Why We Play the Comparison Game

Will I Ever Catch Up?

He put his head in his hands.  We had only just sat down in a small café. It seemed that this was one time that I should not speak, so I let the silence drift between us mixing with the steam off my coffee mug.  My friend had asked for this meeting, but I didn’t know what he wanted.  The noises all around us dimmed when he finally looked up at me and explained. “Every time I start to feel like I am about to really achieve something, I don’t know what happens. I give up.”

I was surprised. He was successful. I’m not a psychologist, but it didn’t appear he was depressed so much as needing a boost of confidence.  Our conversation continued back and forth until a theme started to emerge.

My friend consistently compared himself to others who were, in his opinion, doing better, achieving more, and advancing faster.  He didn’t feel he could “catch up” to them.  The reality, of course, was that no one expected him to “catch up.”  He was doing well.  What was his real issue?


Recently, I heard that only 12% of women over 50 are satisfied with their bodies.  40% of men are dissatisfied with their appearance.  And the vast majority of us would change something about our physical appearance if we could.  We compare ourselves to airbrushed models and feel less attractive.

Why are we so discontent? Why do we unfairly compare ourselves to others?

There’s always someone richer, stronger, faster, smarter, or more talented, more polite, or more attractive. There are likely also people poorer, weaker, slower, less intelligent, with less talent, manners, and looks. Comparing ourselves to others can be debilitating in more ways than we realize.



Don’t Compare Up

When we look at someone else who has what we don’t have, we are “comparing up.” What does this do?  It robs us of joy.  It depresses us.  It makes us feel bad about ourselves, lowers our self-esteem. We may give up on our goals, thinking “Well, I could never compare to him” or “If she is that good, why should I even bother?”  We become less productive.  It slows us down.  We spend so much time comparing that we find we aren’t doing.  It invites envy, the insidious emotion, to a prominent place at the table of our mind.


Don’t Compare Down

There are times we “compare down.”  We look at someone and feel sorry for him.  We hear about someone and think she doesn’t have what I have.  Whether it makes us feel better or superior, we have all had moments where we look at someone else as not as good as we are. While we pat ourselves on the back for being so brilliant, we actually are filling our mind with a cancerous attitude.  Arrogance creeps quietly into the room of our mind, an unnoticed intruder taking over.



Shift the Focus

A few years ago, I launched this website. It’s designed as a place where I share ideas, insights and inspiration to help people be more effective. Having interviewed everyone from Condoleezza Rice to John Smoltz, I have noticed that the most successful people have a strong sense of purpose and a quiet confidence. They don’t compare themselves to others, but to their own records.

When I shift my focus from compete and compare to listen and learn, I am more successful, more open to ideas, and ready to accept opportunity. My focus needs to be on my purpose, not on anyone or anything else.



On a battlefield a few thousand years ago, David looked up at Goliath.  He didn’t compare himself to Goliath.  That’s what other men did, making them feel small and powerless. David compared God to Goliath.  That’s why the strongest emotion he felt was confidence. There was no doubt in his mind that Goliath would fall.

When we compare ourselves to other people, we end up full of pride or shame.

When we compare our problems to God, we see that all things are possible.

When we shift our focus from others to our purpose, we begin to see the opportunities in front of us.

Sitting in that café, I encouraged my friend to shift his focus away from others and onto his purpose.  Comparisons inevitably distract us from accomplishing our goals.  There is an unlimited amount of opportunity for all of us.  Let your purpose guide you to an extraordinary future.


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