How To Avoid the Comparison Trap

Comparing ourselves to others begins early. But, it doesn’t always start out as a negative thing. It also doesn’t have to become a horribly catastrophic thing as long as we keep it in perspective.

We looked for friends in elementary school by comparing our likes to theirs. I remember collecting stickers and trading them with potential friends and long-time friends at recess. Who else had a blast with the smelly stickers, the raised stickers, and the velvet stickers?

Our teachers also taught us to compare when they posted grades categorized by the percentage of A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s… and F’s that were earned by the class. Turns out peer comparison tends to motivate more than authority figures merely telling us to work harder and earn better grades.

Who here ever survived basketball tryouts but didn’t make the team? I was compared to my peers in that realm and well, let’s just say, since there was not a soccer team in the little one-light lumber town my mom moved us to in 1987, I ended up cheerleading. The cheerleading realm is another place where comparison on steroids may take place.

Can I reach out to all my girlfriends out there and say, “Can we give each other a break?” Women, we compare ourselves to one another without mercy. “Is she prettier than me? Is she skinnier? Is she smarter? I wish I had her calves. I wish I had her hair. I wish I had her life. I wish I had her friends. Must be nice.”

I could go on and on, but I’m trying to turn this comparison trap vehicle around to something insightful and positive. Make a woman’s day and give her a compliment. When I see a well-dressed woman or a good mom in public, I totally compliment them. But, they always look at me like, “What is she about to try to sell me?”

From a survival standpoint, we compare the safety of our home-base environment to new environments in order to assess for safety. From a social standpoint, we compare faces in a room and categorize them as friendly or threatening, and then we approach accordingly. From a physical fitness standpoint, we compare beginner’s work-outs to advanced workouts and make sure we aren’t doing too much or that we are doing enough to get the results we want. I’m just saying that some comparing is natural and helps us assess for safety or grow and improve in certain areas.

But, we all know that most of the comparing in which we engage is to make ourselves look better than someone else or to make ourselves look worse (And, many of us tend to navigate toward making ourselves look worse because it feels more “safe”). It seems that when we size up someone or a group and we decide that we are either better than them or less than them, then we have a sense of where we fit or where we don’t fit. Women, don’t we tend to do this when we compare other women to ourselves? Even if we think we are less attractive than another woman, at least now we “know” where we rank in comparison to them. And men, what do you guys do? Do you do the same – sizing up a man based on his height, the amount of hair on his head, the type of clothes he’s wearing, the types of muscles or non-muscles he has, the kind of car he drives, the job he has, the way he treats his mom and puppies?

Okay, the mom and puppies things, I came up with. I find it’s a great judge of character for men and women, but I digress.

I have known physically gorgeous people who were so rude to their mom, public servants, and puppies that they became more and more unattractive every time I had to spend time with them. On the flip side, I have known gorgeous people from the inside that, even if they weren’t a model by day - like me and most people out there reading this - they became more and more attractive every time I got to spend time with them.

I challenge you this week to be aware of when you find yourself comparing yourself to others and stop yourself in your tracks! Ask yourself, why am I comparing me to them? Am I making myself out to be “better” or “worse” than someone? Can I get a high five to the fact that more optimal uses of our time can be spent? Truly, I believe that we are all relatively good hearted people and we all have room to improve in all areas of our health and lives.  

Congrats to you if you choose to compare yourself to yourself such as – “Where was I this time last year? And how else do I want to grow and improve this year?” Go for it! Compare you to you! Likewise, if you are inspired by someone and you are comparing your last running time to theirs and you want to improve – go ahead. If you are comparing your mothering style to your mom’s style and she’s your hero, may her example inspire you! If you are comparing your last speech to an awesome public speaker – go ahead and compare you to them and learn and grow. The way in which we go about comparing reveals a lot about our self-esteem, who we are, what we want out of life, and how we view others.

Here’s a golden-nugget tidbit that may help you recognize that a comparison trap is about to snap on you. I have observed that there is a word that, if I use it, it tips me off to almost falling for the comparison trap. That one word is “Just”.

For example, I’ve heard women who are full-time homemakers say, “I’m JUST a stay at home mom (or dad).” Whaaaaat? Are you kidding me? This is one of the most demanding and the most rewarding roles ever to exist! You don’t get coffee breaks; you don’t ever get to clock out; and if all the things you do were considered and your salary was comprised, you’d be making six figures! Nobody could afford you – especially your family. My hats off to you!

I’ve said, and I’ve heard other people say, “I’m JUST going to…. (Fill in the blank).” I’ve learned this is a trap of comparison and it typically leads to settling for less.

Here are some examples of Comparison Traps about to snap on someone:

“I’m just going to quit.”

“I’m just going to sign up for _____________ instead.”

“I’m just done trying!”

“I’m just a stay at home mom.”

“Just pray….”

“I’m just too young.”

“I’m just too old.”

“I’m just not cut out for this.”

“I’m just an artist.”

 “I’m just a teacher.”

“I’m just broken; there’s no use.”


Help, that was depressing!

Isn’t the word “Just” the best tip off ever?! I firmly believe that if we will all begin to be more aware of the way we are comparing, we’ll start sharing a lot more of our authentic selves. And, if we do so, settling will be so far from all aspects of our lives that this time next year, we will all look back at where we are now and compare it to where we will be then, and we’ll say, “Now, that was a good use of comparison!”

So, this week, I beseech you to pay attention to the comparison trap; listen for the echo of the word “JUST” and then choose to compare for the sake of encouraging, overcoming, improving, and soaring above the dull-drums of your day for the betterment of your day and all people’s days with whom your paths intersect.

In close, I invite you to compare your mood now to the mood you were in before you read this:

Have you had a powerful change in perspective?

Will a poem from God & Coffee: in that order I help?

You must be an Angel

You must be an angel

Where are you wings?

I saw ‘em. I know they are there

I saw ‘em in a flash,

They sparkled with your hair.

Where is your halo?

Is it in your pocket?

Take it out.

I just know you are an angel

Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Where is your gown?

The one with the gold lining?

The one that is beautiful,

Full of God, that’s shining.

You can’t hide that you’re an angel.

You can’t hide your disguise.

I see Jesus in you every day.

He looks at me through your eyes.


In close, How about this week we all compare mean people to nice people, and compliment the nice people. If we do, we can really turn the comparison trap on its….. tail.