27 March 2023

Why You Shouldn’t Compare Yourself to Others

In the world of social media, influencers, phones, and adverts on every corner it is no surprise that every single one of us can’t help but compare ourselves to others constantly. Especially those who we see on a screen, billboard or Instagram reel. Unfortunately, when comparing ourselves we often find that we no longer feel attractive, successful, wealthy, or even worse… that we are not ‘enough’.

Comparisons are all around us – Picture

By the end of this blog post, you will have found out not only the benefits but also the dangers, the consequences and the reasons why you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. We will also learn techniques and tools that will allow you to compare against yourself and give you the drive, confidence and determination to continue to develop, progress and grow throughout your life.

As this is a personal finance and FIRE focused blog we will look spend time looking at the specific dangers within this space.

In this post we will cover the following:

  • Why do we compare ourselves to others?
  • Social media
  • Keeping up with the Joneses and FIRE comparisons
  • Perfection is the enemy of progress
  • We all have different priorities
  • FIRE forums/boards
  • Why you should compare your current self to your old self instead
  • Tips to do this
  • Conclusion

Why do we compare ourselves to others?

Comparisons between ourselves and those around us are completely natural and have been ongoing throughout the entire timeline of human history. These comparisons can be useful because they give us:

  • Information on what we want
  • Paths to goals others have achieved
  • Knowledge of how we ‘measure up’ to others

All of the above would have been (and often still is) useful to ourselves now. At the times when humans still lived in tribes and life was not so easy to survive, we knew that we would each need to provide value to our small society to ensure our safety and position within the group were maintained.

Skills were improved through observations and comparisons – Picture

Comparisons would therefore allow us to mimic the behaviour of the ‘top performers’ and avoid the practices of those whose contributions were minimal. This would enable the tribe to grow strong and flourish whilst personally giving you the best chance to find the most suitable mate/partner.

We now, however, live in a much-changed, global world and this has caused our circle of comparisons to swell from those directly and physically around us to what is now anyone in the world who has an online presence/account. This circle has steadily grown and grown throughout the centuries due to stories, books, newspapers, advertising, radio, television and most recently and potentially most damaging… Social Media.

Social media

This is likely one of the biggest reasons that you continuously compare yourself to others – whether this is consciously or unconsciously. The largest benefit of social media is also its most dangerous feature – you can reach, see and compare your life to pretty much anyone in the world. Even worse than this is the fact that you can only compare your complete, warts and all life to the handpicked and curated segments of theirs that they have decided to post online.

Social media has made it so easy to compare ourselves with anyone in the world – Picture

I know that my Instagram account almost exclusively shows photographs of my backpacking/holidaying trips in incredible places and with fantastic people but this is certainly not an accurate representation of my life. It is really just a highlight reel of my ‘best bits’. If you compare a full life with work, chores, difficult relationships and bereavements against perfection and it’s not hard to see why comparisons can be unhealthy.

It is unsurprising that multiple studies have found:

A strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.


These studies also found social media comparisons may promote negative experiences such as:

  • Inadequacy about your life or appearance
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO)
  • Feelings of loneliness – ironic on platforms designed to bring the world closer together
  • Cyberbullying

Keeping up with the Joneses

Because we know that we judge other people many of us will go out of our way to portray an image of our life that may not be accurate. This is done in the hope that people will think that we are successful, important and have influence… regardless of the truth. This manifests itself as buying a brand new BMW because the neighbour got an Audi and is known as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

Examples of this are:

  • Buying a new car because your neighbour got one
  • Booking a 5-star holiday because Deborah at work went to the Bahamas
  • Spending £30,000 on a wedding because ‘it’s the done thing’

The real problem with keeping up with the Joneses is that this spending usually goes on regardless of whether or not you can afford the expense because you can always finance the car or get another credit card.

This debt will then cause massive issues in your life and wreak havoc with any plans for financial independence.

For more information on how to avoid lifestyle inflation and still love your life read this post.

Perfection is the enemy of progress

Many of us have unconsciously been pushed towards ‘perfection’ for much of our formative lives and this can, unfortunately, result in a crisis of confidence and a lack of work output. It may be that throughout school only an ‘A’ was good enough for demanding parents and this has manifested itself in you believing that perfection is required in everything that you do.

Once you leave the environment of education you will find that perfection is much more difficult to achieve and is often not actually in your best interests or even desired by employers. This is because ‘perfection’ takes an exponential amount of time to achieve (if it’s even possible).

You could learn 80% of a new language in a year and then spend the next 30 years perfecting the final 20% and understanding the most intricate details. Instead of this think about what else you could have done in that time.

