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  • Michael Philp

Who are you comparing to?

We are really good at ranking, sorting, and comparing things in our lives. What's the best school? What's the best dance studio for my child? Who's got the better car? And often we look at other people and make comparisons to our own lives. Facebook and Instagram are great examples - look at all these people living wonderful lives so much better than our own. What we don't take into account is our own cognitive biases. Who are we comparing ourselves to and should we actually compare ourselves to that person?

I'm currently halfway through the excellent book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F-", in which the author challenges the reader to look at the metric in which you are comparing yourself with. I started to reflect on my time at university, constantly striving to beat my friend in every assignment and exam. The only problem was that she would be disappointed if she got a 91% mark, whereas I would have been ecstatic. It was a completely unhelpful comparison I was making - I'm only successful if I can beat my friend. In which, no matter how many tests we took, I never did. So the question is, what else are we comparison ourselves with? I'm only successful if I have..... the latest iphone? An Audi? A 75 inch, 4k, ultra HD LED smart tv? A successful career/business? Fit in to a size 8 dress?

Pareto's Principle (commonly known as the 80/20 rule) highlights how a small portion of the population often have the most wealth or success. For example, of all the books that are written in a year, only a few are successful (in terms of sales), and only a few authors consistently produce successful books. There is only one Apple company. So how do you define success? If you are an author, is it helpful to compare yourself to James Patterson or J.K. Rowling? If you play basketball, is it helpful to compare yourself to Lebron James? If you are at school, is it helpful to compare yourself to the kid who is likely to win the Dux of the year?

The answer is no. Making these comparisons make us feel incompetent and unhappy. There is research suggesting social media sites such as Instagram contribute to anxiety and depression. I would suggest this is likely related to the constant comparisons we make with others.

The solution is to check what (or who) it is you are comparing yourself to. You are far better off comparing yourself to yourself. If you took a maths test in February and scored 65% and took another test in April and scored 72% then that is what is important. It doesn't really matter that Jane scored 88% - you improved against yourself. At the end of the day, that is all that really matters. If you give your best at sport or in your job, then you can go home and rest easy knowing that you gave it your best shot. This fits in with concept of Growth Mindset - you are neither good or bad, but you can improve with effort.

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