The Digital Comparison Trap

My friend recently bought a BMW.As you would expect his Facebook walls were littered with shots of him posing alongside his recent “acquisition”. He would have felt on Top of the world. He had every right to feel that way. I conveyed my hearty congratulations, left a comment to that effect and pressed the obligatory “Like”.I was very impressed. So much so that my inner critical voice started telling me how much better this guy is than me. “Look at him — he’s a stud:  good looking and successful. He is cool”.

After listening to this inner nit picker I was feeling jealous, inferior and self-conscious.

Perhaps you too would have found yourself in a similar situation sometime.

Welcome to the new reality – the Digital Comparison Trap. As our friends update their Facebook status with shots of their new homes, jobs, promotions, and premium cars, we are left to re-align our own definitions of success and in the process invite a deep sense of inadequacy into our lives. And what is our response? We become an eager participant in the social arms race. Instead of living our life as per our beliefs and standards – we indirectly handover our controls to events in the lives of our virtual contacts.

Social comparisons are not a recent phenomenon.They have been an intrinsic part of our human existence. So there should be some very positive benefits from this tendency to compare – strange though it may seem. Research shows that such social comparisons aid us in gaining an exact perception of our abilities. Leon Festinger’s 1954 social comparison theory describes our basic need to accurately self-assess our own skills and abilities.We are to a large extant “defined” relative to our social group.

The problem occurs when we don’t bother to put much thought behind these social comparisons. We only consider one attribute – the most visible one, fame, wealth, appearance etc., and mindlessly accept the results of the comparison.

Considering that social comparisons are such a key part of our behavior it makes sense to spend some time reflecting on our friends updates before deciding on a course of action.

A couple of precautions are in order-

  1. First One is to apply a filter. Let the comparison not blind us to our own strengths. Every individual career path is different. In fact if you were to compare yourself in entirety you would view things differently. So, be wary of resentment – as each story is unique.
  2. Another way to negate the tendency is by getting a 360 degree perspective. Seek a number of sources in addition to your self evaluation. Be sure to include individuals who will give an objective assessment. This would help you in getting a clear picture of your skills.

These simple precautions can help us in putting things in perspective and prevent us from being hypercritical of our own unique achievements.

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