Comparing yourself to others

Thursday 24 December 2020 - Filed under Default


Today I wanted to talk about motivation and how perspective on achievement can affect that. Most of us learn at a young age to rank ourselves among those around us. In school, tests are graded on a curve, on the playground some run faster than others, and later in life there’s a tendency to compare material possessions (house, car, family) as well as professional success against what our friends or coworkers have. This is of course the wrong thing to do.

When we compare ourselves against others we’re comparing an end that results from a lot that came before, specifically in two areas. One is accumulated effort. How much practice, hard work, time and preparation was put toward the goal. The other is the initial condition, what kind of head start or burden that person might have had in terms of wealth, upbringing, or what people call talent. In my reading, I learned that talent as a concept should be ignored. Talent or being intelligent may even be detrimental, as early easy gains are quickly forgotten once tedium and work are required. The concept of talent just isn’t useful, more on that below.

Back to the point, comparing ourselves against others takes everything and puts results side-by-side at a point in time. Now this comparison is really a no-win situation. If you’re ahead, you might feel impostor syndrome, that it’s undeserved or think less of the other person. If if you’re on the short end, then you may be tempted to find excuses or just be envious of the result, without appreciating the work and struggle that went into the achievement.

Instead of comparing yourself to others, it’s best to compare yourself against yourself, by which I mean your own prior achievements. Another way to say this: You are your only competition. This mindset helps you stay focused on improvement and after some time of tracking, you’ll have your own greatest hits to review. You can choose what you want to work on and what to get better at. It feels good to make measurable progress. Seeing the fruits of your labor is a universal motivator.

Getting back to ignoring talent, check out the book Peak if you don’t believe me. Another more popular book that touches on this is talent thing is Outliers, about the now-famous 10,000 hour rule, but Peak was written by the guy who did the research and seems more direct to the point. Getting good is about deliberate practice.

2020-12-24  »  David Sterry