What you can learn about social comparison from horse racing

Let me be totally up front with you: the most important point of this thought is that comparison hurts individuality.  It can damage your confidence in your unique strengths, just because they don’t match up with someone else’s.  It can send you on this head-trip that you’ve somehow fallen behind on your goals–you’re not on par with your peers, your competitors.

I get it.  I compare myself to people all the time.  Because, if I’m being totally honest, it’s really difficult not to.  When you’re young, you’re trying so intensely to have things work for you and make this glistening future for yourself. You’re looking to your peers for examples of success.  A perfect test score.  A record-breaking 100m backstroke time.  A publication in a magazine.  Success is inspirational, and it’s exciting to feel proud of someone for accomplishing what they’ve worked for.

But when you start weighing their achievements to your’s, we get this soup of rancid emotions.  It’s almost like carbon monoxide to your thoughts; you don’t realize it’s harmful until it has already poisoned you.

Have you ever watched a horse race, paying very close attention to the horses?  They’re wearing blinders on their eyes, and it prevents them from seeing their competition when they race.  It keeps them focused on their own race and what’s in front of them.  It keeps them from getting distracted by their surroundings.

Now, let’s use this equine example as a metaphor for a second.

Suppose the competition and the comparisons are getting to you.  You’re getting distracted by what everyone else is doing, and you’re starting to doubt your own choices. Use the Kentucky Derby as your inspiration to block it out–now, what used to be competition is just background noise, and you’re focusing on moving yourself forward and finishing the race.

But, this takes practice.  I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why it takes such a long time for people who are addicted to social comparison to knock it off, and I’ve come up with 3 reasons: competition is addicting, especially when you have potential, society is virtually build on ranks and comparisons, so it’s hard to shake the idea when it’s practically engrained into your psyche, and finally, it takes a while to become so comfortable with your own goals and objectives that you can look at someone else’s and think “well, that’s great for them! But, it’s not something I’d want… what I’m doing is the best possible option for me right now.”  I think the need to compare has a negative correlation with self-esteem and maturity.

Don’t get me wrong: I think social comparison is what keeps competition alive.  Look at the Olympics: that’s 16 days of competition between the most hardworking athletes in the world.  But, when it gets to where you’re spending time you could be using to accomplish your own goals on worrying about how whoever else is doing, that’s a form of comparison that’s lost it’s productive value.

What do you think?  Is social comparison necessary, or could we do without it? Leave a comment below!




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