We all compare ourselves to others sometimes, but for the sake of your recovery, it would be great if you could do it less. Several studies have linked participants’ tendency to make social comparisons to bad outcomes such as envy, resentment, lying, anxiety, and depression. When you consider that most people recovering from addiction already have co-occurring mental health issues, comparing your progress to others certainly doesn’t help matters. These comparisons are never accurate anyway since everyone has different needs and personal attributes, to begin with. Comparison can make you focus on the wrong things and it can turn recovery into a competition when it’s far better for everyone to see recovery as a cooperative effort.
While the evidence is clear that comparisons are bad for your mental health and recovery, it’s often hard to break the habit. The following tips will help you compare yourself to others less and feel better in general.
Cut Down on Social Media
Social media is like a machine for generating unhealthy comparisons. A number of studies have linked more social media use to a greater risk of anxiety and depression. One study asked participants to cut down on their social media use for three weeks to see if it improved their mental health. In the study, 140 participants were divided into two groups. One continued their normal social media use and the other was asked to limit their social media use to just 30 minutes a day. Both filled out questionnaires about their mental health at the beginning and the end of the study. It turned out that the group that limited their social media use felt much better at the end of the study, reporting significantly less depression and loneliness.
Remember That You’re Not Seeing the Whole Picture
Most of us have a hard time not believing our eyes. When we see our acquaintances’ nice pictures on Facebook or the confident way someone presents themselves, it’s hard to believe the reality might be different or more complicated than what we’re seeing. You may have heard the apt analogy that comparing your life to what you see on social media is like comparing your blooper reel to other people’s highlight reels. We always try to present ourselves in the best possible light, while being all too aware of our own doubts, flaws, and mistakes. However, when it comes to other people, we are too ready to believe that what we see is all there is. Never forget that everyone has their own struggles, weaknesses, frustrations, and disappointments, even if we have no clue what they might be.
Focus on Your Goals and Values
Part of the problem with comparing your progress to others’ is that not everyone has the same needs in recovery. This can lead you to focus on the wrong things. Just comparing yourself to someone else is a hollow way of measuring your progress. A more effective way is to keep your goals and values clear in your mind as you work on staying sober. So, for example, a lot of people decide to get sober because they realize their drinking and drug use is hurting their family. Keeping that value in mind will help guide your decisions both in recovery and life. You may set specific goals with these values in mind. These will look different for everyone but as you become more attuned to what you really want, you can judge your activity in recovery by whether it brings you more in line with your goals and values. Judge your progress on whether you’re making headway towards your specific goals and whether you are making improvements from day-to-day.
One reason comparisons make you feel bad is that they reinforce a sense of lack. Someone has something you don’t have and you feel inadequate. One antidote to this is to focus on gratitude for what you do have. There are two easy ways to get into the habit of gratitude. The first is to write down a few things each day that you felt grateful for. They could be big or small. This practice gets you in the habit of noticing the good things in life. The second way is to write a gratitude letter. Pick something you never properly thanked someone for and write a letter describing what they did and what it meant to you. After you write it, you can decide whether or not to deliver it. Studies have found that this makes people feel happier for about a month.
Look for Inspiration, Not Validation
Looking at what others are doing is not inherently bad. It’s only bad when we become judgmental or use it to determine our own value. When someone in your sober network succeeds, it’s good for you too. It shows you can rise above addiction and live a good life. You can also learn from that person. On the other hand, if you see someone struggling, see if there is something you can do for them. Lifting up the people around you strengthens your recovery too and reinforces the fact that you’re all in this together.
Use Envy to Grow
Even if you do everything right by avoiding social media, staying focused on your own goals, and so on, you will occasionally feel a pang of envy. This can either lead you in a bad direction in which you struggle with resentment and feelings of inadequacy or it can lead you in a more positive direction of self-awareness. Wanting things is not necessarily bad; you just have to take some time to reflect on why you want what someone else has. For example, if someone in your 12-Step group has just gotten a job that you envy, what makes you envious? Is it the money? Is it the status? Is it the nature of the work itself? The aim of the work? These kinds of questions can help you clarify what you really value.
Comparisons are not good for your recovery or anyone else’s. To compare yourself to others less, start by avoiding social media and other situations that actively promote comparison. Beyond that, get in touch with your personal values and use them to guide your efforts. Perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that recovery is not a race. No one’s success diminishes your own and, in fact, the opposite is true. Be of service when you can and remember that you’re all on the same team.
At Enlightened Solutions, we know that joy and connection are essential elements in a strong recovery. We emphasize individualized, holistic care for long-term success. For more information, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.