At the end of September Head of Fifth Form Mr Rowlandson gave this fantastic address to the members of the 5th Form during their section assembly:
I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.
I love the opportunity it gives me to keep up with old friends as well as the way it lets my friends and family know what’s going on in the ‘Rowlandson Household’.
But…my love of Facebook is starting to wane.
Not just because it’s a big time waster but because without realising it, I have been falling into the comparison trap!
Before the summer, in the space of a week, I read about three friends from my year at school who had done extraordinary things:
1. Ryan – the fly-half in my 1st XV rugby team started a company called ‘Propercorn’ a few years ago – selling gourmet popcorn. He posted a link to an article in the Financial Times which reported that ‘Propercorn’ was the 5th fastest growing company in Europe.
2. Then Riz – who I worked alongside in the school Year 9 play and has gone on to become a Hollywood actor. Riz posted a picture of himself on the front cover of ‘Time’ magazine as he’d been named in the global list for the 100 most influential people.
3. Finally Angie – who I remember going bowling with and playing laser quest as a teenager. Was named as one of the UK’s top 10 travel bloggers. Angela runs the Silverspoon London blog, has over 2.5 million views on Google and 23,000 followers. Angie spends her time travelling the world First Class, staying in the finest hotels and eating in the best restaurants. Talk about a dream job!
Whilst I ‘liked’ all their posts. I found myself feeling a little more inadequate and a little less confident.
I wonder if you ever compare yourself with your friends. Perhaps you think others look more attractive than you, are more built than you or dress better than you. Maybe you wish you could ace your exams or star in the school play or sports team like your friend. Perhaps you wish you had their life?!
I accept, some could argue that comparison might inspire us to better ourselves. To look at the strengths in others and set new, stretching personal goals. Perhaps. But I think more often than not, comparison leaves us feeling worth less.
Recently, however, I’ve reflected on the way in which I am not making a fair comparison.
A study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin confirmed that people are less likely to reveal their negative emotions than their positive emotions. The study found that people tend to overestimate the presence of positivity in the lives of others, while they misinterpret or fail to detect negative feelings in others. So not only is what’s being posted online an incomplete picture, we tend to distort the information we receive — a double whammy!
We therefore need a better filter to be more critical of the information we view. One reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes footage with everyone else’s highlight reel.
But is this a problem?
I believe it is. How we view ourselves in the light of comparison with others can have quite profound effects on our behaviour…
I recently read an excellent book called ‘Chimp Paradox’ written by one of the psychologists behind Team GB Cycling Team who were so successful in the 2012 Olympics. Here’s an extract from his book:
“While working with a group of medical students in a hospital setting, I tried an experiment. Several students were asked to believe they were the Clinical Director of the hospital. The students were then observed to see what they did. Most of them walked down the centre of the corridor and greeted staff and patients with a polite ‘Good Morning’ and were seen to initiate the interaction.
Then we asked them to walk down the corridor again but this time as if they were the cleaner of the hospital who was on a temporary contract and likely to lose their job very soon. This time most of the students were observed to walk down the edge of the corridor and not to engage with others they passed. The students did not know that they were being observed for behaviours in the corridor. When shown their change of behaviour based on the perception of themselves they were surprised.”
Rather than inspiring excellence, more often than not comparison leads to a lower self-esteem and a dimmer view of ourselves which can manifest itself in our behaviours.
At Norwich School we want you to reach your potential. We want you to dream big. To truly believe you could become a Hollywood actor, Entrepreneur or if you’re really lucky – a teacher.
I don’t want anything to get in the way of that – especially not your own, misguided view of yourself.
Gary Haugen the Founder and CEO of the charity International Justice Mission said, ‘Don’t allow self to destroy your dreams. It is our everyday insecurities that lead us to abandon our dreams without putting up a fight.’
As we start this year, I encourage each of you to focus on playing your own game. To worry less about how you compare to others and more about reaching your own goals. I implore you to use social media with caution and to view information others allow you to see through a more critical, realistic lens. One of my wife’s favorite sayings is:
Comparison is your worst enemy, not your best friend
Comparison is your worst enemy, not your best friend
If we remember this, I am sure we will have a happier 5th Form Community as a result.