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How to not compare yourself at University

5 Tips on How to Not Compare Yourself at University

Comparing ourselves to others is a natural and instinctive thing. We use comparison to make sense of ourselves and our place in the world; a little comparison can be healthy. It means that we can reflect on our achievements compared to what is normally achieved and feel good about ourselves. However, comparing ourselves to others too much can be detrimental to our mental health. And with social media apps like Instagram, we are constantly shown what other people want to show (rather than what’s more realistic). The more we compare ourselves to others, the worse we feel about ourselves, a dangerous trap we’ve got to avoid. Starting university means coming together with hundreds if not thousands of other young people at the same stage of life as you and so it’s all too easy to compare yourself to them on a physical, intellectual, popularity or other level which you need to keep an eye on.

Remember that Instagram is not real life

It’s understandable that your friends will post only the best of themselves on social media. Why would they want to post about their anxiety, grief, their car breaking down or whatever other unpleasant things might be going on for them? We all want to put our best selves forward, but when we are on social media, we only see the best bits. This is then what we compare our own lives to. Whenever you scroll through your social media feeds, remember that for every highlight a friend posts about, there’ll be a lowlight to their day too. It might be that you’re comparing how many friends you have to someone you follow on Instagram who always seems to be with others. But think about the fact that if you’re having a great time with friends, you rarely remember to take pictures in the first place. Always question others’ intentions when they post about their fun, glamorous or luxurious lifestyles – it’s unlikely they are any more content than you. In fact, if they feel the need to show the world, they are probably less so.

For students and young people today, social media probably negatively affects how we compare ourselves to others. It can have a massive effect on our mental health. Think about some boundaries you can put in place with yourself to help prevent this. For example, go through your Following list and unfollow any accounts that make you think less of yourself or accounts that make you want to buy new things or go to expensive places. We all know these don’t lead to happiness. 

Did you know that you can set a limit on some social media apps? For example, Instagram can set a 30-minute time limit over a day. Yes, you can always turn it off, but it’s a good prompt to remind you of the damage you could be doing to your well-being. Whenever you feel the urge to check your phone, ask yourself why. Apps like Instagram give you dopamine hits and feelings of connection, so maybe it’s a good idea to replace that with speaking to a flatmate for 5 minutes instead. If you post stories on Instagram or other social media platforms with this feature, do you find that you regularly check to see who might have viewed it? If you post a picture, do you constantly watch your notifications to see who has liked or commented on it? If you do, it’s no surprise. Those quick dopamine hits can be a little addictive. 

We believe that the less time you spend on social media, the happier you will be. If you’re struggling to appreciate everything you have to be grateful for, it might be about time to disable your account… Or at least delete the app and have a break for a little while. If you take a social media break around exam period, you’ll find that you have so much more time on your hands to get your work done and have time to spare to do things you actually enjoy. 

If you’re constantly looking at what someone else has, it’s unlikely you’ll be content with your own life and what you have. Are your social media feeds also full of products to purchase, and if so, do you make impulse purchases? With products being a couple of taps away, buying things you don’t need is far too easy. If influencers you follow are advertising products, it’s only natural that you will want those things if you are drawn to their lifestyle. If you impulse buys a lot, let yourself save the items you want until the next day. If you still want it a day or two later, maybe it’s something you could make use of. But if not, unsave it and forget all about it. If you find that being on your phone a lot means that you purchase more, take a minute or two every day to unsubscribe to all the promotional emails you get. Soon enough, you’ll only have the essentials and service emails coming through. Less temptation every day!

Practice gratitude

This is a practice that’s known to help promote a positive mindset. When we compare ourselves to others, we think about what others have that we don’t have – but would we want it if they didn’t have it? Probably not. Jotting down the things we are grateful for helps to focus our mind on everything we have. Take some time each day to write down three to five things for which you are truly grateful. You might think you’ll soon run out of things, but as each day comes, we come across new things to be grateful for. Today it might be coffee, a friend who you saw, and the fact you live close by to a park. Tomorrow it might be that you have a healthy parent, you’re able to go to university, and you had a nice bowl of cereal for breakfast. Don’t spend too much time overthinking it. Just jot down whatever comes into your head on the day. Life is full of things to be grateful for, which come in all shapes and sizes. 

Keep a notebook by your bed or use your phone while you’re on your way into uni. There’s no excuse not to keep up with it. You could even collect them as voice notes.

Accept your weaknesses, but focus on your strengths

It’s much easier to be critical of yourself than to big yourself up, so it takes a little more effort than you might think. Take some time every day to recognise your strengths. What personality traits do you like the most about yourself? Do your friends and family say you are kind, caring, smart or funny? What are you good at? What are your highest achievements? 

Just like writing down your gratitudes, try writing down three to five things you really like about yourself. Make them specific too, by backing them up with examples of times that you’ve proven that you are those things. If you’re feeling a little stuck, ask a friend or family member what they believe are some of your greatest strengths. If you find it difficult to move away from the negatives, think about how those traits are useful too. For example, if you believe you are bad at focussing, maybe that’s because you’re a natural abstract thinker. If your mind is always on the move, you are probably quite creative.

Only compare yourself to you

Instead of focusing on where you are compared to others at uni or your age, reflect on how much you have developed and achieved. Think about the version of you that existed one, two, or five years ago and reflect on everything you’ve done since then and how much you have grown. If you are continuously working on yourself, there’s no point thinking about how others are getting on.

Think about investing in a 5 year journal. This is a great way to retrain your mind to compare yourself to your previous self and not to others. It also helps you think about the you that is yet to come. Where will you be in another year and what do you want to achieve? It’s ok to be inspired by others, but what are the most important things for you? Being in your 20s is probably the most developmental time in your life and in ten years’ time you can look back at your entries and be proud of everything you achieved for yourself.  

Finally, celebrate others’ successes

If we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, it means we’re not appreciating the accomplishments of those we care about. Consider when a friend has been working hard to get somewhere they want to be and really acknowledge it for them. It could be a good grade, getting a job or placement interview or something simple like recognition from a tutor and they’ve decided to share that with you because they’re proud of it. It mightn’t feel good at the time because you’re thinking about your achievements, but try focusing on them and celebrating their success with them. This kind of behaviour will encourage them to do the same when the tables are turned.

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