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  • Writer's pictureSherri M. Herman

Always Comparing Yourself To Others? Stop Making This Mistake.

Ever felt like your family just doesn't fit the mold? The pressure to measure up to seemingly perfect families can feel suffocating and impossible, especially for those whose family dynamics have shifted unexpectedly due to divorce or loss. But here's the kicker: trying to stop comparing yourself to others is a losing battle. I’m going to tell you why and I’m going to show you a better way, one that’s backed by neuroscience.

Always Comparing Yourself to Others? Stop making this one mistake. - Sherri M Herman Spiritual Coach Counselor Psychotherapist

During the Christmas of 2016, I took my son to a tree lighting ceremony in a nearby suburb. It had the quaint charm of a small-town that made me feel like we were in a Hallmark movie (I know, they are so fake and cheesy but I still love them!). The only problem was that I felt like we were all alone in a crowd. Just the two of us surrounded by seemingly happy families enjoying their holidays together. I felt like an outsider, like I didn’t belong. 

I did my best to put on my happy face and try to create a fun holiday memory for my son who was four at the time. I felt like I was drowning in thoughts of comparison. It was so painful, I could feel it in my body. Oddly enough, he has no conscious recollection of any of it. But it's actually a fond memory to me now because I was consciously living into my values and stepping way outside of my comfort zone.

The perception that everyone else is happier or other families are better than yours can feel heavy, painful, and very real when your family no longer looks how you wanted or expected it to look. It can make you feel isolated and alone, like your family doesn’t fit in anymore. Like you don’t fit anymore.

Feeling inferior to other families that appear happy can be a common struggle for divorced parents or any family system that has shifted in a way they never anticipated. While it's important to remember that appearances can be deceiving, it’s more important to understand that you have so much more power over your experience of reality than you think you do. 

With summertime family activities right around the corner, that part of you, the part that compares yourself to others (usually negatively) could be on the verge of a feeding frenzy. But I’m going to help you head it off with a proven method to help you cope with the situation and come out feeling happier and more satisfied with the precious life and family you already have.

family summertime dinner

Forget the idea that you should stop comparing yourself to others.

Wait, what? I know, I know. It seems backwards. But stick with me.

It’s not going to happen. Trying to stop comparing yourself to others is the biggest mistake you could make. And if you do try to make it happen, you're going to send yourself down a trail of self-denial and disconnection, which makes you feel worse and more lonely.

Seriously my friend, save yourself the heartache, frustration, and wasted time. Trying to stop comparing yourself to others is a fool's errand. Your mind has been wired for comparison.

Here’s why you shouldn’t try to stop comparing.

Your mind has been so conditioned for years and years to compare yourself to others. Sometimes you might do it in a way that makes you feel good about yourself but most of the time the comparison just makes you feel bad about yourself and makes you think you’re not measuring up. 

The way that you compare yourself to others has been influenced by your family, close social circles (the ones you grew up with and the ones you’re in now), the culture messages you received, and the brain wiring you were born with as a human.

I don’t know about you but I got the message that I was supposed to marry young, have 2-3 kids, be a stay-at-home-mom, and become an expert pie baker. Which effectively means I should have been an exact replica of my grandma. I chuckle… 

Think about it. How often was your performance compared in school? How often did you feel compared to your sibling(s) or cousin(s)? How often do you compare yourself to the images in magazines, social media, and movies? How often do you compare the contents of your grocery cart with other peoples’ grocery carts? How often have you compared yourself to your grandparents?

How often do you compare yourself to anything or anyone that is living the way you really want to be living or really don’t want to be living?

It’s constant.

Trying to stop your mind from comparing is like trying to stop the tide. 

waves crashing on rocks

The forces that have conditioned your mind to socially compare are wildly outside of your control. It comes back to nature (the predispositions and instincts you were born with) and nurture (the environment(s) in which you were raised). Truly, your mind compares because you are alive, because you are human, and because you want to survive and thrive. 

Comparison is the product of your comparing-mind. This is a term I learned while studying and formally practicing Zen Buddhism at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis, MN for nearly a decade. It’s the part of your mind that instantly and automatically compares yourself to others and makes a split-second judgment regarding whether you’re measuring up or not. 

Comparing mind can make you feel inferior or superior to others. From a Buddhist perspective, either way, it’s all smoke and mirrors with no substantive truth. Both sides of the comparison coin ultimately add to your suffering. 

Comparing mind is not a scientific label but it’s a way you can recognize a function of your mind and to see it not as containing the truth of the matter but that it’s merely performing a function that’s trying to keep you safe and secure in your social system. That’s where neuroscience comes in. 

It is in the nature of your mind to compare. 

You can’t just get rid of the tendency to compare. I’m sorry but you can’t just let it go, as Elsa would have you believe. It is wired into your brain and has well-worn neural pathways that operate very efficiently like going down a speed slide. 

