Thomas Mondel Writer. Thinker. Blogger.

The Curse of Social Comparison, The Law of 33% and my Old Radio

I love to compare myself with others and then feel terrible about myself. I just don’t know why I am addicted to this kind of stuff.  There might be something magically attracting in comparing yourself to others. Maybe it is a biological behaviour and I am pinging my environment to see where I am standing in the social hierarchy.

Maybe it’s my inner craving for feedback so I can improve and autocorrect myself. Or maybe it’s just some male ego issue. It could be a combination of all three of them as well.

I don’t know.

Many things come to my mind when I think about this topic, but foremost I wonder how it comes that I always feel BAD about myself when I compare myself with others? Couldn’t it somehow be possible to benefit from it?

Basically there is nothing wrong with comparing yourself with others.

Barry Schwartz’ puts it very nicely in his book The Paradox of Choice:

“Of all the sources we rely on when we evaluate experiences, perhaps nothing is more important than comparisons to other people. Our answer to the “How am I doing?” question depends on our own past experiences, aspirations, and expectations, but the question is virtually never asked or answered in a social vacuum. “How am I doing?” almost always carries “compared to others” in parenthesis.”

Social comparison is therefore something very important and essential, and should not be excluded from our lives. It gives us crucial information on how to evaluate our experiences, helping us to stay on track and making us more fulfilled and happy.

On the other hand it can make us feel terrible about ourselves too. Too much comparing yourself to others (more successful people) might cause you to feel inferior, powerless and soon we become unhappy and miserable.

I have done that and it’s not cool.

Barry further explains:

“Indeed, social psychologists have found that upward comparison produce jealousy, hostility, negative mood, frustration, lowered self-esteem, decreased happiness, and symptoms of stress. By the same token, downward comparison have been found to boost self-esteem, increase positive mood, and reduce anxiety.” 

So in order to compare yourself to others “in a beneficial way” it is crucial to pick the right people to compare yourself with.

Well, but how can you decide whom to compare with?

If you always compare yourself with people achieving less than you are (downward comparison), you might feel superior and get yourself all the benefits mentioned above, BUT you might also become lazy and less-achieving than you could be. There is nothing pushing you further than you are capable of. You might not live up to your greatest potential and rob the world the gift which is your best and true self.

On the other hand if you always compare yourself to people superior to yourself (upward comparison) you will feel the pain (just like I did). Nothing you do will be ever good enough because you are not playing on the same level as these high achievers. You are not even remotely close to them.

When you compare yourself for example to people making millions of dollars EACH DAY and you are hardly getting by with the money you have in your own pockets, it’s very difficult to feel happy and successful about oneself.

On the flip side, some exposure to successful people in whatever shape or form (autobiographies, books, audio, YouTube, mentoring, etc.) might give you the necessary push to go for your own dreams as well. It might show you what is possible in this world. It might show you that opportunities are virtually endless.

And it might also remove some of your limiting beliefs you might have for yourself (“if he can do it and he was in a way worse spot than I am now, what hinders me on going for the same kind of success and happiness myself?!”).

So in order to get the benefit of BOTH sides and not beat yourself up too much in the progress you have to find the balance in-between. You have to find a spot in the middle of these opposing sides, grab the benefits and exclude the downsides they bring with them.

But how can you do it?!

I was thinking about it a lot and some days ago I then stumbled upon a podcast from Tai Lopez where he talks about the “Law of 33%”. And as it turned out this was exactly what I needed to hear to answer my questions.

It’s funny how life works sometimes. You are struggling with some issues and problems and you are thinking about a solution day and night. Nothing comes to your mind. But somehow the seed is planted.

Your brain now attracts everything which might come in handy in solving your problem. Because you spend the time to “teach” your brain your new values and what is important to you, it now works as your slave and will do whatever it can to find something useful for you to work with. It will help you to start seeing relevant stuff everywhere.

It might have been there before, but now you are actually paying attention to it. Your reticular activating system (RAS) now tuned into this kind of frequency.

Pretty fancy word for a pretty fancy “feature” in our brain.

You just have to tell your brain what you are looking for and it will obey. Just like trying to turn into the right frequency on an old radio, while you are looking for the channel you love. At first all you get is useless noise, but soon you get closer to the right spot and you will begin to hear the music playing. 

(I know. Now you can just press a button and the radio is automatically looking for your radio channel, but some years ago I had this old radio where I had to do the fine-tuning by myself. And I used to get super pissed if somebody messed around with my “programmed channels”, because I then had to redo all the fine-tuning all over again.)

So, I was looking for an answer to my questions and my RAS obviously made me (somehow) look up this podcast episode from Tai Lopez, where he mentioned the “Law of 33%”. Instead of my black and white thinking of either comparing myself with people superior or inferior to me, he suggests to do both (and also add a third one too).

Spend a third of your time with people below you. This will help you to stay motivated, feel better about yourself, help you to acknowledge your privileges and accomplishments, express gratitude and much more. It’s cool. Also, since these people are inferior to you, this means that you are now superior to them, so you might also use your knowledge and wisdom to help THEM! It’s a cool feeling. Try it!

The next 33% of your time spend with people on your level. This is where you can partner up with somebody, push each other, compare results in a non-threatening way and also stay on track. It usually boosts your learning curve and keeps you in the game if you have somebody next to you who has the same values and ambitions as you have. Think about it just like a gym buddy: you might not always feel like going to the gym and work out, but you still have your buddy who relies on you going with him. You are pushing each other through the hard times where either one of you lacks the motivation to do it by himself. You back each other up. It’s cool too.

The last third of your time you spend with people superior to you. Because you have already spend two-thirds of your time with people below or at your level you feel a lot of happy feelings, which is great. The last third now inspires you to go beyond what you are currently achieving. It opens up new possibilities in your mind and gets your winner mentality going. It puts excuses and hardships into perspective and oftentimes this is more than is needed to overcome the hard times along your journey.

  • Candy H.

    I got a lot of valuable stuff out of this post! Thank you very much, Thomas!

  • Adrienn Devine

    I used to make it very hard for myself as well when I was comparing myself to a lot of “more successful” people all the time. Somehow I found peace in stop doing this and I started to focus more on myself. In the end “ourselves” is the only thing we are in control of anyways. PS: I like the law of 33% you mentioned there. It got me thinking.

  • Thomas Mondel

    Nice! I’m glad you got something useful out of the article!

  • Thomas Mondel

    Cool, thanks!

  • Elise Stewart

    I like how you write in such an authentic and honest way! Good article (and very helpful for me personally).

  • Lesley Stevens

    Very interesting outlook on things. I’ll have to bookmark this and try to draw some wisdom from it later when I’m faced with these giants. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thomas Mondel

    Wow thank you!

  • Thomas Mondel

    Cool. See you around Lesley!

  • Michelle

    I often see myself in a very depressing mode right after I scroll up and down to read my facebook newsfeed. As I read my friends updates, I somehow envy them when they are happy, Enjoying with their career and family life. I will try to move you around the area!

Thomas Mondel Writer. Thinker. Blogger.