Do you ever feel like you're not good enough? Or wish you had what other's have? Do you get jealous or angry when you think about other people? If you answered yes, you're probably falling into a typical thinking trap - comparing yourself to others.
Our awake brain spends a lot of time doing one of three things: thinking about the future, thinking about the past, or comparing ourselves to others. Each of these patterns drives different emotional patterns, and comparing oneself to others usually leads to jealousy, anger, resentment, or frustration. It can also lead to problematic pride or condescending behavior. When we measure our lives against the lives of others, we are constantly either coming up short or putting other people down. Neither of these helps us feel content and satisfied with our own lives. Yes, I know that many of us were taught to contextualize our problems by thinking about how small our problems are compared to things like world hunger, and for some of us, that's helpful. However, it's generally just invalidating and leads to suppression of valid, real emotions.
So, how do we stop ourselves from falling into the comparison thinking trap? I recommend one of two approaches, both of which require that you first notice what you're doing. Label your comparison to others by saying, "I am comparing myself to others."
- Ask yourself if it's helpful. If it isn't, try to develop a thought about the other person that is more helpful.
- Alternatively, use a mindfulness or grounding exercise to redirect your thinking to your present environment. Focus on your breathing or a sensory experience (e.g., smell something stinky, touch something with an interesting texture).
Although this sounds easy, it's not. It's hard to catch ourselves doing things that occur as part of human nature, and it's even harder to develop alternative thoughts or bring ourselves back into present awareness. Despite this, it's worth a try! Also, it gets easier with practice. And remember, even if you are able to do it 5% of the time, you're spending more time thinking in ways that ease negative emotions than you did before.