Comparative Thinking: Why It’s Important and How it Can Hurt You

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Last Updated on March 10, 2023 by the thought method co.

You do it every day, but do you know what it is?

For most, comparative thinking has likely become second nature. However, you need to be aware of what comparative thinking is and how it can harm you. In this article you’ll learn what comparative thinking is, why it’s helpful, and how you can use it to your advantage.

Comparative Thinking—the What

Comparative thinking is a learning tool. It’s when you analyze similarities and differences so you can make connections a.k.a. make sense of the world. Without it you may not be able to learn new concepts. Think about it, how do you know a dog is a dog, and a cat is a cat? Well, the one 4 legged thingy barks while the other one meows and hisses.

Not the momma!

baby Sinclair

One of the first comparisons you make is when you’re a baby. You make the differentiation between those who are mother and those who are not—you picked up quick when the one big creature symbolizes comfort and the others don’t.

Why Comparative Thinking Is helpful

Comparative thinking gives you the ability to learn complex topics. When you make comparisons, you not only create the ability to identify complex topics, you build your critical thinking skills, memory and comprehension.

Comparisons also help us to understand complex topics, or to help ideas resonate. For example, metaphors, smilies and other figures of speech.

It can be helpful when you are making environmental decisions like nuclear vs. windmill energy. It can also be helpful when you are making difficult decisions like one opportunity over another. Take the higher paying job and move or stay local with lower pay?

Anyone who’s seen Gilmore Girls knows the pro-con list. I guess I’ll also mention the pro-con list from Friend’s—even though it did more harm than good.

Why You Need to Be Aware of Comparative Thinking

Comparative thinking left unchecked is the poster child for: “too much of a good thing.”

You likely use comparative so often, at one point it became intuitive. So intuitive that you may not realize you are doing it. Honestly, have you ever thought about comparison thinking before reading this article?

While comparative thinking can be extremely beneficial, it can also hurt you. While it’s beneficial in the large majority of life situations, it’s not beneficial in others. And even those the situations where it isn’t beneficial may be fewer, they can have a larger impact on our mental and emotional well-being.

Since comparative thinking is likely a default, you likely use it in situations where it causes harm. Meaning, you are thinking ineffectively. However, because you frequently rely on comparative thinking, you likely do no realize you are.

How to Improve

You are taught how to think using comparison. And comparative thinking can help you effectively analyze and understand situations. But you are not taught how to effectively, comparatively think. That is, you are not taught when to stop the comparisons.

There there are several areas in which comparative thinking can hurt you. For instance, when you are focused on comparing ourselves to others you may try to fit in and forget to appreciate our differences and who you are as a person. Or, when you are tying something new, you may compare yourself to experts and get disheartened.

As with most other things, awareness is the first step. You need to be aware of the issue before resolving it. Take an inventory of when you compare yourself to others. It is at the gym when people lifting weights? Or maybe at work with colleagues? How about when you’re looking at social media? Or when you see a photoshopped model in a magazine?

Once you are aware of it give it a value check and consider if it’s beneficial for you (and your mental health) in that moment.


About the author

Hi! My name is Lyndsey Getty, the founder of The Thought Method Company. In these articles I use my unique experience and knowledge to explain complex topics in an accessible way so you can improve your thoughts. Likes, shares and comments are greatly appreciated ❤️

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