Comparison: how to make it work for you – 4 tips you need to know

Updated: May 16, 2019

It's human nature to compare ourselves to those around us. We're trained from birth to compete. With colleagues at work for promotions. The marriage and baby race. And awards for academics, sports, beauty, and business. Some say comparison is the biggest thief of joy. However from my experience as a coach, I’ve seen comparison, when used to a positive effect, can be a catalyst for greatness. 

There are two common outcomes when we compare ourselves to others. We can feel inspired, motivated and energised. Or, we can feel jealous, envious and depleted. At its worst we’re blocked from progress. Crippled by self-doubt, negative internal talk and wondering why we should even begin, where to start, or how to continue.

In her bestselling book Positive Psychology in a Nutshell: the science of happiness, Illona Boniwell explains how negative emotions (or negative effect) narrow our action repertoire or behaviours. While positive emotions create expansion. Positive emotions allow us to become more creative, open-minded, resilient, and capable. Thereby becoming a means through which to lead better more fulfilling lives.

I've come to learn that our emotions need to be honoured and acknowledged in order to transform them effectively. How we manage our emotions impacts how we perceive and respond to situations. And while we may never be free from negative emotions, we can develop a tool kit to help manage reactions.

So, how can you reframe and adjust powerful feelings that cause a negative effect, like envy and overwhelm, into something constructive and helpful?

Read on to learn 4 strategies I’ve used personally and successfully with clients to overcome the unwanted side effects of comparison. These techniques can be used individually or in combination.

Strategy 1: discover and celebrate the underlying core value

Here’s how it works. First, acknowledge how you feel. State the emotion. And then, ask yourself... “What about this situation makes me feel irritated? What does this person have that I want? What is the underlying quality?” Name it.

Recently, a client shared a situation at work where their peer seemed to “have it all”. Strong communicator, known to be smart, outwardly successful, paid more, and always appears to be favoured by management. There were feelings of jealousy and irritation. 

When faced with these emotions, explore the underlying core value.

Is it freedom and choices? Or money and a sense of value? Perhaps there is an issue with integrity or respect? Or visibility and recognition?

Find what you’re rubbing up against! Often, but not always, the issue is not actually about the other person or the situation. There is something amazing here for you to learn about yourself.

“Powerful and honest self-exploration will reveal the quality you value. Find it. Embrace it. Honour it. Celebrate it. That's where the magic is.”

Once the core value is identified, it becomes easier to reframe into something that will serve you. Focus on it with a positive and active mindset. There are many tools and techniques to use from this point. One approach is to create…

Strategy 2: positive affirmation statements

I recently coached a client who had creative block. She felt overwhelmed from doing so much research into the work of other experts and influencers. As a result, she was starting to feel unworthy. This lead to procrastinating, over-thinking, and creating unnecessary tasks and projects to feel busy. We explored where this was coming from. She eventually realised that every time she looks at other people’s achievements, the underlying core value being triggered was excellence.

My client was so connected to the idea of perfection and in awe of the brilliance of others, that she forgot just how incredible and unique she is, all she has already achieved and what her true mission is.After reconnecting with her own excellence and greatness, we created a list of affirmations that inspire power, strength and internal fire.

"Saying positive affirmations every day helps to re-wire connections in the brain."

Here are some I have used personally:

- I live my higher purpose every day

- I radiate health and happiness

- I bring joy into other people lives

- I attract wealth and opportunity

- I choose people who inspire me

- I honour my body

Internalising affirmations strengthens how you think/feel about yourself and the intentions you put into the world. Over time, you'll progress from WANTING to BEING these qualities. We become the stories we tell ourselves every day.

Strategy 3: Learned Optimism

If positive reframing doesn’t come easily, don’t worry, it can be learned. Martin Seligman introduced the disputing strategy in his book Learned Optimism. This strategy involves actively reframing negative thoughts, by disputing them and looking at alternative outcomes.

Generally, this is an intellectual approach, but it can also be achieved through creative processes.

"I’ve found gratitude and humility are powerful tools for creating alternative outcomes."

For example, the view “he/she has a lot more money than me, life is not fair, I'll never achieve that” can be reframed into “I’m so grateful to be surrounded by successful friends, I’m organising coffee and will ask for tips on how he/she built wealth”. Same scenario, different outcome.

Strategy 4: work with a Professional Coach

It can be difficult to identify, embody and internalise a new state. Especially when habits are deeply ingrained, or where solutions feel abstract. Emotional regulation and self-management can take some practice. This is where working with a professional coach can be highly effective in accelerating your growth and learning.

In fact, it can be so challenging to self-manage that even coaches need coaches. I love and fully trust in the process, so whenever I’m experiencing blocks and barriers I have a session with my coach. In my work as a Life & Executive Coach, it’s a privilege to create an environment for my clients to explore and thrive.

A coach can guide you through the process of transforming restrictive thoughts and emotions into a state that provides new insight, clarity, and energy. Developing a deeper self-awareness can ultimately help you reconnect with your own brilliance and joy. 

Final thoughts…

The side effects of comparison can be paralysing. It holds back even the most successful and high performing people. Yet these moments also provide opportunity for attaining new self awareness and heightened capability. Through effectively managing negative emotions, a renewed sense of possibility, inspiration, and motivation can shine through.

These strategies have supported me during difficult moments, and successfully helped my clients make comparison work for them in order to thrive in their own lives. I hope they help you too.

Once you’ve read this post, I’d love to hear from you. Which of these strategies resonated the most? And what’s one step you can take right now to reconnect with your own talent and brilliance?

Drop me a note or comment below or email to share your thoughts!


Sarah Lal is a Life & Executive Coach, supporting high performing people to access their inner resources, so they can thrive. As Co-Founder & CEO of MyLifehouse, her mission is to increase awareness of the practical uses of coaching and access to top quality coaches. Sarah believes everyone can live a purpose driven and fulfilling life. She connect clients with tools and techniques to discover and design a meaningful life, build a rewarding career, and/or embrace change.

If you have any queries about how MyLifehouse can support you, get in touch to arrange a complimentary consultation and find out if coaching is right for you.