I know that my blog is a long, long way from perfect but I feel it is far more beneficial to me to:

  • Write 3 posts with some grammatical errors and minimal mistakes
  • Share the posts with those needing the information
  • Engage and build my network

Instead of:

  • Write one, perfect post… that no one will see because nobody knows about it.

By avoiding perfection it is also likely that you will learn at a greatly increased rate.

Quality vs quantity study

A university instructor split his class in two with one half asked to spend a month creating one ‘perfect’ photograph and the other half asked to submit their best photograph each day.

At the end of the month, surprisingly, all of the best photographs came from the group focused on quantity. This is because the lessons learned from each daily photograph stacked on top of each other and the range of subjects and landscapes taught them different skills.

The only way to reach version two is to create version one

Alan Donegan

We all have different priorities

When we choose to compare ourselves to others we tend to completely ignore any mitigating circumstances for why we may not ‘match up’. Each of us has different priorities in our life meaning that there is no level playing field when it comes to comparisons.

It may be that the ‘ripped’ guy/girl on Instagram prioritises working out ahead of their friends and careers whereas you can only fit in 3 quick gym sessions a week because of your children. This is absolutely no problem… until you feel frustrated and disappointed that you don’t look as good when you both hit the beach.

There is no way that everything can be your number one priority so the idea that you should compare yourself to those who are at the top of their field is usually a terrible idea.

Consider that priorities are different for each of us.

FIRE forums/boards and discussions

The financial independence retire early movement is founded hugely on crowdsourcing and the sharing of great ideas, techniques and saving/investing tips and techniques. This means there are a large number of active online discussion boards and forums in which interested persons ask questions and look for advice.

These places are fantastic knowledge centres and places I have frequented for a long time; I would also encourage you to do the same. However, these forums are often filled with individuals with huge incomes looking for advice because their situations are more complicated, including:

  • Tax optimisation
  • Personal businesses
  • Additional pension contributions
  • Spousal allowances
  • Buy to let information

If you are a person with a lower or average income your relevant personal finance options are far more simplified– leading to less frequent posting.

In itself, this is not an issue but it can cause readers and commenters to feel that if you want to be involved in the FIRE movement you need to be a high earner. This can lead to envy, jealousy or despondency even though we know these two key things:

  • The savings rate percentage is more important than the amount saved
  • You can become financially independent with an average salary

If that does not satisfy you then remember:

  • You can always increase your income in the future
  • They may be in a different stage of life than you
  • High earners may have large amounts of student debt
  • They may work 12 hours a day 6 days a week
  • Their FIRE target may be multiples higher than yours

Look at the realistic improvements you can make to your path to financial independence and work towards these. 

An amusing conversation… but one which could dishearten others

Why you should compare your current self to your old self

From this post, we have come away with two main points:

  • Comparisons can be useful to aid and further development
  • Comparisons with others can be dangerous and have a negative effect on mental health

Luckily, there is a technique, which is used to maximise the benefits of making comparisons without your mental health taking a hit. This method is:

Compare against your old self instead of strangers

Be happy with your progress regardless if it’s slower than someone else’s – picture

When it comes to self-improvement and personal development the important metric is that you are better than you were before. It may be that:

  • January – You managed to save and invest £50 or bench 50kg in the gym
  • February – You managed to save and invest £100 or bench 55kg in the gym

This improvement is something that you should be proud of being motivated by. The fact that Emily at work saves £2,000 each month or the guy next to you in the gym benches 150kg is completely irrelevant and will only lead to disappointment, instead of pride and enjoyment.

Tips to help you compare against yourself

  • Minimise the time spent on social media and avoid influencers who only post the ‘perfect’ parts of their lives. Look instead for those who give inspirational, useful advice or simply make you laugh.
  • Practice gratitude – This is a habit that I have been working on recently and has really improved my personal satisfaction. Be grateful when somebody does something for you and make them feel appreciated. You’ll find your mood improves with theirs.
  • Enjoy the small things in life – The pace of life seems to be ever-increasing and it’s rare that we even take 5 minutes to just enjoy where we are. If you’re out on a walk or cycle take a few moments to sit, enjoy the weather and the view and realise that life is good.
  • Take the time to remind yourself of your improvements – think back to where you were a year or two years ago and look for improvements in your life since then.
  • Aim for systems instead of goals – If you want to make real progress then the idea of working towards a system is far more powerful than an arbitrary goal. Achieving a goal can also have the negative effect of causing you to give up something beneficial. Examples of systems over goals are:
Run the London marathonRun 10km every week
Lose 5kgAvoid snacking after 9 pm and eat vegetables with every meal
Pass an ExamSpend 2 hours a week studying a topic interesting to you
Learn a Language1-Hour lesson twice a week with a native speaker

