Straight Out of Comparison

Kathleen O'Connell, LCMHC, LCAS

Kathleen O'Connell, LCMHC, LCAS

Individual and Group Therapist
Gupta Psychiatry & Wellness

Our Natural Tendencies to Compare and How to Work Through it

When Dr. Gupta asked me to write a blog a couple months ago, my ideas were endless. I had a flood of possible topics ranging from how-to guides for dealing with anxiety to analyzing secret messages in Britney Spears’ Instagram.

When Dr. Gupta asked me to write a blog due next week, my mind went blank. Almost instantly all the ideas that seemed so exciting a couple months ago were now dull and commonplace.

My mind was off to the races.
I started feeling dread, worry, and disgust.
My heart started beating a little faster and I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I began wondering: How do I get out of this?

I could say no. ——-Setting your own boundaries is totally acceptable, right?

I could say I don’t have enough time? ——I mean, it is not a lie.

I could run away crying? ———What’s wrong with a little career sabotage.

Then I asked myself, “why?” Why did I want to get out of this? What was I fearing? Then, it started to surface:

“I can’t follow that act.”
“I can’t write after Gupta, who am I?”
“What if I sound boring…her blog was interesting”
“What if it does not make sense…her blog was clear”

I realized I was stuck in comparison mind. I had read Dr. Gupta’s blogs as she was posting them. At the time, I was excited and intrigued. She had it all…a medical doctor with imagination, relatability, and sincerity.

Comparison mind is when I get into this tug of war in my mind where I suddenly lose focus on what really matters to me and start picking out the reasons that I’m not good enough and why I can’t do something.
I make judgments. I see division. I measure. I lose sight of what matters, and it usually zaps my passion, creativity, and love.

I also know I’m not alone in this. It’s natural and has biological link. Our tendency to compare is how we are evolutionarily wired. The cavemen made comparisons as a way to survive. For example, this caveman is better at hunting large animals and the other caveman is better at discovering hiding places. 

  • This is all well and good until the worrying and overthinking takes over and limits your brain’s capacity to take action and start planning. Often times, the comparison mind drives your prefrontal cortex off-line.

Sometimes, the way out of comparison mind is going through it rather than trying to stop it. When I recognized I was in comparison mind and remembered the natural and biological reason behind it, it led me to think about the reason I wanted to blog in the first place:

I wanted to blog to bring familiarity to certain stigmatized thinking that a lot of us keep stuffed down. I used my own understanding of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to initiate ways to get into action. 

Working through Comparison Mind

Here are the evidence-based, therapeutic techniques I have used and shared with my clients. These are a few of my favorite steps to help change the relationship to comparison mind and start living life!

1.) Notice

  • The first step for getting out of comparison mind is NOTICING when you are in comparison mind. When you observe certain thoughts, you are better able to recognize how the thoughts get in your way. Do daily check-ins to ask yourself: “What am I thinking? Am I comparing myself to someone else?” 
  • Studies from UCLA show us that naming and labeling an experience, such as comparison mind, can decrease activity in the emotional side of the brain. 

When we can decrease activity in our emotional brain, we are better able to use other areas of the brain for reasoning and thinking. 

2.) Acknowledge it with some self-compassion. 

  • Try as best you can to give yourself (and your comparison mind) a break. Acknowledge that comparisons are just ways your brain is trying to help you get better, but sometimes it can go into overdrive. 
  • Remind yourself that other people are doing the same thing and you are not alone. Do something kind for yourself as a way to express self-care and compassion. 
  • See https://healthyhappyimpactful.com/50-simple-self-care-ideas-for-a-bad-day/

3.) Get curious and challenge.

  • Once you notice the thoughts, see if you can get curious about them and investigate “what is this thought doing for me?” A helpful question may be: “If I buy into these comparisons, where does it take me?” or “How do these thoughts help me?” 
  • For some more helpful questions for unhelpful thoughts see https://www.innermelbpsychology.com.au/thought-challenging/ 

4.) Get in touch with what matters and take action. 

  • In my experience, I get stuck in comparison mind when I am doing something that truly matters to me. I can choose to take it as a good sign and continue with the task, or I can let it shrink me down and avoid the situation.                            The antidote to comparison mind is taking action. 
  • If you feel at a loss of what action to take, remember it can be as small as organizing a closet while those comparison thoughts are going on in the background. 
  • An action is just defined is a step in the direction you want to take. So, for me, writing the blog is in the direction I want to take. Identifying your core values can often lead us to the actions we want to take
  • For a list of core values go to https://www.actmindfully.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Values_Checklist_-_Russ_Harris.pdf

There will always be a million different reasons to not do something. 

  • People will evaluate you and make judgements because they are evolutionarily wired to do so. They are following their own biological makeup…it’s nothing personal. 
  • YOU will evaluate and judge yourself and others. 
  • Our thoughts about comparisons are often not the main problem, it’s how we get caught up struggling with them or trying not to think or talk about them that causes us distress. 

That’s why I like using these techniques that help you focus on different ways to handle the comparison thoughts rather than stopping them. 

Instead of keeping them inside let’s talk about them together and get connected to what matters in your life.

YOU MATTER.

                           Kate