How comparison can take over our lives and the simple steps we can take to diffuse it

I had a disease that I walked around with for years. It paralysed my thinking, quashed my dreams and manifested in a side effect called ‘self-doubt’. I believe that many of you are either suffering as I did or are in recovery. I’ve named this disease ‘I’m not enough syndrome’.

· Each day 1.3 billion people log onto Facebook, 467 million on Linked In and 400 million on Instagram.

· Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510,000 comments are posted and 300,000 statuses are updated.

These are quite incredible statistics don’t you think?

In the chaos of the modern world, social media can play an integral part in our increased vulnerability as we all strive to keep moving the goal posts of what success looks like and hold up the facade that we are happy in every waking moment. It can act like an energy vampire and sucks the life out of us. Michelle Gielan and Shawn Achor from Goodthink also stated in their 60 seconds to happiness post in May this year that “Social media is not a mood booster”.

How many of you reach for your phone and social media as soon as you wake up? Is comparison one of the first emotions you connect with at the beginning of your day? Or perhaps the last thing you do before you go to bed?

How many posts a day have you looked at and thought — why can’t I be like that? We start questioning our why and say statements such as ‘who am I to succeed like that’ ‘who am I to deserve to be happy’ and ‘I could never achieve…’

A toxic poison

We are infected with a toxic comparison poison from an early age. But where does it come from? We are compared from the minute we are born — what is our weight? Were we on time or late? As children — we constantly compare what we have to others: toys, presents, that first bike, grades at school and ultimately to be liked and have a group of friends that make us feel good about ourselves.

Our milestones are compared too: walking, talking, education and our growth and development. This continues throughout into adulthood. We compete for everything. Jobs, partners, places to live, cars and money.

I invite you to stop and consider. How much of this is just material? How much of this really matters? How much of this really matters to YOU?

A flower is still beautiful if we stop to notice it or not — we don’t compare it to others as we walk past and tell it it’s not enough. So why do we do that to ourselves? Why can’t we appreciate our own qualities?

Living in a material world

Comparison breeds a society where material objects are still markers for success. So what would the opposite of that be like? If we don’t act now to counteract the isolation that the constant craving to compete with each other has manifested, we risk expanding the already increasing gap that is more and more apparent in communities.

It’s time to take responsibility for our behaviours and model a culture of connection and compassion.

Discussing comparison may not be a new concept, yet it still goes on and I’m writing this today to champion rewriting the rules of how we view it. We have become such a target driven society with a ‘me first’ attitude that reminders to step back and be more self-aware of our actions and how we are ‘being’ is most definitely needed.

Four years ago, this month in fact, was the first time I admitted out loud that comparison had had such a hold on me. I can still clearly remember the day someone asked me if I could say anything to the universe with no consequences — what would it be? I sat in silence for a long time — I couldn’t possibly really tell the truth? Be honest with myself? What would people think of me? What would the reaction be? Other people didn’t say this; think this; be like this — did they?

It felt like I was ripping open my chest and exposing my heart. I felt incredibly vulnerable, because this was the first time in my life where I felt I could acknowledge it. As the words left the tip of my tongue I felt such a surge of emotion, my throat felt hot and spiky, my chest felt heavy and my shoulders struggling under the weight of the words I had kept locked inside of me for such a long time. “I’m not enough”

Three words

What I know now and wish I knew then was that so many of us say this phrase. Perhaps not out loud or admit it to others but we all say it. Take a moment — have you?

Those three little words completely and utterly rocked my world. I was done with dressing all in black, hiding in the background and doing things in life because that’s what I felt people wanted me to do. I was done with letting other peoples successes determine what I should strive for and berating myself when my own life journey offered something different. I wanted to make my own choices that resonated with me. Because I had felt an awakening; I mattered as an individual.

You are an individual, with your own journey in life and your own choices to make.