Less common/recognised tips

The dominance of British cycling was almost unprecedented – Picture
  • Focus on your strengths – Often we are told that we need to improve our weaknesses but usually this is not the best advice. If you improve what you are best at and enjoy you will usually be more successful whilst enjoying yourself more.
  • Feel free to avoid what you find toxic – This can be people, apps or news articles. Personally, I have given up watching/reading 95% of the news out there because I find it gives me very little value whilst making me miserable. If others think this is a mistake or ignorant then so be it, it’s not my problem.
  • One percent better – An improvement of 1% may seem like it would be completely irrelevant and meaningless but if you improve by just 1% often enough you will see huge changes in a very short amount of time. This is a technique the British cycling team used to go from laughing stock on the world stage to complete and utter dominance of the sport
  • One bold move – One bold move is a concept in which you create one large goal to complete for the year. What you choose is completely up to you but must be challenging and push you forwards. My bold move for the year is to make a commitment to leave my employment and from there spend at least one-year backpacking. To learn more about the idea and benefits of ‘one bold move’ click here.


The dangers of making comparisons with others

  • Often leads to beliefs that we are not attractive, successful, wealthy or ‘enough’.
  • Can minimise drive and ambition because the gap between others and ourselves seem unsurmountable.

Why do we compare ourselves to others?

  • The natural, biological instinct to compare against others to mimic ‘best behaviours’, develop ourselves, become more useful to the ‘tribe’ and find a mate.
  •  We use comparisons to forge paths toward what we want to achieve

Social media

  • Allows us to compare against anybody in the world instead of just those in our physical, ‘real world’ space
  • Only see the perfect and curated version of somebodies life. What they want to show off is posted online and what they don’t want to show is hidden.
  • Multiple studies have found social media to increase the risk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
  • Social media comparisons can also cause feelings of inadequacy, increase fear of missing out and promote cyberbullying.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Ignore the little things and you’ll miss out on so much of life – Picture
  • Knowing we judge others causes us to put on a fake frontier because we know others will be making comparisons with ourselves
  • This manifests itself by us trying to prove our success (which may or may not be true) with purchases such as a fancy car, a bigger house or a 5-star holiday.
  • These ‘proofs’ are often not even hugely desired and funded by debt putting your financial health in debt.

Perfection is the enemy of progress

  • We have often been told that we need an A grade and this has caused us to believe perfection is required in everything we do
  • Perfection can often be impossible to achieve and takes exponentially more time to reach
  • Many will not attempt something unless they believe they can do it perfectly
  • Quantity is usually better than quality when it comes to learning and progression
  • You cannot reach version two unless you create version one.

We all have different priorities

  • We each have different priorities in our life and therefore the allocation of time and resources spent on something is different to each person.
  • A dad of three working full-time should not only compare their body to that of a professional athlete.

FIRE forums/boards and discussions

  • Usually, those who earn the most money have the most options and therefore need the most help and advice.
  • The above skews the data and makes it seem like the majority of people in the groups are software engineers earning huge sums.
  • The savings rate percentage is more important than total savings (in terms of years to financial independence) and this should not be forgotten

Why you should compare your current self to your old self

  • Useful to aid in future development
  • Helps to avoid the risks of making comparisons on social media
  • Gives motivation and clearly shows improvements you are making
  • Minimises overwhelm

Tips to help you compare against yourself

  • Minimise time on social media
  • Practice gratitude
  • Enjoy the small things in life
  • Aim for systems instead of goals
  • Focus on your strengths
  • Avoid what you find toxic
  • Try to be one percent better each day or week
  • Take time to remind yourself of the progress you have already made
For help with building systems instead of goals, this book is a great place to start. Find it here

I hope you have found this post useful and if so please post any tips or stories in the comments section below :).


A 28 year old project engineer with a passion for travelling, financial literacy and learning new skills. I'm hoping that by running this blog I can track my path from corporate worker to backpacking adventurer.

View all posts by thenomadwallet →

One thought on “Why You Shouldn’t Compare Yourself to Others

  1. Great post mate! I like to mute things that negatively impact my mental health, including specific Instagram stories and posts, WhatsApp groups, news, and words on Twitter. And I agree with working on your systems instead of getting lost too much in the end goal.

Comments are closed.