“How can I quit competing against and comparing myself to my peers?”
—Rachel, Tacoma, Washington
It is human nature, isn’t it, to always judge ourselves against others academically? But when taken to an extreme, it can cause us to obsess about how much we lack compared to others, like the friend with one more A on their report card or your classmate who got a higher score on the test when you studied for days.
Unfortunately, social media makes it even harder to control this impulse when we can see so many people living their “perfect” lives. In fact, as I was writing this answer, I hopped onto Facebook and marveled at all the photos of vacations and adorable kids as I sat in my dreary basement office that looks out at a brick wall. I had to remind myself that what I’m doing now—answering great questions from students—is just as valuable and wonderful as what others are doing.
Here are few tips to help us both:
- Show gratitude. Sounds like something your mom would tell you to do when you’ve been “not so nice” lately. Well, there is research that says taking time on a regular basis to give thanks for what you do have can help you lessen your desire to want what others have. Think about what makes you unique and what experiences you’ve had that have helped you become the great person you are. Then embrace those qualities and events as something to be grateful for.
- Do for others. Getting the focus off of you is another strategy for overcoming the need to compete. Hold the door open for someone who has his hands full, let a parent with two squirmy kids get in front of you in line, or compliment someone on her artwork. Concentrating on small gestures of compassion and connection can help you feel better about yourself and take your mind off others.
- Give yourself a break. Recognize that we all have our moments when we compare ourselves to others—for good or for bad. It is that awareness coupled with a moment of “Why did I do that? How did that make me feel?” that can get you thinking about changing your behavior. Many times when I start making a comparison, I’m feeling bad about myself and looking for reassurance that I’m OK. After becoming aware of what I’m doing, I then look for other ways to pick myself up that don’t involve bringing someone else down.