The Comparison Trap – Managing Expectations for Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)

The Comparison Trap

It’s been one month already since Corbie launched, and the time has flown by! Seriously, it’s been non-stop around here between working on future issues and getting the word out there about the comic. I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you for making this project such a success.

It has been a success, hasn’t it…?

Actually, that ties back to what I wanted to write about. Back in the pre-social media era of the Internet, the metric all creators seemed to live and die by was “hits”. I used to spend hours refreshing the referrer logs on whatever website I was running, hoping that all my hard work would lead to an increase in traffic.

That almost never happened. When it did, it would be fleeting. People would visit, be nonplussed, and move on, never to return. To my frustration, I never had “it” – that magical X-factor that some content creators in any given field seem to have that makes them popular and successful.

I genuinely haven’t looked at the referrer logs for this website since it launched, and don’t even know where I’d find them if I wanted to. To my mind, that way lies madness – I don’t need to know what every person on the web thinks about Corbie or about me. More than that, though, it’s not a useful metric anymore. In the early noughties, the avenues for creating revenue online were limited. One of the main ones was to drive huge amounts of traffic to your site to make it attractive to advertisers. Ad-blockers have killed that model. But there’s another factor at work here.

Social media has completely changed the way people consume online content. Instead of bouncing from one site to another, they spend a disproportionate amount of time on a handful of centralized hubs – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and so on. With that shift, the metrics we’ve used to determine success have changed. It’s not about hits and traffic anymore, it’s about followers, likes, comments and views. Unlike the old numbers, these are visible for all to see, and so they’ve come to act as a sort of public score card; a particularly insidious form of keeping up with the Joneses.

This isn’t healthy for anyone. It’s even more problematic for those of us who identify as introverts and HSPs for a number of reasons. Social media, while not involving physical interaction, still requires us to put ourselves out there, something introverts are obviously less inclined to do. It’s also a system that thrives upon – and rewards – extreme opinions and conflict. If you’re highly sensitive, the constant noise of online discourse can get overwhelming, and it’s a million times worse when you find yourself in the middle of it!

All of this can leave us feeling helpless, playing a game that’s been set up for us to lose. Worse still, we can end up internalizing those numbers (or lack thereof) and viewing them as a reflection of our self-worth. I’ve definitely felt that way again and again over the last month! Here are a few pointers that I hope will help you – and me, if I can remember to take my own advice:

1) It means nothing in the long run.

There were plenty of people who were big shots on Myspace, and when it floundered they were unable to successfully transition and move their thousands or millions of fans to the new platforms. At the same time, nobody’s losing any sleep today about how badly they blew it on Myspace twelve years ago.

The metrics society and business use to define when someone is successful will continue to shift, mostly on the basis of how much money there is to be made. Remember that all of this is ultimately fleeting and don’t get too hung up about where you are in the present moment – that applies as much in day-to-day life as it does online.

2) It’s not all about you!

In my opinion this is a game-changer for HSPs in particular, and I will keep coming back to this again and again. We all view ourselves as the stars of our own movie, and it’s easy to become wrapped up in our own struggles. If you find yourself feeling ashamed about where you are currently or how you’re doing, remember that for the most part people aren’t nearly as fixated on how you’re doing as they are on how they’re doing. If people do start giving you a hard time, it’ll likely pass. They’ll move on to the next drama in their own movie. This leads into the next point…

3) Align yourself to a greater cause.

For me, this is what Corbie is all about. I consider this project and its goal of empowering introverts and highly sensitive people to be more important than me or how I’m feeling at any given time, and try to not take how people react to it as a reflection on me – though admittedly that’s hard at times!

Think about ways you can make a positive impact on the world around you – maybe that means raising awareness of an issue that resonates with you, or generating money for a charity that’s aligned with your values. Doing so will get you out of your own head and be a much better use of your energy in the long run.

4) Don’t make unrealistic comparisons.

In the same way that you’re the star of your own movie, you won’t have seen everything that went into the production of another person’s movie. It may seem that someone else is doing way better than you, to the point where you find yourself wondering what they have going for them that you don’t. Realize that where they are at this point in time is likely due to a combination of the work they’ve put in, and a unique set of circumstances that are impossible to replicate. The same is true for you.

Furthermore, what you see and what goes on behind the scenes can be two very different things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt that I could never live up to the example of someone who seemed like a rock star, but turned out to be a complete mess behind closed doors.

5) Do set realistic goals!

For a long time I’ve been big on the idea that the goals that you set should be achievable and not dependent on the approval of others. Roberto Blake really crystallized this for me in social media terms by pointing out that setting a goal of having (X) number of followers / views / likes and so on is a foolish endeavor. If you want to stay out of the comparison trap, avoid this at all costs!

Whether other people like you or your work is something that you have absolutely no control over. Instead, look at actions you can take in your day-to-day life that will allow you to develop your skills and provide opportunities for personal growth. Setting a goal of spending an hour learning to use a certain piece of software, or completing a course online in a subject you’re interested in, are achievable goals that aren’t dependent on the whims of anyone else.

6) Disconnect (for a while)

It’s no secret at this point that social media is deliberately set up to be addictive. The psychological “hit” of getting likes and follows is akin to a slot machine – exhilarating when you get a positive outcome and crushing when things go wrong. My suggestion is that you set yourself blocks of time, perhaps in advance, when you’ll step away from your computer or smartphone and occupy yourself with other tasks. Your notifications can wait for a little while.

I could go on and on when it comes to this subject, as it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to over time. Maybe one day I’ll do an issue of Corbie that specifically focuses on the dangers of making comparisons and how to sidestep them – until then, I hope these ideas will get you started!

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