on 21 Jan 2020 2:57 PM
Author: Ram V Iyer



While comparison can be a valuable source of motivation and growth, it can also turn into a tail-chasing frenzy of self-doubt. It is generally a fast track to unhappiness and a recipe for misery. All it does is keep you focused on what you don’t like about yourself and your life.


Comparing yourself to others means you are comparing what you see in others (external, visible and known to others) with what you know about yourself (internal, not visible, known only to you). Things always look better from the outside than they do from the inside. People often put up a good front, making themselves look better to the world than they feel inside. It makes them feel good in the short term, but usually not in the long term.

EXTERNAL COMPARISONS ARE FINE IF YOU WANT TO EMULATE EXTERNAL CHARACTERISTICS (what kind of a car would I like, how to dress, hairstyle, etc.)


A different perspective on comparing yourself

Looking at more successful people can either demotivate you (because you do not stack up) or motivate you (you are determined to close the gap). 

IF YOU ARE FEELING DOWN, LOOK AT LESS-SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE (as a technique). Similarly, looking at less successful people can energize you (by noting your relatively greater accomplishment) or make you take pleasure at the failures or misfortunes of others. 

Only you know your warts and weaknesses. When you are feeling low about yourself, you tend to compare the best of others with the worst of yourself, the strengths of others with your weaknesses.  QUICKLY COMPARE YOURSELF WITH THOSE LESS SUCCESSFUL THAN YOU.

The people you compare yourself to are more likely to reveal their positive emotions or news, not their negative ones. A study found that people tend to overestimate the presence of positivity in the lives of others (and underestimate the negativity in their own lives), while they misinterpret or fail to detect negative feelings in others. So, not only are you getting an incomplete picture, but are probably distorting the information you receive - a double negative whammy. 

When we compare ourselves to others, we’re often comparing their best features against our average ones. As Steve Furtick explains, "The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes performance with everyone else's highlight reel."

Comparisons between people are a recipe for unhappiness unless you are the best in the world AT EVERYTHING. Can anybody be the best at everything?

Moreover, if you are busy aping somebody else, you stop being you. Worse, you stop creating a better version of yourself – you put your progress ‘on hold’! 

Watch out for this..

All of us go through our lives wearing masks – conforming to what our parents, teachers, bosses, family, society think we should be. After a while, the views of others define us. In the process, we lose our individuality, constantly seeking to be someone or something we are not - and usually failing or feeling very incongruent. One person thinks you are very smart and you set a personal expectation to behave smart at all times. Additionally, you may avoid asking questions about things you do not know or understand to avoid looking ignorant, resulting in your continued ignorance about that topic. Over time, the gap between who people think you are and who you actually are (known only to you) grows – to your detriment. This becomes a negative spiral that only gets worse over time.cartoon from EveryVowel.com


A better (and saner) alternative:

THE ONLY GAME YOU CAN WIN IS BEING YOU! Nobody else can beat you at  that game!!! You are unique. In fact, each one of us is unique. Really.

How old are you? You have already invested that many years to become who you are today? So, you are feeling inadequate or inferior about a few things about yourself as compared to somebody else, right? Does it make sense to throw away your entire life so you can become somebody else? Elon Musk? Warren Buffet? It took them a lifetime to get to where they are today. You want to spend 48 years to become who Elon is today, or 89 years to become who Warren is today? Will you even live that long? Aren’t you better off investing in yourself instead? Come on, think about it. In the meantime, both Musk and Buffet are getting better every day. Instead, compare yourself today to who you were yesterday.

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s right-hand-man said, “The most important things in life are measured internally. Thinking about what matters to you is hard. Playing to someone else’s scoreboard is easy, that’s why a lot of people do it. But winning the wrong game is pointless and empty. You get one life. Play your own game.”


Have a clear purpose and act with intent. 

You won’t be distracted by comparison if you are captivated with a clear purpose. Set clear goals and make them absolute and measurable – getting 100% on an exam or making $10M. How much another person scores on the same exam or makes is irrelevant. It is about you winning in the pursuit of YOUR goal. If you must set a relative goal, it had better be with your previous or current self – last year I ran a half-marathon, this year I’ll run a full marathon. Choose to become better. 

If your intention is to motivate yourself, look at the more successful people you admire, and use that ‘gap’ to motivate yourself. Use that to become a better version of yourself – You PLUS. If you want to feel good about yourself, look at those who have failed or less able or fortunate than you. And then, make sure you express your gratitude for all the people and circumstances that enabled it – all the way from being born to your parents (the ovarian lottery, as Warren Buffet calls it). 

Take back your power from all the people, places, and situations where you’ve left it and bring it back home. Do not waste your time on “should haves”. Instead, use your energy on YOUR future and for believing in yourself, not doubting yourself; and for creating, not destroying. Focus your time on yourself and building your path, spending your time only with those who are on a similar path or can enable and support you on your journey. 

Focus on being the best that you can be and share that with the rest of us.


Practice gratitude

Many people are not content with what they have and often look at the possessions or accomplishments of others with longing and envy. They often overlook all the wonderful things they already are, and already have.  Whatever you have, no matter how insignificant it may seem now, recognize the many millions (or even billions) of people do not have the many things you have? If you are reading this article, you are literate, probably have a college degree, have a professional job and an income well above the national average. That puts you in the top 10% of over seven billion people on the planet. Be grateful for what you have every day and then build from there.

Enoughness is the cake you already have; more is the icing you seek. You can always get and add more icing, but you already have your cake -you!


Here are some beliefs you can embrace and install in your mind:

  1. I can become much more capable than I am.

  2. I am grateful for what I have in my life.

  3. Each person I meet in life either has something to teach me or be taught. 

  4. I seek to learn something from each person I meet or teach something to each person I meet. 

  5. I ADMIRE the people who are more capable and successful than me. 

  6. I seek to learn from people who are more capable and successful than me.

  7. I learn from the efforts and sacrifices of people who are more capable and successful than me. 

  8. I am capable.

  9. The only true measure of progress comes from measuring MY progress each and every day. I am delighted with how far I have come as compared to…..my college days, this past  year, etc.(fill in the blanks)


If you are interested in learning more about workshops and some limited private coaching, you can reach out to Ram directly.


Ram V. Iyer is the President of the Business Thinking Institute in Princeton.  He is an MIT graduate who is on a quest to understand and share ways people can be more successful in business and life. He is currently writing a book on how each of us can become more successful by installing elements of the mindset of successful people. You can learn more about the book at https://www.ramviyer.com/books/immigrant-mindset. You can reach him at [email protected]