“Comparison is the crush of conformity from one side and competition from the other — It’s trying to simultaneously fit in and stand out. Comparison says, ‘Be like everyone else, but better.'” — Brené Brown in Atlas of the Heart

I’m willing to bet most people compare themselves to others and feel like they are “less than” at some point in their lives. We each have our own particular sticking points – physical attractiveness, athletic ability, career success, relationship status. The list goes on.

I occasionally found myself in the comparison trap growing up, but it really hit me like a ton of bricks as I entered my mid-to-late twenties.

Why? As clinical psychologist Meg Jay notes in her Ted Talk Why 30 is Not the New 20, “Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age 35.” Yep, I felt that. As I neared the end of my twenties I suddenly noticed friends and family members who were close to my age getting engaged, getting married, buying houses, having kids, and earning impressive salaries.

When someone the same age or younger than me experienced a life milestone before I did, I’d get hooked.

Hooks are a concept from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. In their book The ACT Approach, Timothy Gordon, MSW and Jessica Borushok, PhD describe a hook as “any experience that impacts our behavior.” They emphasize that “you don’t get to choose whether you have hooks or not but you can choose how you respond to them and how you interact with your hooks.”

When I compared myself to others and got hooked:

I’d have thoughts: “I’m falling behind. I’m running out of time! What’s wrong with me? I’m not as successful as (fill in the blank).”

I’d have feelings: envious, worried, and pressured.

I’d engage in behaviors: frantic cleaning, exercising, and task completion to avoid my thoughts and feelings, reassurance seeking from friends and family, ruminating about the comparison and thinking negatively about myself and others.

Needless to say when I latched onto this hook I did not show up as my best self.

If you find yourself hooked by comparing yourself to others, try the following exercise adapted from a worksheet developed by Timothy Gordon, MSW and Jessica Borushok, PhD in The ACT Approach:

  • Give your hook a name (e.g. My “I’m getting left behind” hook)
  • Fill in the blanks. When this hook shows up, I think…I feel…my body feels…I behave…
  • Ask yourself: Is how I behave in response to this hook an attempt to avoid, control, or escape my painful thoughts, feelings, and/or physical sensations?
  • What would the person you want to be do in response to this hook? Try this response.

Repeat this exercise as needed with any other hooks in your life, comparison-related or not. The more aware you are of your hooks the more power you have to make a choice about how you want to respond to them.

Need some additional guidance in working with your hooks? Schedule a free phone consultation with me to see if we are a good match.

This blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.