Mindset Matters When You Play the Comparison Game

Have you ever found yourself looking at pictures or videos on social media and then felt bad about your own progress?    Have you ever been with a group of friends or co-workers, heard someone else share his or her success and then felt self conscious or uncomfortable because you think everyone is measuring your failure?  Truthfully, have you ever felt less successful because you compared yourself to someone else?

Listen, comparing success or failure to others is human, we have all done it.  But, your mental state dictates how you feel about that comparison and then impacts what you do next.  Your mindset determines whether seeing someone else’s success inspires you to move forward or gives you a reason to quit.

One of my favorite books on this topic is Carol Dweck’s, “Mindset.” I have read this book no less than 3x and gifted it more times than I can count. The idea is that your underlying beliefs or thoughts can drive your success. A growth mindset is one in which you believe that abilities are learned or developed. On the other hand, a fixed mindset is one in which you believe you are or have a certain list of characteristics. With a fixed mindset, you must prove your ability.  Likewise, the things for which you are not as good, you attribute to some inherent short stick or disadvantage, that isn’t your fault. For example, of course, I didn’t get a good score on that, I am terrible at Math.  I can’t prepare good meals, I am a terrible cook.

Carol Dweck describes the fixed mindset like this,

I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

With a fixed mindset, someone else’s success isn’t an inspiration to work harder. If you believe you “should” have done well at something and you don’t succeed, then someone else’s success can make you feel like a failure.  It is also a breeding ground for excuses. Excuses are both unproductive and can be toxic. He did better because of this advantage. He has more ability than me. I can’t do that because I’m not (fill in the blank).

On the other hand, Carol Dweck describes a growth mindset like this,

There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.

With a growth mindset, comparing yourself to someone else doesn’t lead to frustration. If you believe that growth and abilities can be cultivated through effort, then someone else’s success can be a path forward. This belief not only empowers you to continue to improve but it also sheds light on the path. Perhaps this other person developed the skill or ability and can give you direction on how to do the same.

Changing your mindset will not only lead to a more motivated and optimistic mental state, but it will also impact your trajectory for success. In a 2013 study, done by the University of Richmond, a growth mindset was found to be a significant factor in participants’ goal setting, goal development, and ultimate success. The good news is, that a growth mindset can be practiced and learned. There may already be some areas in your life that you have a growth mindset while others are fixed. Identify these areas and then give yourself an honest assessment. Can you improve your mindset?

Rather than saying you should never compare yourself to others, I instead have this advice.  If you find that you are comparing yourself to someone else, immediately halt the urge to label the difference.  She is skinny.  I am fat.  He is coordinated.  I am a clutz.  Instead, use the difference for motivation. I am not as lean as I want to be.  How can I improve my weight-loss efforts? Or…I don’t have the self-discipline skills to avoid fast food, how do I develop this skill?  Comparison, in this case, becomes a catalyst for action, and with a growth mindset, a comparison may actually be a good thing!