Myth of Green Grass: Toxicity of Social Comparison
The Myths of Building a Successful Business | Part 6
I have a love- hate relationship with comparison. Social comparison, as the term is called in psychology, can spur business growth and encourage productivity and efficiency in almost everything we do. Conversely, I find social comparison debilitating, particularly when I go on Facebook or Instagram.
When I log-in to social media, it seems that my peers are having more fun, are killing it in their business, are skinnier, have nicer houses, are richer and are happier than me. The comparison is exacerbated when I assign perfection to my colleagues. From thoughts of they are “only” working with my ideal clients to thoughts that they have a higher profit margin than me….social comparison can send me into a tailspin of insecurity.
And I know I’m not the only one to engage in this unproductive pursuit. Friends and colleagues also in creative businesses lament similar thoughts encroach upon their minds and interfere with their work.
Of course, it is unlikely that we will stop comparing ourselves to others. The psychologist Leon Festinger even went so far as to postulate that our drive to compare ourselves to others is as compelling as our drive to satisfy our thirst and hunger.our drive to compare ourselves to others is as compelling as our drive to satisfy our thirst Click To Tweet
We all know intellectually that people tend to share the good, the happy and shiny in their lives. As such, we tend to assign perfection to their lives. So, if we can lean into what we know in our heads instead of what we feel in our guts, we can avoid the tailspin of insecurity.
To stop that tailspin, when you feel the oncoming urge to compare, shelve those thoughts and choose to unpack them when you are ready to analyze them and put them to work in the benefit of your business.
If we naturally compare ourselves to our peers, how do we reframe what might be a toxic comparison to one that will benefit you in your entrepreneurial journey and in your business?
Next, let’s delve into what’s really driving the tendency to compare.
- What makes you feel insecure about your business?
- Is it a competitor with a larger following?
- Is it a competitor offering a line of products or services that you wish to offer?
- Is it you underestimating your quality/product/service?
- Are you truly being objective?
Understanding the difference between internal and external comparisons can help us keep perspective.
INTERNAL: Compare yourself to Past You.
To get a good perspective, on how far you’ve come, it’s a good idea to use the method of temporal comparison. That is, where are you in your business compared to three or five years ago? What lessons have you learned?
INTERNAL: Compare yourself to Future You.
We are hardwired to improve processes and to create a more efficient business. In the same breath, we are hardwired to resist change and take the path of least resistance in achieving our goals. Festinger came up with the term of cognitive dissonance which means that we can hold contradictory beliefs in our minds yet have those beliefs be true at the same time.
In that vein, what beliefs do you have that live in the realm of cognitive dissonance?
- Where do you need to be in five years to increase your profit?
- How can you create a better client experience?
- What are the roadblocks to creating new offerings and/or to increasing your market share?
- What little steps can you take today, this week, this month, this quarter, this year to get you closer to your goals?
When it comes to comparing yourself to businesses that are similar to yours, be sure to do your research to find businesses that are as close to yours as possible in business model and product offerings. This is critical. It is often very easy for us to compare ourselves to our ideal competitor or our mentors.
For example, you may compare McDonald’s to Wendy’s or Burger King. But it is not reasonable to compare a mom ‘n’ pop burger joint to McDonald’s or Wendy’s. Yes, they both serve burgers, but they use very different operational frameworks, paradigms, quality, product offerings, business models, etc.
As such, seek to compare your business in ways where a rational and a healthy comparison exercise will be beneficial and not detrimental to ascertaining your place in the market in relation to your peers.
Furthermore, this exercise will help you identify what you need to do to acquire knowledge, experience or how to tweak your offerings, processes, or client interface.
EXTERNAL: Compare your business to businesses that are in your category who offer similar product/service offerings and are of similar size.
Here, you want to focus on comparing like with like. Can you meet up with those people on a quarterly basis so that you may share best practices? In this case, you can rely on your network to create win-win relationships where you and your colleague can learn and improve sharing your best practices.
EXTERNAL: Compare your business to an aspirational business who has a business model similar to yours but is crushing it in every category.
- Who is in a similar industry than yours but have been in the game for several years?
- What are their product offerings?
- How do those offerings differ from yours?
- What do they do that you don’t?
- What do they do better than you?
- What can you learn from these businesses that can leapfrog your learning curve?
We as humans can’t help but indulge in comparisons. It’s important to remember that there will always be someone out there who is better than you in one way or another. That doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do when you engage your subconscious in conversations that don’t always merit your attention.
How can you turn the questions that emerge from comparison into a driving force for your own productivity, enjoyment, and success?
We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Contributor: Martine Severin*
Martine Severin is a photographer and writer living in Chicago. Her work has appeared in publications such as Vogue UK, Glamour Magazine and the Sunday Times Magazine. When she’s not working or planning her next photoshoot, she can be found relaxing or traveling the world with her son and husband.
*Martine is an LBDS Mastermind Alum