Beep, beep, beep. My alarm clock rings around 7:00 am. By habit, I roll over on my side and open up Instagram. As I scroll, I see stats from my friends’ workouts, the shiny hair of former Bachelor contestants, and the twenty-third book that my brother has read since the beginning of the year (I wish this was an exaggeration).
At face value, none of these images or videos mean much. But on occasion, my unintentional morning routine can turn into a suffer-fest of comparison. Why can’t I run laps as fast as the Windrunners? How does Anna Redman get such shiny hair (don’t worry – she has a tutorial to walk me through it). And how the heck does Dan find time to read nearly a book a week?
I’m not alone in my conscious and subconscious comparison. This is the phenomenon of the comparison trap – a trap that most of us are trying to get out of.
Why do we compare ourselves to others?
Comparison is a natural part of being human. As social beings, we take cues from the people around us and incorporate that information into our own decision-making. Though comparison is part of the human experience, the dawn of social media super-charged many difficulties that come with it. While social media is how we represent ourselves, it is a curation of our lives.
For example, my Instagram currently features photos from a recent marathon, a couple books, and me with my partner. Naturally, I didn’t share the pictures of the chafing that came with said marathon, the months it took me to read those books, or a less flattering photo of my partner. I chose what I wanted my followers to see so they would have an idea of who I am – an image that I signed off on. While I know this about my own social media pages, that knowledge goes out the door when I look at someone else’s page. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Though comparison can be beneficial for building motivation or inspiration, the social media comparison trap comes with consequences. Those who are frequently engaging in negative comparison with others are at risk of increased rates of anxiety, depression, and self-criticism. Insecurities may increase, while self-confidence may be difficult to maintain.
Have you noticed that you often get caught in the comparison trap? Try some of the tips below to stop comparing yourself to others on social media.
How to stop comparing yourself to others on social media
- Be intentional about how you use social media. Most of us are guilty of reaching for our phones and scrolling through social media in moments of downtime. Mindless scrolling may feel harmless, but can lead to unwanted comparison. Instead of mindless scrolling, ask yourself: why you are getting on social media. Are you curious about what your friends are doing? Do you need a pick-me-up from a puppy TikTok account? Are you looking for style inspo for a bachelorette party? Most reasons for using social media are valid, but being intentional can support a more positive user experience.
- Follow people whose goals are attainable for you. As a marathoner, I obsessively follow people like Olympic bronze medalist Molly Seidel and lululemon professional runner Colleen Quigley. I’m awed by their running talents, but I’m often disappointed that I’ll never run at that level. I’m more likely to avoid the comparison trap if I follow runners at my skill level or are slightly above. Research shows that if someone else’s skill feels achievable, the comparison can be inspiring. If it feels out of reach, it can feel demoralizing.
- Focus on your own gifts. A large part of comparison is seeing something what someone else has that we do not (and sometimes cannot) have. Instead of harboring resentment for that person, it can be healing to remind yourself of what you do have and what you have achieved.
- Celebrate the success of others. If you’re feeling resentment or jealousy when you see someone else succeed, try celebrating them. In September, I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to in a race, but my friends and teammates absolutely crushed it. At first, I found myself isolating and feeling sorry for myself. Eventually, I realized my own self-pity was not making my disappointment better, so I chose to celebrate the success of my friends. By the end of the night, I had made peace with my experience.
- Be mindful of your triggers and minimize them. We all have certain accounts that we follow that upset us. I am personally triggered by accounts that produce primarily negative content. When I engage with them, I find that I feel worse than I did before opening the app. Eventually, I began unfollowing that content which allowed me to have a more positive user experience.
A more honest future
Each of us can relate to feeling insecure after seeing certain overly-curated social media content. As this problem is a bit more widespread, Gen-Z (of course), is doing what they can to challenge it. Young people have started to post more “everyday-life content” that looks and feels more natural.
Also, a new social app, BeReal, prompts users to post what they are doing in the moment before they can see their friends’ posts. The hope is that people will share more of their real lives and less curation. These solutions are not perfect, but they feel like an effort toward authenticity. That said, remember, we decide how we emotionally engage with social media, and I encourage you to tread lightly when it comes to comparing yourself to others on social media.