Toxicity of comparison
Toxicity of comparison, this topic has been on my mind for some months now.
The life we live in today is consumed by social media. From Whatsapp status to Instagram stories… we are bombarded with posts everywhere. With each passing day, it becomes more and more difficult to avoid it.
The more the exposure we have to social media posts, the more difficult it becomes to avoid drowning in comparison hell. Be it job, appearance, creativity, vacations, house, partners, friends or just about anything… we end up comparing anything and everything with that of others.
Of course, this can be motivating to some people. It can prove to be an incentive in overcoming hurdles and reaching goals. But more often, instead of motivation, it ends up with us having toxic thoughts. And these thoughts can destroy our self-confidence and self-esteem.
Most of us have hobbies or interests. This can be dancing, singing, sports, writing, designing.. and well the list goes on. From my experience, these interests generally blossom from seeing the work or performance of another person.
Let me explain how I think a person approaches a new interest. I’ll add a quick graph to explain it.
There will always be an initial peak when perusing an interest. This is the time when we run around purchasing necessary materials or joining classes. Then comes the attempting phase where we get our hands dirty. With complete concentration, we will pour our heart, soul and efforts into it. And after hours of toil, we think it is done and observe the final product.
This is where the first dip in the peak happens. What we have created doesn’t compare at all with what we wanted to re-create. More often we are not even 1% close. Still, this doesn’t stop most of us and we will bite the bullet and work again over the next few days or weeks. We’ll see that there has been some improvement. But it still doesn’t compare.
The chart dips badly now. With each new Instagram or Twitter post, we see of others doing the same thing we do, making it look ‘easy peasy’, our confidence also takes a hit. We decide it’s not worth it and we can never become as good as ‘THEM’. We start to think, ‘hmmm must be some inborn talent, how else can they be this good’, ‘I can never reach their level’, ‘I am not good enough, I should just throw this all away’, ‘I am not good at anything I do’, and the list goes on. Each thought spirals off into another one worse than before.
What started with excitement has bought us into a state where we lost the joy in it as well as our self-esteem.
The above was a generalized explanation. This is seen in anything, a new game, losing weight, learning to dance, learning a new musical instrument, learning to program, to write novels, poetry, create art, drawings, anything…
I have seen this in myself many a time with each new hobby or interest I have tried. And even now although I know this happens, I still end up getting lost and depressed.
The solution to avoiding this is to stop comparison with others. I know, I can hear you grumbling. I know it is not as easy as saying it.
In any scientific experiment, if you want to compare two outcomes, you need to ensure that the initial conditions are the same, the environments are the same and so on. Everything should be the same. Even a small change in one small factor can change the outcome.
Now knowing this, how can we compare our work with others? We are certainly not their clone, we don’t live in their house, doing the same job as them. We don’t have their body or mind. When there is very minimal common factors for comparison, why in the world do we do this to our-self?
The whole case of comparing us with others is flawed. We can never have the same outcome.
Instead, we should see what our goal is? It can be to
- Lose 3 kg of weight
- Be more flexible
- Play a certain type of music
- Make a certain style of art
- Bake a cake
With this as a goal, what we need to do is to put in the effort to reach this. The only comparison allowed is with the person you were yesterday. Not with your neighbour or that popular YouTube artist. Take inspiration from them, Yes.. definitely but don’t compare yourself with them.
Work on reaching your goals, put in a little bit of effort every day. It may not seem to be much. But every little morsel matters.
This may seem like I am preaching. So let me give some examples from my life.
My tryst with learning to crochet
In 2008, while browsing online I saw crocheted gloves, sweaters, amigurumi’s etc. I was awed by the things one can make with crochet. So I bought myself some cheap yarn and crochet needles. I found some websites explaining the stitches and started. The excitement I had was a lot… I was sure that within a week I could make a sock, a sweater, a pouch.. anything I wanted to.
