Why Do We Compare Ourselves To Others?

The first thing to say here is that it is totally natural for you to want to compare yourself with others so there is no reason to feel bad about this. What is important is how these comparisons make you feel about yourself.

When you think about it if you don’t compare yourself to other people how can you know where you stand and how well you are doing? Since you were a child you learned to compare yourself to others. It is hardwired into your brain, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot change your approach to comparisons so that they benefit you.

The Festinger Research

Nowadays there is a lot of research work into why people compare themselves to others but back in the 1950’s there was hardly any. At that time there was a social psychologist called Leon Festinger that had a strong interest in the subject so he decided to run a number of studies on why people compared themselves to others.

After he completed the studies he concluded two things:

1. People like to compare themselves to others as a way of reducing the uncertainty in their lives.
2. Comparing themselves with others provided them with clues of how they should think and behave.

This was a revolutionary breakthrough in psychology at the time. What Festinger discovered was that each one of us do not have the capability intrinsically or on our own to define who we are. We need to use comparisons with other people to achieve this.

Another important breakthrough was that when there is a huge gap between one person and another in terms of say intellect, ability, character and so on that there would be less chance of a comparison occurring.

He concluded from this that we are far more likely to make comparisons with people that we consider to be similar to ourselves than those that are totally different. So as an example it is far more likely for you to compare yourself with another team member at work than it is to make a comparison with the CEO.

Importance Matters

We all have people in our lives that we consider important. In this situation you will experience a lot more pressure to try and be like these people. So if they have a specific opinion about something then you will try to conform to that opinion because you think that the person is very important.

So if you ask someone important in your life for some advice about something, you are far more likely to accept their advice than you are if you asked the same question online and a total stranger offered different advice. You are not objectively weighing up the two sets of advice you received.

Two Different Reasons to Compare yourself to others

As with most things in life there is a good and a bad way to make comparisons with other people. The bad way can provide you with some short term benefits but if it goes wrong it can cause you a great deal of pain. The good method will not create any pain in your life at all and should be beneficial always.

The bad way to compare yourself to others is to do it to validate how good you are. You choose a person that you know is weaker than you in an area that you excel and use this for an ego boost.

The good way is to make comparisons for your own development. You want to achieve a specific goal so you seek out people that have already done this and learn from them. Can you see the difference here?


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