Sometimes you have one of those days where it just seems as if everybody in the world is more successful than you. On these days, I’m reminded of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote that “comparison is the thief of joy”.

But is this really true? It is an important question, because psychologists have found that we actually spend a large part of our day comparing ourselves to others. And the way we do it is quite interesting. These psychologists have found that when we need a little boost, we would compare ourselves to someone who we think is a bit worse than us at something. When we want to improve ourselves, we compare ourselves to someone better. It is therefore obvious that some comparison can be helpful, but that we should take great care in choosing who we are comparing ourselves against. Below, I discuss a strategic approach to comparison from understanding the why to using comparison to actually better yourself.

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  1. Know why you are making the comparison

When you start to reflect on comparisons, you will be able to catch yourself in the act the next time you compare yourself to someone else. When you do that, ask yourself why. Sometimes, the reason for comparison is just good old jealousy. This is obviously one of the bad comparisons, and a habit you could easily banish from your mind. Life becomes a lot more fun when you celebrate your friends’ successes with them, instead of resenting them for it. Sometimes, we compare ourselves to others because we feel inadequate about something. And sometimes other people just make it look so easy. But remember, they may have worked very hard to get where they are, and their successes or abilities are within your reach too if you make the same effort.

2. Comparing the right way

Comparison becomes a good thing when you compare yourself to people you admire to find ways how you can improve yourself. This is, after all, the definition of a role model. When you make this comparison, don’t just look at the overall picture, but break it down into smaller parts. For instance, if your friend is more successful than you at work, look at all the reasons why. Is it punctuality, networking skills, grit, dependability, insights or an inspirational approach? Think about these skills and how you can apply them to your own life.

3. The most important comparison

Even if you stop comparing yourself to other people, there is one person you should never stop comparing yourself to — and that is yourself. Set goals for yourself and evaluate these goals once a year. Look at yourself a year ago and look at that same person today. As long as you are a better person today than the past you, you are on the right track.

So, while comparison can be the thief of joy in some instances, it can also be harnessed as a powerful self-improvement tool.