The first day was bad, I could barely hold the needle properly without it slipping out from the yarn. My stitches were sloppy. I could see huge holes where there shouldn’t have been any. But I kept on, a week turned into two.
My stitches had become marginally better. But it was nothing like what was shown in the tutorial. When I was supposed to make a straight row of stitches, I ended up with a curved boat.. an arc if you will. And… I thought… I just didn’t have it in me. That I probably didn’t have the talent to make all those awesome handcrafted work.
But this was before the time of Instagram and before Facebook was popular. So less negativity and toxicity were going around. So somehow I convinced myself to continue. I just started making stuff. And slowly with practice, I improved a lot. I improved enough to make my own amigurumi.
Now have I become the best at crochet? Nope. not at all. But have I improved? YES of course. It took me years but I reached somewhere that I could make stuff without many mistakes. I still make mistakes, but somehow along the way, I learnt to make the mistakes look part of the design.
My journey into hand-lettering
On to another on-going example.
I was trying to find ways of being productive when I heard about the bullet journal. This was back in 2017.
Looking at the artistic way people were writing calendars and making different spreads inspired me. By default my handwriting is horrible. As a kind of instructive punishment (that’s what I called it :)) I had to write cursive worksheets everyday till my Class 10. And still, I never improved. So this felt like a light beckoning me, telling me that this was the time to prove to myself and to all those teachers who had scolded me for my handwriting. ‘I am going to become awesome at this.’ I told myself. Within a week I ordered brush pens from Amazon and started.
It was the same story as before. I was horrible.. my lines were shaky.. my letters were not consistent. But I still tried to keep doing it. The only problem was there were more posts and images to compare my work with. With each written quote, I felt worthless. I still kept at it on and off for another 2 years. But by mid-2019, I was almost ready to give up. I just didn’t have the motivation I had when I started.
It was then that I understood how much social media was messing up my confidence. Life was much easier and there were lesser problems before social media had reared its head. Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram and Twitter. I spend more time there (when I am not working or reading) than in any other app. I am inspired by a lot of people and their posts.
But most of the times I ended up questioning my own self-worth. I stopped being active on Instagram, there was a long period of hiatus.
Practice makes progress
After a while, I got this thought and coincidentally it kept popping up in a few posts as well. Practice does not make perfect. What is perfection anyway? Isn’t it relative? Isn’t something which is perfect to me not good enough for you or vice versa?
Why should I compare and focus on perfection? Let’s make it ‘Practice makes progress’. I had similar thoughts when I was involved in crochet too. But somehow over the years, I had forgotten that I should stop the comparison and instead put in the effort.
I still have issues of self-worth and I don’t think my work measures up with the work of the wonderful people who are out there.
But now I look at my efforts as a journey. I try to focus less on the destination. Instead, I try to focus on the journey. I decided that each post I make on Instagram is going to show my journey. Each word or quote I wrote should remind me of moments of each day, songs I had listened to, books I had read, articles I had glanced through.
In the end isn’t our efforts, more like a journal of who we are? It captures our thoughts, experiences, memories…
Perfection should not be a destination, let’s go on a journey where we don’t look at where we want to reach. Let’s look only at milestones and the journey.
This helped me in making more content. I stopped looking at likes and comments. I decided that my work should give me satisfaction and peace of mind. And that is what I intend to do as well.
Now having said all this, it is not easy. When you have a thousand posts with amazing stuff coming up on social media, it is very easy to stumble. I find myself stumbling almost every day. But I try my best to stop the thought before it even makes a mark in my mind. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes I am not. But I think with practice I can get better at this as well.
So please don’t let the toxicity of comparison ruin your life and interests. You can improve at anything you put your mind to. It’s in your mind. No one else can change your mind and your mood. Your thoughts and reactions to others are the only things which can influence you.
P.S. Thanks Damyanti !!! (A chance conversation with her made me write this post. She does amazing hand lettering on Instagram. Check out her page !!)