4 Mantras to Help You Break Out of a Comparison Trap
July 4, 2019
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by your own destructive thoughts. Specifically, the kind of thoughts that sound something like, “She’s so much more talented than I am”, or “At this age, I should be just as successful as they are” or even “Sigh, #lifegoals.”
We can all relate to the emotional toll of comparing our behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel. Whether we’re scrolling through the ‘gram, lurking on our friends’ flawless vacation stories, counting the number of slashes that fill up our colleague’s Twitter bio, or seeing life announcements on Facebook that make you feel behind—the comparison game is real.
And, no surprise, this anxiety only heightens in our hyper-connected digital age with comparison always at our fingertips.
"It creates a tsunami of excess information at warp speed, which could intensify the effects," Susan Fiske, Ph.D., a Princeton University psychologist, tells Psychology Today as she describes the skewed picture that social media paints.
Fiske coined the shorthand "envy up, scorn down" to summarize the two main ways we measure our worth against others—"envy up" is when we feel lesser than others, and "scorn down" is when we view ourselves as better than others. Both can create toxic emotions, according to Fiske.
"Envy says, 'I wish I had what you have,' but it implies 'And I wish you did not have it,'" she writes in her study. "Scorn says, 'You are unworthy of my attention, but I know you are down there somewhere.'"
The more formal term, social comparison theory, dates back to 1954 by psychologist Leon Festinger. Festinger hypothesized that the impulse of observing how we stack up against others is “connected to the instant judgments we make of other people—a key element of the brain's social-cognition network that can be traced to the evolutionary need to protect oneself and assess threats.”
So, it’s human nature to compare ourselves against others in one way or another. But rather than toiling over thoughts that steal our power, we can slowly shift our focus toward ones that remind us of our potential.
One way is in the form of repetitive speech, a habit proven to quiet that monkey mind. It's also known as the "Mantra effect."
Here are a few mantras we pulled together that can, with regular practice, help pull you out of the comparison trap.
Recite these to yourself silently every morning before you own the day, meditate on them before you go to bed, or turn to one when you find yourself starting to "envy up" or "scorn down":
'I am being guided on the path that’s best for me in perfect time'
When we measure others’ accomplishments against our own, we tend to feel that our timelines are inching miles behind–especially if you share the same background, age, or career goals with someone else.
"People evaluate their abilities by comparing with targets who are similar to themselves,” writes author Mark D. Alicke in the Handbook of Social Comparison.
But regardless of how closely we identify with our comparison targets, whose 5- or 10-year plan actually pans out exactly as they dreamed, anyway?
This mantra is all about relieving yourself of the pressure to be confined to an unrealistic timeline, while stressing that no two timelines will be/have to be the same.
When we let go of the pressure to have it all figured out, say, by the time we hit 30, we are able to fully live in the present moment.
By living in the present, we loosen the ties on what our future “should” look like–and, as a result, can better trust in the universe to deliver.
'I am grateful for who I am and who I am becoming'
The benefits of practicing gratitude extend far beyond an increase in happiness and improved relationships. Thanks to multiple studies that were done on the correlation between gratitude and social comparison, we see that gratitude once again comes out on top.
Studies show that the more gratitude you have for yourself, the less likely you will feel jealous of others.
Take time each day to appreciate who you are, flaws and all, by repeating this mantra.
The more satisfied you feel about yourself (and acknowledge that there’s still time and room for future you to grow), the less likely you’ll feel the urge to play the comparison game.
'I give myself permission to embrace all sides of me'
The thing about subconscious thoughts is that we tend to feel bound to this way of thinking. “I give myself permission…” flips the script so that we can, once again, reclaim our narrative.
When we realize we are the ones in control of expressing our emotions and living the life we want, we can increase our awareness of the thoughts that tell us otherwise.
Once we spot them, we are more equipped to reframe them.
Let this mantra be your wake-up call to let you know you’re still the captain of the ship.
'Nobody is (your name here), and that is my superpower'
Not just a twist on the famous Dave Grohl quote, this mantra is the ultimate ode to self-love. And, yes, while it might sound silly referring to yourself in third-person–there’s a science behind this technique (it actually does work, thanks LeBron).
By removing yourself (well, in the pronoun sense) from the equation, studies show you can detach from triggering emotions to better reflect on an experience.
When we truly let this mantra sink in, we subconsciously begin to lean into our unique strengths rather than long for those of others.
It’s a subtle reminder that the simple act of being ourselves is a superpower in its own right.
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Today’s recommended meditation: