How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others and Start Living your Life | The Brownble Podcast and Blog

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others and Start Living your Life

diet & exercise lifestyle on being vegan podcast Jun 10, 2022


Show notes:

Our sponsor for today's episode: Etsy shop Green and Experience: Natural and Reusable Vegan and Cruelty Free Hemp Dryer Balls - get 10% off your purchase by using promo code: BROWNBLE10

Lindsay and Lexie Kite of Body Redefined

Book: More than a Body by Lindsay and Lexie Kite PhD

TED talk: Body Positivity or Body Obsession?: Learning to Be More and See More by Lindsay Kite

Our blog post and podcast episode on Impermanence

Article by Jordan Harbinger: "Why you Compare Yourself to Other People and How to Stop"

Mia Findley of Beyond Body Coach (workshops on body neutrality and eating disorder recovery)

For the list of gratitude questions scroll down to the end of this post


In the era of the boss babe, the super mom, the cottage core fairies who churn butter to make pies from scratch in their linen aprons, the wellness influencer, the filters and social media, we have all dug deep into our own voyeuristic nature and it has normalized this compulsion to see what other people’s lives are like, and with that, inevitably compare these lives (always curated) to our own. In recent weeks I've had a few of you write to me in response to some of our most recent episodes on body image and specific body parts, and also about our episodes on intuitive movement, and you've all, in your own words, asked, how do we deal with comparison? I can't seem to stop comparing myself to others, or to a past version of myself. Today I'm going to share a few of the the tools that have helped me through comparison (because yes, we all do it!), we do it with siblings, we do it with our partners, with colleagues, with friends, with frenemies, with influencers, with strangers.

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Social media and the masks

Let's start in the most obvious place. Although we've all heard the catch phrase - don't compare what feels like your blooper reel to someone's highlight reel)- and yet we never remember when we're in a comparison spiral, that social media is not big brother where there’s a 24 hour camera filming the highlights and meltdowns but the images others are choosing to show. If we start seeing social media as the biggest representation of people’s masks, i.e. the face we want others to see (often the face we want to believe is our only one, ignoring all examples of the rest of our nuance and character), we might start having a different relationship with it.

 With social media, lots of the tools I'll share today will help, but really, SM is such a machine at this point that sometimes (and even better yet, OFTEN), we should go on a bit of a social media detox. Take a break, remove the app from your phone temporarily if need be, don't worry, the world and the internet will still be there when you get back. Beyond the detox, I always recommend you use it with awareness, if you feel a pang in your stomach every time you see someone’s name pop up in your feed and stories, inspect what’s going on there, yes even if it's Susie from middle school and you guys have kept in touch. Mute for a while until you feel you have more tools to deal with comparison.

A mood is sometimes, just a mood

Remember when as kids we used to say "mom! I'm bored!". Social media and this constant sharing that's part of our lives today has made us erroneously think that we're never supposed to feel bad. Never supposed to have a detour, a misstep, a moment of self doubt, a bad body image day, a day with anxiety or worry. We need to remember that this is actually within the nature of emotions and that emotions and moods will come and go, it is usually another emotion that is lying underneath our impulse to compare, we can go into this deeply in therapy, and also remember that emotions ebb and flow.

Body Comparison

Imagine a dog park, comparing the beauty of one dog against the next, a tiny yorkie terrier to a big bulldog, a golden retriever with perfect straight and shiny hair to, well, my dogs, who much like me have a kind of hair that has a life of its own. We can notice the beauty of a dog but the truth is none of us are there saying, this dog deserves more cuddles love and care because it's prettier, or this dog is more deserving than this dog because he has an even shiny coat. I'll give you an even better example, a pre-school, where kids are running around in their sometimes quirky self picked outfits that don't go together, some kids are calmly drawing, others are figuring out a way to break the rules, some kids have the cutest faces, others have the most adorable personalities, some are naturally very thin and others are bigger, some are incredibly tall and others incredibly short, none of us would ever say that the more "physically beautiful" deserve more attention by the teacher, more love from their parents, more acceptance of who they are, more food, more toys more care. Still, this is what we do to ourselves when we engage in body comparison, we put value and worth on physical aspects of ourselves and others and apply a kind of price tag "more valuable" "less valuable", when in reality, appearance has little to do with our worth as people.

Comparison was such a big part of my journey with body image. I’d experience comparison with other bodies, and also with earlier versions of my own body (if you’ve ever uttered the words I'm very competitive with myself this has probably been the case for you too). The healing has come from seeing my value and worth outside of what my body looks like, doing lots of work on self compassion, even more work on body neutrality and stepping away from self objectification, i.e. stepping away of that space in which what's in our awareness is the way our bodies look (for example, rather than enjoying the feeling of exercising outside, constantly adjusting your shorts or your top or your ponytail because you're wondering how others are seeing you and how you might be looking to others. 

Comparison is also often competition in disguise. We want to be the thinnest, the prettiest, the most successful,  and in my experience this comes from a sense of having to cover up, a mask of sorts over our tender spots, what we perceive as our own flaws, the shame we don’t want anyone to find out about, and here it mixes with perfectionism, if I look perfect and act perfect and am perceived as perfect I can escape my true beliefs about myself for a bit, distract myself from the things that really need healing, from the unconditional love that sometimes we weren't given, from shame or guilt or anything else we've tried so desperately to cover up and that makes us feel incomplete.

Comparing Eating

Comparing eating, especially within the vegan community happens quite often. Whenever there's a room full of mixed eaters I've seen the kinds of questions that come my way and in a way I find people are in a sort of competition "who eats better" "who eats cleaner" "who cares about their health more" "who is more restrained" "who eats bigger portions" "who eats smaller portions". Repeat after me: "There are as many ways to eat as eaters out there, we don't all have to eat the same way, look the same way or find the number one way to eat that is without a flaw or imperfection. When we're doing this, we're also often pairing together eating and bodies (and eating and health) as if they're the only two pieces of a complex puzzle.

Making Peace with our Past

I've found that often the dark parts, the hard parts of our past are super powers in disguise, yet instead of taking them out, healing them, giving them a little polish and care, we want to keep them in a box inside the basement. My past was full of difficult moments but there was so much joy and so many special moments in between, magical and very deep connections that sometimes friends who had perfectly idyllic childhoods would often say “I wish I had stories like that my childhood was so normal” to which I reply “I wish I had had that sense of normal and calm in YOUR childhood" and there you go, in one second you’re looking over the fence again at someone else's lawn, who’s just inches away looking over at yours.

It’s helpful, and reading memoirs teaches you this in very special ways, to find the little bits of gold that are sometimes hidden in very hard memories, and sometimes those little nuggets of gold are your own resiliency, your own survival, your ability to create a safe world inside your world, and of course, therapy, therapy therapy!

Where are we standing when we compare ourselves to others?

When we’re in comparison we’re peeking over the fence into someone else’s lawn, we are outside of ourselves. We are never going to feel happy if we’re not fully in our own lives, living them, enjoying them, putting our gifts out into the world.

When we catch ourselves in comparison mode, the biggest antidote I’ve found, isn’t keep on comparing and competing or finding ways in which you’re doing well to calm yourself (this is still looking over the fence). The fastest way is to get back into your own garden.

Imagine you’re lifting that fence higher up and see your own grass, bald spots and all, do something to get back into yourself, make a plan to do something you enjoy, do a meditation to center yourself, do a bit of journaling to daydream abut the future, and of course, gratitude. Gratitude is the best way to quickly bring yourself back to the bright aspects that already exist in your life and we all have them.

What's the kernel?

Ask yourself what’s the kernel? Switch watching to compare and contrast (which is what we do when we are stuck in comparison), to realizing there is some form of admiration there, only we're adding a slightly gray filter over it, by pushing ourselves down.

Remove the grayness. There are lessons in the inspiration or admiration (you are not meant to have everything someone else has nor will they ever have some of the things you have), but if there’s something your eye keeps going to, examine what’s really at the center of it.

An example: you’re constantly comparing yourself to your friend who has lots of expendable income to travel, and you put yourself down because you haven't been able to. You have kids, a mortgage and you still have student loans. Maybe the kernel inside of what you're seeing as that experience is the feeling of awe in seeing new places, or the freedom of picking up and changing your environment. How can you add a bit of that with the resources you do have. Maybe it’s taking a break in your day to sit at a café and read a book, maybe it’s hiking in a new nature spot over the weekend. Do it, don’t stay with the exterior of what that looks like for them, or use it as confirmation of what you think you can't have, look for the interior of how you could give yourself that now, or how you can take steps to incorporate more of that in the future.

I’m not one for waiting until X happens to have an experience, I never have been, and my own weight and body image journey has taught me that above all else. So have the experiences now, put on the shorts now, have the fun now, go to the pool now, give yourself the me time now.

Kindness and self compassion

Be nicer and kinder to yourself. Imagine that person you’re admiring and/or comparing yourself to, talking to a friend of theirs or to their child in the way you sometimes speak to yourself and about yourself, you’d stop liking them or being drawn to them instantly! You’d think they were horrible friends, bullies even. Realize that this is what you’re often doing to yourself, so begin to practice self kindness, read up on self compassion techniques, be your very own best friend and care giver.

What are we really comparing?

Remember that when we compare ourselves to others what we’re really doing is comparing the idea we have about ourselves or the story we’ve told ourselves about ourselves, to what we see in someone else.

Going back to the dog park, have you ever seen those little chihuahuas that bark at the big dogs like they own the place? They’re doing that because they have their own ideas about their place in the world and when we see them from the outside we see something entirely different. Still the Chihuahua acts from an idea she has of herself, she believes in herself, and the same thing goes when the situation is the opposite. We often don’t see our own unique brand of special, we compare from our own inner feelings of lack, shame, mistakes made, detours taken and don’t see everything that everyone else sees.

If we’ve been especially critical about ourselves, we can begin to change that story, and by noticing that the jumping off point of comparison is just that, an idea or a story we’ve had in our minds, it leaves a little more space and distance to see: what if we’re more than what we’re telling ourselves, more capable, more resilient? What if we have strengths and beauty outside of what we can see?

An important piece of homework

 For more on the subject of comparison, I can’t wait for you to read the article by Jordan Harbinger called “Why you Compare Yourself to Other People (and How to Stop)”. It includes very interesting research done in social psychology about where comparison stems from, as well as who the research shows we tend to compare ourselves to, and why this is important (spoiler alert, we tend to compare ourselves to people who are more similar to us than we think, he uses the great example of how we will compare ourselves to other runners in a running team but not to Husain Bolt). It’s also filled with information on the true motivations behind healthy vs unhealthy comparison, comparison stemming from self evaluation (seeing where your work can improve when you see the work of other colleagues for instance), vs comparing while trying to boost your self esteem, what he refers to as self enhancement. It’s the latter that gets us into trouble, can get obsessive and actually be quite harmful. It also talks about how we’re using comparison to actually verify pre-conceived self concepts and re-afirm these. It’s one of the best articles I’ve come across on comparison and I highly recommend it.


A Brief Glimpse into my Gratitude Practice and Other Examples

The last thing I want to leave you with today has to do with mindfulness and gratitude.

One of the key concepts they teach you when you start practicing mindfulness has to do with suffering, and how we are so wired to notice when something is causing pain, is out of line or out of order, and we don’t notice the non-suffering we are all experiencing each and every day. Moments of calm, moments of being pain-free with again, those non-tooth aches, moments in which we experience a moment of peace even amidst turmoil, moments in which we laugh, moments in which we’re happy, moments in which at the very least we are breathing and alive and getting through whatever it is we came here to overcome.

As I mentioned before, even in the presence of having moments of looking at your neighbour’s lawn, we can practice having moments of taking a step back, observing your own, and realizing yours is actually looking good in some areas, is on its way there, has made progress or at the very least, that you are at that moment, standing on your own ground, in your own yard, building the muscle of noticing and appreciating that you have a lawn at all. This is one practice I used to roll my eyes at quite a bit (similar to the practice of affirmations that I have to confess still isn’t for me), but I’ve come around to it, especially when I learned that you could design it around the places where you need reinforced noticing. I focused on it even more after learning that comparison is one of those key features in body image issues and that what is taught as one of its antidotes is gratitude.

A gratitude practice example:

Many people swear by a gratitude practice of listing 5 things they’re grateful for every day, on a piece of paper or in a journal. There are also gratitude journals you can buy, that you can simply fill out.

For me, I love questions that I can answer and I’ve tailored a few questions just for me, some came from a wonderful course on body neutrality I did a while back with the wonderful Mia Findlay of Beyond Body Coach, some I know have worked for others, and some I’ve added because I’ve noticed I need a bit more self-compassion, a bit more body appreciation, a bit less self-criticism.  

Ideally, you’d answer your own questions in a quick list form every day and early on in the day, some people prefer the end of the day. This practice does wonders for comparison, because you can begin to truly observe your life from a bit of a vantage point, stop standing in “the idea you have about yourself” and how it compares to others, and really start seeing the uniqueness of your experience, you can start learning how to value yourself in small ways and slowly build up from there.

Here are some questions you may want to pick a few from. Keep them on a marked page in your journal so every day you can look at your questions and just answer them quickly in a fresh new page. Ideally, you will make an effort to not repeat answers from previous days, this makes you really search for even the smallest things. You can go from general to more specific, from big to small, or the other way around:

  •  What am I grateful for in my life right now? (i.e. my family, my dog, my new job/friend)
  •  What am I grateful for about my body? (not based on appearance) (i.e. I have a body that can heal from wounds, lungs to breathe, etc)
  •  What do I like about myself? (non-physical) (I am creative, spontaneous, a hard worker, kind etc.)
  •  What am I grateful for that I experienced in my childhood? (That day at the beach with my siblings)
  •  What mistake have I made that I have been able to forgive myself for and now understand I did the very best I could?
  •  What am I looking forward to today?
  •  What is something, very unique to me, that I am grateful for?
  •  What simple pleasures am I grateful for or what simple pleasure did I enjoy today?
  •  Who am I grateful for in my life?
  •  A life experience I’ve had that I am grateful for is… (an example of how you can also frame this in sentence form)
  •  What act of kindness did I see in the world today or what act of kindness did I do today?
  •  What moment did I enjoy the most today and how can I bring it into my life tomorrow (even if in a different way)
  •  How did I feel connected to others today?
  •  How did I show myself compassion today?
  •  What can I do to be kinder to myself than I was yesterday?

There are countless others, but to me, choosing just a few of these (5 or 6), and answering those every day and sticking to them for a while, really makes you think, it makes you stand firmly in your life, and notice the small things around you that make you special, from there, if we compare we are more likely to do so in a curious state of mind in asking, I’d love some of that, I admire this in that person, how can I take steps in the direction of what I want, as opposed to verifying your own stance or staying in a place of comparison or competition for too long.

Lastly, if we all do it, if I’m looking at her, and she’s looking at someone else (heck maybe even at me!), we have more in common than we think, in that we all carry our own brand of self-perceived imperfection. If comparison is inevitable to our species, let’s try to turn this habit into something that helps rather than hinders.


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