.


Deep down, we know that comparing ourselves to others is a dangerous habit to develop. It does not help us, and it creates negative feelings. It also steals time and energy that we could devote to something far more helpful and productive.


And because comparing is something we all do, I'm sharing three strategies that I use to stop myself from falling into the comparison trap.


The first strategy I use is to avoid, as much as possible, any trigger (thought) that sends me into a comparison tailspin. And for me, the most significant stimuli of all is social media. I have Facebook and Linkedin accounts, and I use them regularly. In the past, a glance at a Facebook photo of a friend experiencing "more" than me could push me into a downward spiral of depression that could last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and it would always be a real challenge for me to change out of this state. I realise now that a simple way to avoid sinking into that same trap is to avoid triggering the comparison. And this means managing how I use and how I think about social media.


Sometimes though, we cannot always avoid a trigger (thought), leading to my second strategy: to challenge the thinking behind the comparison. Any negative feeling we experience originates from believing a negative thought in our mind.


One of the best tools for dissolving fearful thoughts is Byron Katie's The Work. After reading her book, "Loving What Is" several times, doing The Work myself, and from the lavish praise given to her from two of my mentors, Jack Canfield and Steve Chandler, I just had to attend her School for The Work in the United States to meet her and to learn more. I wasn't disappointed. It was one of the best experiences of my life. And now, whenever I get an unfavourable comparison thought in my mind, I do The Work, and it always works. By questioning and challenging the thought in my mind, I recognise that it's just a negative interpretation that I have made up and believed and is not entirely true. And once I realise this, I become free of the negative thoughts and feel happy again. (To learn more about Byron Katie's The Work, please visit: https://thework.com/)


I also love doing The Work because it invites you to replace any negative thought with a turnaround statement. It leads to my third strategy: to replace any thoughts of what I lack with feelings of gratitude for what I have.


I experience so much more joy and satisfaction when I focus on what I already have. Most days, I take one to two minutes to write an entry into my gratitude journal. Today, I wrote this: "I am grateful that today I have not been called to work and that I can invest the time finishing writing a blog and creating a vlog that will serve others."


Consider this: there are many people worse off than you and me and who are suffering more. They would only dream of having that same luxury. And whenever I practice gratitude, I am so much more appreciative for what I have, and any unfavourable comparison that I may have had diminishes right before me. Gratitude opens up my humble side to blossom and grow, and it strengthens my desire to help and serve others which is a win-win in all aspects.


As a professional life coach and teacher, I have noticed that everyone has their difficulties and struggles. Nobody's life is perfect. Not mine. Not anybody's. Everybody has challenges and secrets that they don't share. So whatever I imagine the gap between my life and their life, I recognise now that it is nowhere near as big as I believe it is.


It's great to evaluate my progress and my growth in life. Still, the only yardstick I measure myself against is the yardstick of my values, standards, and previous accomplishments, not the achievements of others.


Instead of asking if I am as happy or as wealthy or as attractive as someone else, I ask myself if I am satisfied or as prosperous or as thin and charming as I want to be without comparing it to anyone else's reality.


If I want something better for myself, I go for it, but I am not doing it because I am trying to keep up with others. Instead, I am doing it because it is something I want. After all, I believe it would make me happier and more fulfilled.


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