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Social Comparison Theory

Stop Comparing Yourself Negatively to Others

How to keep yourself from feeling like you are not enough.

Key points

  • Comparing yourself negatively to others can often leave you feeling less than, even when you have succeeded.
  • Assuming you won't perform as well as someone else may create a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on improving your own personal record.

As the summer Olympics approach, take a moment to consider the following question. Who do you think will be the happiest medalist on each podium?

Will it be the gold, silver, or bronze medalist?

While it may seem a somewhat obvious answer, that the gold medalists will likely be the happiest person, a powerful lesson comes when we reflect on who is likely to be the second happiest.

Who is happier, the silver or bronze medalist?

Your rational mind will likely tell you that the silver medalist will be the second most happy, as they were the closest to winning. In reality, research1 has shown that the bronze medalist is often happier than the silver medalist.

Why would this be?

Wouldn’t someone who came in 2nd place be happier than someone who came in 3rd?

The silver medalist is likely comparing themselves to gold and feeling less than as a result.2 They might be thinking to themselves, “I was so close to winning gold. I wasn’t good enough.”

Conversely, the bronze medalist might be thinking about competitors four, five, and six, and thinking to themselves, “I made it on the podium! I did it!”

Source: Florian Schmetz / Unsplash
Source: Florian Schmetz / Unsplash

Social Comparison

An explanation for this is related to negative thoughts and how comparing yourself negatively to others can take the joy out of a happy situation.

Have you ever gotten a good grade but noticed the person next to you did better, which then somewhat diminished your achievement? Do you compare your achievements, looks, abilities, and other aspects of yourself and your life to those who you feel are “better” or “have more” than you in some way?

Your perspective, how you choose to view something, is powerful. This means comparing yourself to others can shape how you view yourself, others, and the world.

When you spend your time comparing yourself negatively to others, you can end up feeling like you are not enough. This may result in you feeling bad about yourself or lead you to give up on something sooner than maybe you would have if you hadn’t been comparing yourself to someone else.

Moreover, your negative thoughts may result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if you don’t think you will perform as well as someone else, you may then feel more anxious and frazzled. This may result in you not performing well, which is what you were worried about in the first place. Focusing too much on the negative can be counterproductive.

Harness Comparison for Motivation

Consider instead, when you notice that you are comparing yourself to others, shifting your thoughts to focus on past versions of yourself. Compare yourself to younger versions of yourself that didn’t have the knowledge or experience that you have now.

  • Consider motivating yourself to improve by comparing your performance now to your previous personal record.
  • The goal is not to belittle or criticize your past self, but to compassionately notice the ways in which you have grown and evolved overtime.
    • Be mindful that personal growth is not often linear or equal across all areas. You may notice things you would still like to improve, and that’s okay!
  • Reflect on what you know now that you didn’t know then, and coach yourself on the insights that you’ve learned along your journey.

Remember that you are enough and that comparing yourself to others is seldom productive. Focus on what you have and what you can continue to do to care for yourself.


1. Medvec, V., Madey, S., & Gilovich, T. (1995). When Less Is More. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 603-610.

2. Allen, M.S., Knipler, S.J., & Chan, A.Y.C. (2019). Happiness and counterfactual thinking at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Journal of Sports Sciences, 37:15, 1762-1769, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2019.1592803

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