My major learning: Don’t let anyone or any social media post define you. You are an individual, with your own journey in life and your own choices to make. Only you can choose to let go of negative beliefs of guilt or shame as a result of comparison. Only you can empower yourself and give yourself permission to embrace compassion and appreciate your own qualities. As Viktor Frankl says you can “Choose your attitude in any set of circumstances”.

Comparison can act as a toxic self doubt strategy to stop ourselves from achieving our own goals. Especially when we are tired, run down, feeling stressed or compared. We don’t respond from the regulated part of our brain where we process our thoughts; yet respond from deep emotion.

Ask yourself “What’s the truth in that?”

“As long as there is a lack of the inner discipline that brings calmness of mind, no matter what external facilities or conditions you have, they will never give you the feeling of joy and happiness that you are seeking. On the other hand, if you possess this inner quality of calmness of mind, a degree of stability within, then even if you lack various external facilities that you would normally consider necessary for happiness, it is still possible to live a happy and joyful life.” — His Holiness the Dalai Lama


By becoming more aware of our responses to comparison we can alter the actions that we take as a result. So how have I used this strategy? Well I have completed the London Moonwalk twice. Yes me, who was ashamed of my body, dressed in just my decorated bra and trousers and walked the streets of London for charity. I had always told myself I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t fit enough, I would look horrendous, people would stare at me and my finish time would be compared to that of others. But then I got out of my own way. Learning to accept myself and be proud of who I am in the knowledge that I am enough and can CHOOSE how I want to be in any experience. I discovered that actually self-love is so important to combat comparison. It also gave me the chance to do something bigger than me. To support the wider community by fundraising and creating awareness of the charity. It also inspired others to get involved and some even trained with me too.

So here’s the reality. There is paradox in every waking moment. If we did rewrite the rules of comparison — we say yes to one thing and no to another. — For example if we said yes to not comparing others anymore are we saying we don’t strive to be successful or aspire to have role models that we can follow? What if we said yes ok comparison exists and leaned into the ‘yes’ and said ‘with this energy I could…’?

It is suggested that 50% of 18–24 year-olds go on Facebook as soon as they wake up. What intentions are they setting for the day ahead? For me, social media is an example that breeds on the one sided views of what people celebrate. What if it was used to make human connection where people can truly inspire and support others to achieve? Generation Z isn’t about going to university — it’s about getting out there into the working world, learning, creating and making a difference now.

I want us to model the benefits of comparison not the ‘me first’ attitude so we can share it with generation Z and beyond. We could instil from an early age the importance of being more aware of their actions and their emotional intelligence.

For me this looks like encouraging children to connect with gratitude, being aware and naming their emotions and appreciating their own worth.

What if I suggested that comparison was a healthy way of checking in with your own beliefs, supporting others and a reminder that you are an individual and can carve your own pathway.

How might you show up in the world differently? What might you embrace?

I encourage you to join me in rewriting the rules of how we view comparison by judging ourselves less harshly, appreciating ourselves more and championing each other.

So next time you pick up your phone, or read an article. I urge you to take a moment and check how you feel and how you want to respond to it and ask yourself one question ‘What’s the truth in that?’

Why? Because if we all just took a moment to get back to the present and change the perspective of comparison, we can make a difference — we can encourage and inspire our generation and beyond. We can close the gap and bring our communities together.

As Lorenz says — ‘When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can cause a hurricane in another’.

It’s time for us to all take responsibility as we flutter our wings.

We are all individuals, yet our behaviour together can diminish the chaos and cause a cascade of connection and compassion. Not comparison.

We can all make a choice to change that.

Would you like to feel supported in your journey to honour your self-worth? Perhaps get started with a gratitude practice or learn how to channel your self compassion?

The Happy to be ME hub is a closed Facebook group which provides a safe environment where people can share what’s made them connect with gratitude and a sense of community. Everybody support each other and champions each other to become our best selves. We’ll help you be sure that every step is a step in the right direction.

We’d love you to join us.

Like what you read? Give Nicola Arnold a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.