Self Care July 31, 2020

How to stop comparing yourself to them

Paul LeCrone @PaulLeCrone

Naval Ravikant once said that a sick person wants only one thing.

I'm sick. I want only one thing - to stop comparing myself to them. So I wrote this as a way to cure my ailment. If you're catching yourself comparing more than creating, I hope this helps.

I wish I could position myself as someone who doesn't struggle with this. I can't. I'm no guru. I often paralyze myself by looking at all the blogs with as many thousands of readers as revenue.

To see other people's successful projects is both inspiring and depressing. It's awesome to see people sticking it out on their own, making money while they sleep. But it's depressing when I perceive their success as evidence that I'll never do the same.

Too much comparison leads to a temptation to copy. Yes, I'll never do the same because if I were to do the same, then I'd be copying them. They're doing it that way. So, I must do it that way. Though I know nothing about SaaS marketing, I should start a SaaS marketing blog.

I cannot stop comparing myself to others until I remember that comparison doesn't move me. Comparison doesn't help me deliver what I promised to deliver. Comparison doesn't help me focus on the important work - the work of improving my craft.

Why do we compare ourselves to others? Because we like to do what's easy. Their success is only a click away. Look. See it? There it is. So shiny, so beautiful. Their blog is better than yours - better in the way that grass is "better" than water.

You and I want similar results. I don't want free time for the same reason that you want free time. But we both want more free time. We want to create things that earn us money while we sleep. We want to work on something today that we can't wait to work on tomorrow. The hardest part is understanding that to get what we want, our inputs cannot (and should not) be the same.

Everybody is stuck with the voice in their head. Those who move forward are those whose inner voice isn't berating them.

Everybody is mixing different elements together. Nobody else on the planet has the same mixture of thoughts, feelings, interests, hobbies, and skills that you have.

To compare yourself to them is to try to make purple by mixing green and yellow.

  1. 10

    Great post. "Everybody is stuck with the voice in their head." Very true, and worth remembering.

    Personally, I find it helpful to think about the origins of things like copying and comparison — the evolutionary psychology behind them — in order to overcome them. We evolved to copy, because it helped our ancestors survive and reproduce better than other animals. And we evolved to compare, because it helped our ancestors survive reproduce better than the other people around them.

    Copying is what makes human tribes great. Kids are wired to identify and imitate the most competent people around them. Adults do it, too. When we see people who are skilled, we're "awe inspired" to follow in their footsteps, whether that's learning how to hunt or learning how to design a startup's landing page. We feel the strongest urge to copy others in situations of uncertainty. If you don't know which plants are poisonous, you (usually) can't go wrong just eating what everyone else eats. So our impulse to copy not only spreads the most useful knowledge, but it also keeps us alive.

    Comparison is what makes individual humans within a tribe great. The more status and power you had, the more allies, mates, and resources you got to help you survive, reproduce, and care for your kids. Therefore it wasn't advantageous to merely be content with what you had. You were better off always comparing yourself to others and striving to be better so you could be on the top of the heap.

    But today we live in a society where these attributes aren't nearly as important as they used to be. We're better off optimizing for happiness rather than survival, but we're stuck with our genes and the impulses that bring. It's similar to the tragedy of sugar — we still crave it even though we don't need to crave it anymore because it's not rare.

    So why is this helpful to think about?

    1. First, thinking about these origins gives you some backup arguments when you need to challenge that voice in your head. The next time you feel the urge to copy something, you can remind yourself that that's your monkey brain telling you what to do in the face of uncertainty, and it isn't necessarily a rational approach in the modern age. In fact, in the business world, standing out is more important than copying and fitting in.
    2. It also forces you prioritize happiness instead of putting it off. Comparison is the death of joy because there's always someone better, so you'll never be satisfied no matter what you accomplish if you're always looking up. We all know this. But society glorifies the "always looking up" mindset so we go along with it anyway, telling ourselves that we'll stop as soon as we reach our goal. Well it doesn't work that way. Envying those above and wanting what we don't have is baked into our genes, so it's not going to simply turn off automatically. So there's point point in waiting until later to figure out how to control it. You might as well learn how to be content today.
    3. Above all, it gives you some compassion for yourself. Nothing's wrong with you for wanting to copy and compare. In fact, that means you're a totally normal person.

