You’re at the gym, in the middle of a great workout, feeling strong and accomplished. Just as you’re about to start your cool-down, a woman gets on the treadmill next to you and cranks the speed up. Her toned legs that go on for miles make yours look, well, stumpy, and you can’t help but notice multiple people staring at her. She’s wearing the trendiest workout clothes, and you suddenly feel incredibly self conscious in your fitness fashion choices. How on earth is she not even breaking a sweat, while you’re there make-up free and drenched?!
Back at home, you start scrolling through Facebook. It’s filled with your friends’ happy photos and cheery status updates about the new house they just bought in a super desirable neighborhood. You’ve been coveting a home just like theirs for years now, saving little by little, but your dream is still years away from becoming a reality.
You start to think, “what did they do right that I didn’t? I should have gotten that raise last year—that would really have helped me out. I guess I’m not putting in enough hours after all, but there is just so much to do between working a full-time job, raising two kids, and dealing with a husband who travels for work all the time. I’ll never get there…”
Have you ever found yourself a situation like this?
This is the comparison trap in action, and it’s bringing you down.
The comparison trap is a self-sabotaging habit of judging ourselves against others we come into contact with; using external cues to measure our own self-worth, landing us in a self-defeating cycle of always coming up short and feeling like we’re never good enough, successful enough, or pretty enough.
For many of us, we can hardly be in a room with another woman for more than two minutes without making self-limiting assumptions about how she might be better than us. We compare everything from our appearance to career success, regardless of how much or how little we know about the person. And in this day and age, comparison is made so much more accessible with technology like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn—even if you logically know you’re seeing a filtered, Internet-friendly version of someone’s life, that doesn’t make the cycle of judging yourself any easier to keep in check.
All these assumptions we make about our shortcomings—many of which probably aren’t even close to true—are chipping away our self-worth, little by little. And this self-sabotage may not remain confined to your self-talk and how you feel about yourself on the inside: Often we project insecurities out to the world. For example, self-consciousness about outward appearance may lead us to subconsciously hide our truly beautiful physical assets. If you’re insecure about the amount of money you make, perhaps you project this by acting nervous and withdrawn anytime you go out with friends, fearful that the group will spend more than you’re comfortable with.
Comparison is exhausting, self-defeating, and it’s a lose-lose game. So how do you quit comparing yourself to other people? Here are some steps to take so you can free yourself of the comparison trap once and for all.
1. Figure out the underlying reason why you’re comparing
When we’re facing something scary or unpleasant, we often turn outward to distract ourselves or shift the attention away from the real issue. For example, we may begin to compare ourselves to our token thin friend because of the frustration and shame we feel for sneaking that cupcake in a mid-afternoon moment of weakness. Next time you find yourself caught in the comparison trap, use it as an opportunity to look inward and honestly confront what you may be avoiding.
2. Ditch the scarcity mindset
One of the reasons we compare is because we think from a place of “she-wins-I-lose”, telling ourselves that there’s not enough beauty/money/friends/happiness/youth, etc. to go around. By operating from a place of scarcity, you’re limiting yourself in a major way. You’re paralyzed and you don’t act, meaning there’s no way you could ever move forward and improve yourself. The reality is, scarcity is factually untrue. You can be great at your job AND your co-worker can be great at hers at the same time. Your friends can all have wonderful, caring boyfriends AND so can you.
3. Focus on Number One
Commit to only comparing yourself to yourself for the next few days. No, it’s not selfish, it’s survival. Instead of telling yourself “My cousin Annie is so much thinner than I am,” instead flip the script and say, “I’m so proud of myself for losing twenty pounds, imagine how great I feel when I lose ten more!” That takes other people out of the equation and makes room for productive, focused thoughts.
4. Send love and kindness
Comparison and judgment just stir up negative energy which you send out to the world, and that doesn’t benefit anybody. Next time you catch yourself in the comparison trap, pause and send love and kind thoughts toward the person you’re comparing yourself to, and to yourself. Compliment them, and even say it silently to yourself. Appreciating what is positive about others will become a positive habit that has a boomerang effect, helping you be more self-compassionate. The comparison trap is toxic, but we often enter into it without even realizing.
Taking steps to overcome it, however, will leave you happier, more confident, and free up more mental space for positivity.
//This article originally appeared on EmpowHER.com