A Losing Battle: Comparing Ourselves to Others


marissa meyer yahooLast week, I was obsessed with the news about Google executive, Marissa Mayer, being named the new CEO of Yahoo! Not only is Marissa a millionaire (she was Google employee #20), she’s pretty, brilliant, pregnant, and….. 37 years old.  Up until I read the part about her age, I read the story with interest like anyone else. But as soon as my eyes scanned 3-7, self-judgment set in immediately, I guess because I also happen to be 37: “Look at how ambitious and driven she must be! She’s done so much in her career! I wish I was more like that.”

Although this comparison may seem outlandish, seeing that she is obviously very atypical in her career projectory, comparisons like these are very typical for me.  Dozens of time each day, I have negative thoughts like “Why can’t my hair be more like that,” and “My skin is not as pretty as hers” and “I wish I had a butt like J-Lo’s.”

At this point, it’s engrained in me. I’ve been doing it for 37 years. And though I know it makes me feel terrible, it seems impossible to stop. I asked Green Mountain psychologist Darla Breckenridge what she advised about comparing ourselves to others. Although I don’t expect I’m going to be able to stop playing the game tomorrow, she gave me a thought-stopping technique to try to interrupt the pattern. It’s called S-O-S, otherwise known as stop-observe-shift.

  1. Say “stop” to ourselves to actually interrupt the behavior.
  2. Observe what we are saying to ourselves and how it makes us feel (I’m guessing not too great).
  3. Insert a cognitive, emotional or behavioral shift.

An emotional or a cognitive shift might be adding positive self talk. Or neutral self talk, if that’s all we can muster:

  • “They may be ahead of me, but I’m on my own path…” or,
  • “I’m remembering to bring kindness into my life today…” or,
  • “Comparing doesn’t make me a better person or more motivated.”

An emotional shift might be watching a YouTube video that makes us laugh.

A behavioral shift could mean moving from the couch to three minutes of walking outside. Or taking three deep breaths. Vacuuming. Showering. Stretching. Just moving from inaction to action, with the intent to self soothe and feel better.

I know I’m willing to try this and get off the “why-can’t-I-be-more-like-that?” merry-go-round. How about you? What do you do to stop this comparison game we play?

7 responses to “A Losing Battle: Comparing Ourselves to Others”

  1. I do struggle with comparing. I don’t think comparing myself to others has ever served me in a positive/motivational way in the past. So why do I (we) do it?

    I think a first step might be finding gratitude for the things I do appreciate in this very moment.

  2. Lisa says:

    I don’t think it ever serves us well. Darla has always said that criticism never motivated anyone, and I think comparing is almost always a form of self criticism. The issue is that I do it so much, I don’t even know I’m doing it!

  3. Deborah says:

    Lisa I read that news and thought, “Oh shit, I’m 44 and what have I got to show for my life…” (She lives in a hotel goddammit!)

    Yes, what is it they say… comparison is the thief of joy!

    I try to remind myself that my ‘lot’ in life isn’t that bad… though why is it we only compare ourselves to those with ‘more’ and not ‘less’.


  4. Lisa says:


    I think it’s all tied into self acceptance. For someone who is truly accepting of who they are, the comparisons wouldn’t mean anything. Practicing self compassion is the road we need to take to self acceptance and stopping these comparisons. I also think remembering that our “lot” in life does help, too!


  5. Susan "Backpack45" Alcorn says:

    You could also consider the fact that we are all unique. Mayer may be the best in that particular field, but is she best at everything? Of course not. Focus on your strengths instead of beating yourself up about what you can’t do, be, have. (Now I just have to remember this!)

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