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  • Writer's picturePak H Chau

Avoid The Comparison Trap

You, as you are today, are the sum total of your entire life’s experiences. Everything you’ve ever read, been told, eaten, thought, seen and heard has gone into making you who you are today.

You’re not the same as anyone else; you’re completely unique…a one-off. Therefore you’re invaluable. Priceless, precious and filled with potential.

This is true for every single person in the world. The small child who labors in a factory in the developing world, the successful man who owns multiple global businesses, the quiet man who goes about his day’s work as a cleaner…they’re all completely unique and each has a mine of potential within.

If we are all of these things, if we really each have so much unique potential, then why do we suffer so much from the effects of the comparison trap?

We’re brought up with it

Even with the most enlightened parents or caregivers, it’s impossible to completely protect a child from the damaging effects of the comparison trap.

Most parents aren’t that aware though; some are of course more careful than others but many will have unwittingly introduced their impressionable children to the toxic idea of comparison at some point.

Look, Jimmy’s already taller than you are and he’s younger!’ or “Sophie can tie her shoelaces, why can’t you?”

These completely irrational comparisons do nothing for anyone. They’re irrational because no two children are the same and therefore they’re unable to work and learn at the same pace or with equal depth.

They teach the children in question nothing. They only make the less-able or slower learner feel inadequate.

And the habit grows.

If your parents didn’t compare you with your siblings or cousins, then your teacher will have said something like, “Look to Tom everyone! Tom has already completed all of his work…you should all try to be like Tom.”

So all of the children try to emulate Tom’s personal success. The effort might for some time propel them to some small success but in reality, not one of the children can fully emulate Tom because his sum of experiences are completely and uniquely…Toms! His way of learning and doing is not the same and cannot ever be the same as anyone else’s.

Of course, it’s nothing to be bitter about. The parents and teachers who say these things are only trying, in their own way, to encourage. They had the same things said to them…they just haven’t realized how useless the statements are and indeed, how damaging they can be.

What can we do about it?

The first step towards halting the damaging effects of the comparison trap is to accept that you’ve probably been needlessly comparing yourself to others for quite some time and probably not just in your professional or academic life.

Social media won’t have helped either. Much of what we’re faced with on various platforms is designed to be self-promoting and self-congratulatory.

Whether it’s a colleagues LinkedIn or a friend’s Instagram, most of us at some point will have wasted precious minutes either envying someone else’s’ success or someone else’s lifestyle.

And those minutes add up. Precious time in which you could be improving yourself and working towards your personal goals.

Stop the thoughts in their tracks. They’ll try to sneak in but you’ve got to be aware! That little sinking feeling you experience when someone you know shares their recent achievement…that’s a toxic feeling. And more importantly it’s not part of who you are. It’s part of a learned behavior…it’s nothing but a story. A story you were told about yourself a long time ago and which you were not the author of.

What do we mean by story?

We all know what a story is don’t we? It’s something we’re told for entertainment or educational purposes.

Through books, film and many other mediums, story has been a huge part of our cultural experiences for thousands of years. The Greeks were the tellers of the first moral stories. These stories were enacted in the form of plays which were both entertaining and educational and society has continued on in that vein from Aesop to Dickens and JR Rowling, we’re fed a constant stream of educational tales.

So people tell stories continually and not just on TV and in theaters. When we tell our children the story of Red Riding Hood, we’re really teaching them not to walk alone in forests. When we watch movies as adults, we’re still taking in story which is designed to entertain and to inform.

But the stories we’re told about ourselves begin very early on and not all of them are good. Some of them were designed to galvanize you into action and success but if they come from a negative place, then damage is done.

That’s where the comparison trap begins.

Don’t buy into other people’s stories about you. Not the ones which you were told many years about “Tom’s much faster than you…you should be like Tom.” And not the ones that social media tell you, “Laura is much happier than you, you should be more like Laura.

They’re badly told and badly written and constructed from insecurity.

Tell your own story

Continue to work on your own achievements and at your own pace. Stop comparing, stop worrying and stop trying to do what others have done.

Stay true to yourself and your own story will begin to unfold before you and like you, it will be completely unique and filled with potential.

As you begin to see the benefits of leaving the comparison trap behind, you will become inspirational to others and you will be in a position to pass on your own learning about story and comparison and even more people will learn about the truth of the matter.

You are the sum total of your entire life’s experiences. You’re not the same as anyone else; you’re completely unique…a one-off. Therefore you’re invaluable. Priceless, precious and filled with potential.

Run with it.

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