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Life's a Beach - Or Is It?

Why do all of your Facebook friends get to take so many cool vacations, usually to amazing places with awesome beaches? And look at those pictures! They are happy and having so much fun with their families!

I spend most of my time working, only occasionally getting to take a vacation, certainly not as often as everyone else appears to. And my vacations aren’t as fun as theirs either. Mine always seem to involve a lot of labor before I can have fun.

I wish my life was as fun as theirs. (sigh)

Hey - SNAP OUT OF IT! We are falling victim to the alluring Comparison Fallacy.

Comparison is an easy tool the lizard brain uses in decision making. It gives context by which we can determine value – often our own. It gives us benchmarks and goals to reach or, in some cases, avoid.

Perception vs. Reality

The truth is that we often are not comparing like things. It’s apples and oranges.

The Comparison Fallacy is based on two misconceptions:

1) that what we are comparing ourselves to is a true representation of reality

2) that it is possible to compare your skills, abilities and results with other people in an accurate and useful manner.

Consider the version of yourself that you present to others. When having guests for dinner, your house is much tidier than usual. When someone asks how you are, you always reply, “Doing great, thanks!” When posting on social media, you post pictures of good times, family milestones and seaside vacations. However, you don’t post a single picture of your daily drudgery.

There is nothing wrong with doing that and it is perfectly normal and even expected, BUT...

we are not presenting the full picture of our lives and neither is anyone else. Most of what we see is just a thin happy slice, but the less flattering truths remain hidden. The struggles. The stress. The arguments. The failures.

Unfortunately, we don’t think about what we don’t see. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls this WYSIATI – the feeling that “What you see is all there is.”

It can lead to FOMO (the fear of missing out) and the feeling that we are inadequate.

Self vs. Selfie

Technology is providing us with novel new ways of distorting reality, causing novel new problems as well. In a disturbing new trend, plastic surgeons are seeing an increasing number of people who want to look like their selfies – their heavily edited and filtered selfies. It is called “Snapchat Dysphoria,” and is increasing at an alarming rate.

Photo effects that in the past required airbrushing or expertise in photo editing software are now easily achieved and accessible with apps. Snapchat filters can create flawless skin with just a swipe. The iphone app, Facetune, can reduce the size of your nose, forehead, or waist, just to name a few of its effects.

Be wary of false realities that we can’t hope to compare ourselves to and shouldn’t try. It creates stress and dissatisfaction with what we have and who we are.

Better Questions

Confront the lizard! When feelings of inadequacy creep in from comparing yourself, your life or your accomplishments to others – take a moment and kick the thought up to your big, conscious, thinking brain.

Consider whether you are making a fair comparison. What do you really know about that person or situation you are trying to compare yourself to? Can we make a fair and informed decision? Does the comparison represent reality?

Even more importantly, ask yourself if the comparison serves you. Does it reflect your values? Will it make you more trustworthy? Will it improve your relationships?

If not, ignore the false realities and focus on your own real awesomeness instead!

Think well and be well.

- Steve.


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