5 Ways to Break Free from the Comparison Trap

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar:

You pull out your phone and tap the bright Instagram icon with the goal of checking your notifications and seeing what's going on outside your own little bubble. You see you have three new followers, 11 new likes, and two comments.

Feeling pretty good about your updates, you respond to the comments and commence scrolling through the feed. As you scroll, perfectly edited photo after photo filter their way past your vision with hearts popping up momentarily as you double-tap each one.

20 minutes later, you blink and look up. You realize you haven't moved since you got your phone out of your pocket almost half an hour ago and you feel like shit. 

As you scrolled through your feed, you saw proof of how apparently better off everyone is. You saw the brightly colored bag one girl carried through the streets of Venice, the pair of new shoes (how does she always have new shoes) another woman is showing off in downtown Seattle, and how productive another fellow woman entrepreneur was today. 

All of a sudden, your bags look dull and un-traveled, your shoes look as if they've been trampled on themselves, and the overdue tasks on your Asana never seem to end. How on earth are you supposed to compete when your own life is such a mess?

Admittedly, I find myself in this situation too often these days. As I'm in the middle of launching my marketing and brand storytelling business, I come across others who seem to have all their shit put together. Meanwhile, my business plan is only half finished, I'm writing my blogs last-minute, and, well, I haven't bought a new pair of shoes in over a year.

Getting to this point sucks. I feel worthless - like I can't measure up - and almost feel as if I should just give up. After all, if I don't look like these perfect Instagram influencers today, how will I ever get there?

Well, excuse my French here, but fuck that. It's nonsense. We're not comparing apples to apples. Instead, we're comparing our vision of our whole messy life to one perfect moment of someone else's life. It's apples to oranges and it's bullshit. 

When I'm stuck in this trap, these are the ways I force myself to break free and see things for what they really are.

1. Understand the bigger picture

As I mentioned, a perfectly captured and edited image is one microscopic moment of someone's life. This person is sharing with you something that they're proud of and what they worked hard at to achieve. 

I love those behind-the-scenes pictures that compare the perfectly square Instagram shot to the rest of its surroundings. For example, the living room shot on camera may look perfectly cleaned, organized, and lit by daylight.

 Image courtesy of lifehack.com

Image courtesy of lifehack.com

What you don't see behind the camera is all the junk they threw into the hallway to take that perfect photo and the pile of laundry overflowing in the hamper. 

2. Make a "brag folder" of your best work

I have an expandable folder near my desk where I keep all my important paperwork - taxes, insurance, bills, all that boring stuff. In that folder, I made a separate file titled "bragworthies" where I stash my certifications, thank you notes, and anything I'm extremely proud of.

When you're stuck in the comparison trap, remove yourself from the situation (in other words, close down Instagram) and take a moment to look at your best work. Remind yourself why you're here in the first place and what you're working hard to achieve.

It might feel a little cocky at first, but it's not - you're just reminding yourself why you're such a badass.

3. Look at some "not-so-good" work

This is going to sound a little mean, but hear me out. The Internet is a beautiful place. It's a world where people can show off their best work...and their not-so-good work.

If you're a jewelry designer, go to eBay or Amazon and browse through pieces that don't have very good reviews. If you're a web designer, log onto Dribbble and look at websites that aren't very well designed.

Again, this sounds terrible. But listen - don't sit back and laugh at their work. Instead, take a good look at the jewelry and website design and ask yourself why it doesn't work. Is the quality of the metal used on the necklace so low that it falls apart after a few wears? Is the website simply not user-friendly?

Bonus: If you can, find a way to offer critique and feedback to the designers. Only do this if they're open to it. Even if you're technically a competitor, start a conversation with them and see if there's any way you can help. Not only will it make you feel like a total boss, but you might also help someone else become more successful at their craft.

4. Set goals and make a plan to reach them

In some cases, when we're experiencing the comparison trap, it's because we don't feel like we're moving forward in some portion of our own lives.

Perhaps you were planning on launching a new product but got backtracked three months because of manufacturing issues. Then, you see someone has just launched their own product, and you feel that pang of jealousy.

If you're not moving forward because of outside forces, then all you can do is get off their site and remind yourself that everything will happen in its own time.

However, if there's anything you can do to control the situation (which is often the case), it's time to sit down, set goals for what you want to make happen, and then figure out what you need to do to accomplish them. Then, get it done.

5. Talk about it

Just last week, I found myself stuck in a trap of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and comparison. I felt stuck and like I wasn't going anywhere - certainly not where I wanted to be. I didn't know what to do or what steps to take. I felt blinded by a mix of fear, worry, unknowing, and overwhelm.

I had no idea what else to do other than talk about it. I reached out to a few of the Facebook groups I'm in and just came out with how I felt. I explained my situation and the feelings I was experiencing while going through it.

The responses and feedback I got were overwhelming, but in the best of ways. I found a community of supportive women who all (digitally) raised their hands and said they've been there too. Many women reached out and offered to meet up to share their own experiences and help me through it.

After sharing this, I met up for drinks with a local photographer here in Seattle. She was a complete stranger - someone I'd never met before, or even talked to outside of a few brief messages on Facebook. She just said, "tell me everything," listened to my story, and offered amazing feedback. 

Once I got home, I felt a million times better. I couldn't believe how just talking to someone with an outside perspective could be so helpful in breaking me out of my own head. 

---

At the end of the day, breaking free of the comparison trap can feel like jumping out of a 10-foot hole in the ground. You feel like you're all alone down there with the messy dirt and mud all around you while everyone else gets to enjoy the grass and the sun above.

The next time you feel like you're stuck, log off and remind yourself that you are a badass at what you do. If people have paid you anything for your profession, then they paid you for a reason. 

If you ever need to talk to anyone through it, reach out. I want to be here to listen and help other female entrepreneuers grow through their self-doubt and internal struggles. Sometimes all you need is an outside perspective to emerge from that hole and enjoy the sun and the grass.