Tutor Advises Being N.I.C.E.R. to Ourselves to Avoid Comparison

While our friends in Dixie jet to summer vacations this week, many of us Northerners still have one, two, three, or even four more weeks left to the 2018-19 school year.  For the teens I tutor, this time of year is packed with a seemingly never-ending cycle of study-cram-test, study-cram-test.  A single number comes to represent the sum total of their efforts.  In their race toward the 1600 (SAT), 36 (ACT), 5 (AP), or 100 (school exams), it’s easy for adolescents to equate the number they receive with their own self-worth – and to compare “their numbers” to those of their friends.

Just a few days ago, the mom of a hard-working, bright sophomore I tutor told me that her daughter was upset because while her friends received grades in the high 90s, her grades trended about five to seven points lower.  It broke my and the mother’s hearts to hear that grades in the low 90s caused this girl pain.

It then dawned on me, however, that it’s not just teens who succumb to comparing themselves to others.  How many of us experience pangs of envy when we see a Facebook friend’s fabulous spring vacation or a neighbor’s new car?  Steeped in social media and developmentally oriented toward their peers, today’s adolescents are especially vulnerable to comparison and the green-eyed monster it breeds.

Photo by Antonio Lapa on Unsplash

Photo by Antonio Lapa on Unsplash

While comparison to others might be universal, it’s also almost universally damaging to our self-esteem.  How can we avoid it – and teach the teens in our lives to do the same?  Let's be N.I.C.E.R. to ourselves!  Here’s a useful mnemonic device to guide you through four easy steps to stop comparing yourself to others – and to live a happier, more fulfilling life in the process! I'm giving it to all the students I tutor!

N. NOTICE the comparison.

Notice that you’re comparing yourself to others.  As we’ve often heard, admitting that you have a problem is the first step toward fixing it.  Try to become more mindful of when you’re making comparisons.  Is it when you go on Facebook?  Then maybe lay off social media for a bit.  Does your teen compare herself to others when report cards come out?  Ask her to reveal her grades to you and maybe just her BEST friend, rather than her whole clique.  By NOTICING the comparison, you’re taking the first step to releasing its power over you.


Ask your child (or yourself) WHY he might be making those comparisons.  Is it because he feels like he’s falling short of his OWN goals?  I recently experienced envy when I noticed that Amazon offers a robust selection of books written by a (much younger) graduate of Harvard, my own alma mater.  I realized then that I envied her publications because my own book hasn’t yet been published.  INTERROGATING the COMPARISON gives you insight into the nature of its power.

Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash

Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash

E. ENGAGE with your own goals.

As my own experience above shows, most comparisons to others stem not from a dislike of others, but rather from a disappointment in ourselves.  In my case, I’d let a mostly-completed manuscript lay fallow for a year because of self-doubt and fear of rejection.  Thanks to a supportive friend and awesome business coach, I re-committed myself last month to my lifelong goal of becoming a published author by finishing the book and searching for an agent and / or a publisher.  (By the way, I’m happy to take introductions to those who might be interested in working with a tutor - author and / or publishing a study skills book.)  By ENGAGING with my own long-term goal, the comparison I’d made to the other Harvard grad lessened its grip.  (If you or your child needs help identifying your / her own goals, be sure to download my free e-book on goal-setting.)

R. RELEASE the comparison.

Revisiting our own goals and focusing inward help to muffle the outside noise that led us astray in the first place.  Sometimes, it’s helpful to add a RITUAL into the RELEASE process to cement its effect.  For example, I might write, “I’m done comparing myself to other authors,” crumple the piece of paper, and then throw it away.  Or, you might write an affirmation such as, “I compare myself to no one – my own 100% effort is all I need to achieve my goals,” and hang it somewhere you can read it everyday.  Whatever you do, take a moment to RELEASE the initial comparison and its hold over your heart.

Photo by Robert Metz on Unsplash

Photo by Robert Metz on Unsplash

When we’re N.I.C.E.R. to ourselves, adolescents learn to be N.I.C.E.R. to THEMselves.  Modeling this practice for your teens will also help them to notice when they’re comparing themselves to their peers and, eventually, do so less often. During finals season, as always, fewer comparisons means happier children!

How did this process go?  For you? For your children?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section of my blog (to receive the latest issue delivered straight to your inbox each Thursday, click here).  

If YOU have a different question that you would like answered and you’re unable to make it to a library talk or workshop, email me.  I’ll be sure to respond and your concern might even make its way into future blog posts or my next Facebook Live Video.  It’ll be like having your own tutor in your living room! 

Until then, see you on Facebookand Instagram!

Dr. P.