Due to the recent government measures on social isolation, I have found myself using social media more often to connect with my clients, colleagues, friends and family.
If social media has great advantages, it also comes with its downsides. The increase of social media usage has intensified the difficulties around social comparisons.
Leon Festinger, American Social Psychologist, was the first to mention ‘social comparison theory’ in 1954. The theory recognised that people often compare themselves in an attempt (often unconsious) to evaluate their position in society, assess and boost their self-worth.
Our scope for comparison has widened. Before the emergence of social media and internet, we would be comparing ourselves to people we directly work with and/ or live next to, people with whom we were sharing more similarities. But today we are comparing ourselves to the world, all those celebrities and other seemingly perfect people! We are setting the standards very high and we are not being fair. As Steve Furtick highlighted, ‘’we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel’’
Upward And Downward Comparison
We tend to practice more upward comparions than downward comparisons. In other words, we tend to compare ourselves with those we believe are better than us (upward comparisons ), rather than the people we think are worse off than us (downward comparisons). Consequently our point of view is biased. We are mostly looking towards the summit of the mountain we are climbing, but we forget to take into consideration where we have started our ascension and the journey we have already accomplished.
Comparing yourself to people who are better than you can be beneficial. If you stay rational and use it as an incentive, it can be a great source of motivation. Healthy competition allows us to learn from our peers and better ourselves, but it will most likely depend on how well-grounded, confident and disciplined you already are.
If on that day you are feeling low, if the bar is too high or if your comparison is unfair/ unrealistic, it is likely to make you feel inadequate and unworthy.
Social media in lockdown
Take for instance one of my LinkedIn connections: After years of working on his business, he has just launched a new app for wellbeing. Depending on my mood, i could see him as:
A great inspiration to one day do the same.
A reminder that I have not achieved enough.
My sister is also a frontline worker and therefore is working the same, or even more hours than usual. My friend has had to go furlough and does not know what it’s going to happen next. Both of them have found themselves feeling bad, when going on FB and seeing all those people achieving so much, when they have not managed to do anything different!
With the increase in social media usage, I have found myself being more exposed to those social comparisons from a LinkedIn connection launching a wellbeing app to a Instagram Friend completing a perfect handstand.
When I have compared myself to them, I have forgotten to take into consideration the full picture, the different circumstances, what I am coping with, what has changed and what has stayed the same, etc.
As you compare yourself to others,
Be mindful of how both upward and downward social comparison might influence your perception.
Be fair and remind yourself to take into consideration the whole picture, your obstacles, your achievements, etc.
Be aware of how your thoughts might affect your self-esteem, confidence, motivation, and attitude.
Be kind with yourself!