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  • Writer's pictureJason Kiesau

Do You Compare Yourself to Others?

Originally Posted on LinkedIn 7/19/2015

If confidence is critical to our quality of life and overall success, I think it's important to understand what gets in our way of being confident. Insecurity, fear, and anxiety are part of life that with awareness can serve us very well. However, if we lack awareness and management they can paralyze us.

That's how I look at insecurity. I look at insecurity as a disease, but rather than kill us it just paralyzes us from living the lives we want to have. Unmanaged insecurity is like a hamster wheel that keeps us moving, without moving forward.

In my journey of trying to understand confidence and what kills our confidence, I recently came across a talk on YouTube that Malcolm Gladwell gave at Google where he talks about Relative Deprivation Theory. For how simple of an idea it is, I had never heard of it before, and it kind of blew my mind.

Relative Deprivation Theory says it is human nature for us to compare ourselves to others and rank ourselves within the hierarchy of our immediate circle. We don't compare ourselves to the entire world, we compare and rank ourselves against others within groups we associate with. We don't even realize it's happening; we just do it.

Relative Deprivation Theory and Confidence

Why do we need to pay attention? Our confidence, motivation, persistence, and resiliency will depend on where we rank ourselves in the group. If we feel good about our rank, we will be more confident, motivated, and more likely to succeed. If we don't feel good about our rank, our likelihood of success drops. Gladwell says:

as human beings, we dramatically underestimate the costs of being at the bottom of a hierarchy

In his talk, Gladwell asks whether or not suicide rates are higher in happy or unhappy countries. The answer: happy countries. He says that if you are depressed in a country where most people are unhappy, you don't feel that unhappy. However, if you are depressed in a country where everyone is jumping for joy, you are really depressed. As a result suicide rates are higher in happy countries.

He gives statistics for math and science degrees from the best and worst universities all across the country. They show that regardless of school, the students in the top third of SAT scores in their class get over 50% of the degrees, while the students in the bottom third of their class only get around 15% of the degrees. Why? Relative Deprivation Theory. Gladwell says:

So what’s happening? Well, clearly what we’re seeing here is that persistence in science and math is not simply a function of your cognitive ability. It’s a function of your relative standing in your class. It is a function of your class rank, right? Those kids who are really, really brilliant don’t get their math degree not because — not as a function of their IQ but as a function of where they are in their class. And, by the way, if you look at any college you want, you will always see, regardless of the level of cognitive ability among the students, you will always see the same pattern. The kids who get the science and math degrees are the ones in the top of their class. And the kids in the bottom of their class never do.

Gladwell continues:

When it comes to confidence and motivation and self-efficacy, the things that really matter when it comes to making your way in the world, relative position matters more than absolute position.

Relative Deprivation Theory and Stress

A 2008 documentary titled Stress: Portrait of a Killer says the same thing. Our perceived rank within the hierarchy of a group will determine our stress level. Those who perceive themselves at the top of a hierarchy experience less stress than those who perceive themselves at the bottom. So, this is as much about good health; mentally, emotionally, and physically as it is just about confidence. However, it all goes hand in hand.

The Opportunity

Knowledge is power, right? I admit, I'm kind of a control freak and the best way for me to have control is to learn as much as I can about whatever it is causing me pain. Relative Deprivation Theory was a big "AHA" because it's a simple concept that impacts all of us in some capacity; and it's perfectly normal.

What is the opportunity? First, we become aware of it. Second, we manage it. We don't have to compare ourselves to others and we certainly don't have to allow it to impact our quality of life. That doesn't mean we can't observe, admire, appreciate, or learn from others. In fact, we should. It just means we stop comparing and ranking because most of the time it doesn't serve us well. There are too many good, smart, and talented people not living their potential, personally and professionally because of things like Relative Deprivation Theory.

It's manageable and it starts with us. Think about the confident YOU. If you have children, think about how self-confidence will serve them. If you are a member of leadership or management within an organization, think about what confidence means to your culture and your ability to impact the people you serve. Insecurities must be managed, so confidence can grow.


I talk about Relative Deprivation Theory and other confidence killing things in my eBOOK UNSHAKABLE CONFIDENCE and book FOCUSED - Your Future Starts Now! You can download a FREE PDF of UNSHAKABLE CONFIDENCE at FOCUSED will be released late summer/early fall.

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