    Personally, I still do a lot of comparison and copying. But I try to think about it critically and restrain it when it seems illogical. For copying, that means trying to think of things from first principles whenever I can. And for comparison, that means actively striving to want more of what I already have and value rather than wanting to get things that I've never had.

    1. 1

      That's a powerful answer.

      We're better off optimizing for happiness rather than survival

      That's very true, and that's why we should really consider what happiness means for us. It's a very fuzzy idea which is, I think, utterly personal. Therefore, copying the happiness of somebody won't necessarily fit your ideal of happiness, even if it's easy to think the contrary.

      I think we should ask the question more often: what do I want, why do I want it, and will it make me happy?

    2. 1

      Thanks, @csallen - I hadn't considered the evolutionary psychology of comparison and copying. Optimizing for happiness seems like a great first principle when building something. Whether it's a blog or a software service. You do it because it's work that you look forward to doing - you look forward to doing it because it gets you "in the zone". Not happy in the way that you're whimsical and carefree, but happy in that you're content with working on "this." Thanks for your generous insight. Much appreciated. That helped unpack a lot of what's been blocking my way forward.

  2. 2

    Wise words. Tbh, this is why I consciously limit the time I spend online (social media/forums), as the comparison can be silenced but never completely eradicated. And it's way too easy to compare what I see/perceive on the outside vs how I feel on the inside. (in reality, everyone is feeling the same, just to a different extent... I've not met anyone who doesn't compare/have self-doubt, imposter syndrome etc)

    1. 2

      "Everyone is feeling the same..." Good point. I forget where this quote is from, but it goes "Every lawyer is actually scared shitless about fighting one another" - on the outside, we all seem to be free of struggles and doubts. That's not the case. At all. Always good to know that there's a shared sense of uncertainty, that we can move forward with our strange pursuits regardless of that voice in our head.

  3. 2

    "To compare yourself to them is to try to make purple by mixing green and yellow."
    Exactly! many times i found myself comparing with other competitors and how they implemented their ideas.

    Their implementations for ideas are different. their situations are different. their marketing strategies are different, still I used to try to compare and relate if I would follow their product & marketing implementation, I would be successful like they are.

    Sooner i learnt that its not going to work that way. It actually stops me focusing on my implementation.

  4. 2

    Thanks for writing this. I have this tendency all the time, but lately it's been really frustrating.

    1. 1

      It's been really frustrating me, too. Which is why I wrote it. If it helps, I polished up this piece and published it on my blog - https://penguinlatte.blog/2020/08/01/how-to-stop-comparing-yourself-to-others-and-find-work-that-suits-you/

      Writing is problem solving. This has been a problem of mine for the last few weeks. I've been less active on Indiehackers because of it, actually.

  5. 2

    Hey Paul - great post and very beautifully written. We all have ups and downs so I can certainly relate. The key for me is to keep on pushing until I reach my goal. But yes, you can’t be paralyzed by envy.

  6. 1

    I can relate to this, though I am improving with time. Sometimes it helps to completely unplug from IH, social media, blogs, and all the places which tend to bring this on. You will be surprised with how much more energy you have left over to devote to your business and your users and how much clarity that brings. Whilst not sustainable, this periodic detoxing for 7-10 days has really help me personally.

    A more long-term approach... we are pattern-lovers and this is just another pattern - a thinking pattern - which takes time to break down and be replaced with another pattern: "I am truly happy for you. If you can do it, I can do it too."

    1. 1

      Wow, thanks for that. I really like the idea of pattern breaking - forming new patterns of thought when we come across something that would trigger a negative thought pattern.