Human Tendency to make one sided comparisons

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend over a beer and mid-conversation with him, I remember thinking:

“Wow, this guy is so freaking awesome”

This person is a Data Scientist, running his own company, so basically does amazing work, solving real world data problems, amplifying them and providing future insights (I love it !!) and on top of that “shit loads of money”.

I remember feeling jealous, that I wasn’t nearly as close to him professionally. I wished I could be a Data Scientist with my own startup.

Over the conversation, we ended up talking a bit about Health in general.

It turns out, he has some major health concerns – he’s got Diabetes, has frequent back aches, doesn’t exercise, no walking/jogging and mostly spends his time what he boasts as partying and hanging out with his friends.

Now, the purpose of this article is not to judge the person for not focusing on his health; it’s to point out the fundamental human tendency to make one-sided comparisons.

We look at the positive aspects of people – the things we like about them: some are cooler than you, some have more muscle, some beat you in all fronts, and we compare their strengths to our weaknesses: I’m not as cool, I’m not as rich, I’m not as fit…

Let me be blunt: sometimes we are RIGHT – sometimes we’re not doing well in that aspect of life at all. In that case, it makes perfect sense to take a pause and fix that part of ourselves.

But often, you’re doing fine in that area, and these differences are just a result of different priorities, interests and different motivations.

The grass is always greener on the other side.

When you make these half comparisons, the grass often looks greener on the other side.

You’re comparing someone’s best aspect or number 1 priority to something that’s only of average importance to you.

If I compare my finances with many people here in Sydney, I’d lose, big time. There are so many millionaires here, and I’m not even close to that.

If I compare my body to a bodybuilder, I’d feel small. Some of them have more muscle in their legs than I have in my entire body.

This is where shortsightedness comes in. We get dazzled by the part of other people we feel amazed by (or the ones we feel that we lack), and would happily exchange it with them.

The grass often isn’t actually greener on the other side. It only looks greener because you choose to look at the parts of it that is greener.

If you take a bodybuilder as an example: he’s strong, fit, and good looking. You’re good looking too, but not as godlike or as muscular as him.

But would you exchange lives with him?

The point I’m getting to is, you need to look at the complete picture.

If you only see a popular kid and an unpopular kid, you will no doubt conclude that the popular kid was ahead of the game.

Now, this is not to say that all people are equal because everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.

Some people are better than others, either because they were born that way (IQ, temperament, etc.) or they worked for it.

If someone is richer, younger, healthier, happier, and more connected than you – and achieved it themselves – hell yeah he’s better and the grass is legitimately greener on the other side – (you should take some notes from him!)

(In fact, you should take some notes from everyone who’s worked to be great at something – after all, despite his lack of youth, Buffett can teach everyone quite a bit about acquisitions, the bodybuilder can give you some tips on your form even though he may not know much about anything else.)

But, in most cases, it’s fake greenery – the result of the myopic vision of your mind, where you only see the glory and not the sacrifice, only see the pros and not the cons, and only see the part of land where the grass is watered well and ignore the regions where it’s cracking out of dryness.

Comparisons with other people are inherently biased.

From the above, we can reasonably conclude that it’s not possible for us to compare ourselves with others because we don’t know their lives that well.

We know the things they’re doing well in – where they’re kicking ass, but we don’t know where they’re failing, the challenges they’re facing, or what things they’ve neglected for a while (those parts of them are much less visible and they don’t talk about them as much).

Because you don’t know the darker sides of their life, you cannot make a complete comparison.

There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by other people, but…

You can only compare you to yourself from the past.

Your only true comparison you can make is with yourself – 1, 5, 10 years ago.

This is because, with your own self, you see the full picture.

Where were you one year ago and where are you now?

If you were deeply in debt last year and now your net worth is $0 (i.e., debt-free) – you’ve done well. You’ve grown.

The real metric is what you have divided by what you started with. Are you growing? And are you happy with the rate of growth?

At the end of the day, you can only work with what you have, so it’s only fair to measure progress with yourself.

The next time you start comparing, ask yourselves this question: “Would you exchange lives with that person?”. If the answer is No, don’t be jealous, well if the answer is Yes, then instead of being jealous, be inspired and motivated (and start taking notes).


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