Your mind is always scanning and making comparative judgements within the context of your social environment because you are a social mammal. Comparison is not all bad, it’s actually really important in many ways. Comparison provides an efficient strategy to make quick decisions and perform complex tasks. 

In the social context, your mind is often scanning for validation that indicates “you’re in,” in which case you’re good and safe, or that would indicate, “you’re out,” in which case, you better course correct so that you can continue to get your needs met. 

But here’s the thing, while comparison does have some important functions for us, it also can cause a lot of needless suffering. And can we both agree that this part of your mind is causing you a tremendous amount of pain and suffering? 

It’s important to recognize when your comparing mind is helping you or hurting you; when it motivates you to positive change or helps you make decisions, and when it keeps you feeling inferior, unlovable, and painfully lonely.

The good news: you can change your relationship with your comparing mind. 

What you can do is become familiar with your comparing mind, recognize and acknowledge the thoughts when they show up, and then choose your actions based on your values. The situation may or may not call for your comparing mind to be in the driver’s seat. 

Do you value kindness? Then respond to yourself with kindness. 

Do you value acceptance? Then respond to yourself with acceptance. 

Do you value loving relationships? Then respond to the situation in a way that encourages loving relationships, including with yourself. 

You get the idea. And surround yourself with people who respond to you in kind.

What you practice grows stronger. 

woman lifting weights

Every time your comparing mind shows up and tells you that you don’t measure up, and you believe it, you strengthen that thought pattern; you strengthen that neural pathway. You are in effect practicing comparison. That’s what we do when we’re living on auto pilot. Eesh. 

When you commit to always responding to yourself in a way that’s based on your values, then that is what grows stronger. Overtime, the new emotional-behavioral patterns can sort of take over the old ones. 

It’s like trying to change the flavor profile of a sourdough starter. If you start with rye flour, it will have a strong flavor of rye flour. But if slowly over time you begin using white flour, the flavor profile will neutralize. The rye flavor will never be gone entirely but it will be less and less.

That’s how it works with changing the patterns of your mind. The old patterns never leave entirely, but over time and with practice, they lose their strength and hold on you while the new ones gain much more power and influence. Due to practice, your brain develops more efficient neural pathways for the new behavior.

You get to decide what you want to practice.

My friend, you don’t have to keep operating on autopilot. You don’t have to live under the thumb of your comparing mind. That’s a painful existence and you deserve better. 

You can be intentional about what thought and behavioral patterns you do practice so that you can feel the way you want to feel. I don’t know about you but I like feeling peace. And the relationship you develop with your mind has the most powerful influence over feeling peace. 

How would you like to feel?

Your family is beautiful as it is. 

woman with arm on another woman's back

Take a moment and just consider: what would it be like to imagine that your family, just as it is, perfectly meets the definition of family simply because it exists. Family’s have taken many shapes and sizes since the beginning of time. Even in the wild, animal family systems can look wildly different from one species to the next and even within a species. 

It took me a long time to see that when it was just me and my son, our dog and fish, we were a complete family. I thought I needed to wait to do family activities, family photos, or develop new family traditions until we were a more "complete" family with two parents. This is not the case.

Your family is yours. And you get to design a beautiful family life exactly as it is.

It’s time to stop giving your precious energy and time to those thoughts of comparison and start giving all of your energy and time to what matters most to you. What do you want your family to be about? What are the values you hold dear? What sounds fun to you? What sounds meaningful? What kind of memories do you want to make? Then go do that. 

When you can finally let that comparing mind float on by like clouds in the sky, suddenly your life becomes a beautiful work of art that is being created and co-created according to what deeply matters most to you and the ones you love. What could be more important?

---> How has comparison hurt or helped you? What helps you overcome comparison? Feel free to share in the comments. I'd be happy to hear from you.

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And remember,

you are always loved no matter what.

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Always Comparing Yourself to Others? Stop making this one mistake. - Sherri M Herman Spiritual Coach Counselor Psychotherapist

Sherri M Herman, spiritual life coach, speaker, psychotherapist, MN,

Sherri M. Herman, MA, LPCC is a spiritual life coach, speaker, and psychotherapist who is known for being a compassionate guide has been helping others achieve their goals since 2010. Having been twice divorced herself, she loves helping women overcome the challenges and loneliness of divorce while balancing the needs of self-love, parenting, and life. She lives near Minneapolis, MN with her husband, son (aged 12 at the time of this publishing), dog (Spirit), cat (Daisy), and axolotl (Mochi). She loves movie and game nights with her family, hosting potlucks and bonfires, working out at the gym, and going camping with family-friends. Get Your Free 5-Day Email Series >> From Loneliness to Love

I’m here to support you if you need. I can provide you with spiritual coaching regardless of where you are located. Click below to book a free call.


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