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Published on September 30, 2020

How to Stop Comparing Your Life to Others (Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Stop Comparing Your Life to Others (Step-by-Step Guide)

They look so happy. I bet they never fight. Why can’t my relationship be like that…

We’ve all been there, thumbs scrolling social media looking at the enchanted lives of our former co-workers, schoolmates, old flames, and total strangers, wishing we could switch places with them for just a moment. We spend time examining their images and captions as we flog ourselves mentally for all the choices made that brought us to the present moment, somehow thinking it’s “our fault” that their lives look so great and ours feels so crappy.

Psychologists have coined this the comparison trap, and there is no doubt that the invention of social media has made the trap much bigger and harder to get out of.[1]

Depending on how many people you are connected with on social media and their frequency of posts, you face a daily onslaught of smiling faces and orchestrated moments designed to show how grateful, happy, positive, focused, and productive they have been. Yet, those are mostly curated moments chosen because they don’t capture the real messiness of that person’s everyday life.

Put simply. those moments may be real, but they are not indicative of what is really happening in that person’s life at the moment. The feeling of being overwhelmed that accompanies actively comparing your life to others can be extremely destabilizing, especially if you are making an upwards comparison. This can be detrimental to you emotionally, physically, and psychologically.

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Some studies showed that:[2]

“When a person chooses an upward (rather than downward) comparison target,  . . . that threat leads to increased upward comparisons.”

Comparing yourself against someone whom you believe has a better life and has accomplished more than you only leads to you finding more people with lives that seem better than yours for you to compare yourself to.

If you stop comparing your life to others, you will become more content with your life.

But how do we stop comparing ourselves to others when we are constantly bombarded by social media images of smiling faces many seemingly unaffected by the world’s problems, people boldly fight against injustice looking rested and unscathed, and others who appear to have easily given themselves to the work of spiritual and personal growth without a single set back?

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Here are the four steps that you should do if you want to stop comparing your life to others.

1. Change Your Focus From External to Internal

Turning your gaze from external to internal is not easy, but it is worth it. You should stop comparing your life to others because you are the only person who needs to validate yourself. I know that may sound like a crazy idea, but it is true.

However, that would be a difficult idea to integrate into your life if you have never tried it or are so afraid of it that you cower at the thought of being in a relationship with yourself. A good place to start is by sitting with yourself, whether through meditation, journaling, movement, or some other kind of intentional reflection.

Begin by asking yourself, “what are the external influences that I have allowed to guide my life—intentional or accidentally?”

Think or write about it. Then, give yourself some time to envision what it would be like to be unmoved by external forces, opinions, or thoughts—draw or write what that reality would be like for you. While this work is ongoing, this is a great starting point that you can always come back to when you feel yourself getting sucked in by those external influences.

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2. Limit Your Consumption

It’s easy to get caught in the comparison trap when you are constantly looking outside of yourself for validation. Limit your screen time if you want to stop comparing your life to others. Use the tracker on your phone to minimize the amount of time you spend online consuming social media.

The images you see there are often highly-curated and seemingly perfect moments in otherwise messy and real lives. Trust me, these people aren’t living examples of perfection they are just crafty people who stockpiled content for drip release over time.

3. Pick One Source of Grounding Inspiration

It’s okay to have one or two people whom you look up to for inspiration. This could provide a bit of external guidance for your journey. The person does not have to be a famous one like Deepak Chopra or Oprah. They could be your yoga teacher, mentor, good friend, someone in your industry, or someone on a similar journey.

It can be helpful to turn to them as a resource when you feel off your game or if you are losing track of your journey and are starting to get sucked back into the mind-numbing rat race.

4. Cultivate a Sense of Joy to Detach Yourself From Others’ Success

Seeing others succeed should not shake your world. Even if you think that they are doing the same thing as you, their success and struggles are their own. Stop comparing your life to others because you are all experiencing different things.

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Cultivating detachment around the journey of others will help to liberate you from feeling that you have to measure your progress against theirs. Cultivating a sense of authentic joy for their progress will help you celebrate your own progress.

When you are happy for others, it makes it easier for you to be happy for yourself. When you are willing to acknowledge the wins of others no matter how small, it allows you to acknowledge your incremental wins, too

Final Thoughts

Proactive self-validation and reflection are the cures for avoiding the comparison trap. However, this is easier said than done.

There will be ups and downs in your journey if you want to stop comparing yourself to others. But if you make your focus internal, limit your consumption of ultra-curated social media, pick a grounding source of inspiration, and work on cultivating joy and detachment for the success of others, then you already made a big step in the right direction.

More on How to Stop Comparing to Others

Featured photo credit: Timur Romanov via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: The Comparison Trap
[2] American Psychological Association: Taking A Closer Look at Social Comparison Theory

More by this author

Awilda Rivera

Success Coach - Author - Speaker - Yogi - Advisor

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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