As the students filed in the first evening of the continuing education class, Larry panicked. He berated himself: “I shouldn’t be here. They obviously know more that I do. I’d better not let them know how dumb I am.”

This type of comparative thinking is very common. We learn to compare ourselves with others from infancy. At birth, we are weighed, measured and compared with other babies. We’re compared with norms. Our parents want to know if we eat, cry, sleep, and learn as fast as other babies.

When we reach school age, our work is constantly compared with that of other students. Larry is still afraid he will perform as poorly as he did 35 years ago in fifth grade math.

This comparative pattern follows us into adulthood. We are compared with other workers on the job, and the media invites us to compare how we are doing with others. “Are you successful enough to afford a ‘world class’ watch or car?” the ads ask.

Unfortunately, comparative thinking becomes such a way of life that we no longer stop to consider whether there are any reasons for making comparisons. Instead of making choices based on options to fit our needs, we often make choices on the basis of other people’s preferences instead of our own. When we do that, we seldom get what we want and often feel vaguely dissatisfied.

Comparative thinking can also damage our self-concept. If comparisons with others continually force you into a “worse than others” mode, you can get so discouraged you might not take the steps that would help you grow and change.

How can you break the comparison habit? You need to cultivate the habit of starting with yourself. You must first become conscious of the old pattern and then work to establish a new one.

Practice revising your self-talk to fit your needs. For example, when Larry observed his new classmates, he could have stopped the demeaning internal chatter about how dumb he was. Instead, he could have told himself he could do whatever he wanted in this class. “I came to learn, and it doesn’t matter what other people know,” would have helped Larry look forward to the class instead of wallowing in destructive comparisons.

To avoid making comparisons:

  • Identify what you want.
  • Consider the available options for achieving what you want.
  • Pay attention to how you feel during the process of getting it.

If you feel yourself slipping back into comparisons, keep a self-designed instruction ready. Try “You’re the best judge of what’s good for you, so think about that instead of what other people might choose,” or “You can measure yourself by your own standards.”

[tags]self-improvement, personal growth, self-help, emotional problems[/tags]