Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle # 3: Don’t Compare Yourself to Others; Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday

A few years ago, I started lifting weights. I started making some progress. Then, I saw a friend on Facebook. He was at a body-building competition. The immediate thought that came into my head was, wow! I am pathetic.

As we engage in any endeavor, we will find a ton of people doing it better than us. For some reason, this can be discouraging. Maybe we feel bad for not starting earlier. Maybe we are basing too much of our self-esteem on our progress. Maybe we don’t like where we are, and this reinforces the contempt. Maybe we feel that others are looking down on us. There’s a lot of reasons. It’s easy to get discouraged.

Framework for Seeing Better
But most of these thoughts are simply unhelpful. That’s why I accepted a rule I heard elsewhere: “Don’t compare yourself to others; compare yourself to who you were yesterday.”

If we think a little more deeply, we can get encouragement from other people’s successes. We can also recognize the amount of work involved. Then, we can focus on the key question, are we moving forward? That’s the comparison of ourselves, where we were yesterday and where we are today.

Example # 1: Languages
Let me give a couple of examples. When we see other people doing things that take a lot skill, we can rest assured that they have been working at it for a long time. We can do the same. If we work at it, we can make progress.

But it will take a lot of work. One thing I am proud of is that I have learned to communicate well in Spanish. People say to me that I have a gift for languages. That may be true, but I also know that I have spent thousands and thousands of hours working on it.

But I also can get discouraged with my Spanish. Sometimes I meet a gringo who speaks Spanish better than I do. There are words I don’t know. There are times I get lost. Seeing that other people can do better and getting discouraged is not going to help me. I just have to keep learning. I can understand Spanish much better than I could six months ago. I know numerous words that I did not know six months ago. I have made progress. I can make progress in the future.

And that’s the better comparison. Am I making progress? If not, why not? Is my goal to get better? The progress may not be easy to see today, but I will see it tomorrow and in a week and in a month.

Example # 2: Friendships
Let me give one more example from a different sphere of life: relationships. When you see someone you like connect really well with someone else, you can feel like you are on the outside. It may even make you feel lonely because you don’t have a relationship like that.

So, let’s apply what I just said. One way to view that relationship positively is this. See and believe that people can build strong connections and friendships. It really is possible. This should be an encouragement.

Second, recognize that behind this very close relationship lies a great deal of time and work. They have experienced many things together, and they have probably had some trials to walk through. A really strong relationship is based on connecting in a hundred different ways over thousands and thousands of hours.

Third, are you doing the sorts of things that will help you connect in this way? Are you building some relationships like that? Are you on track to build some strong relationships? If not, then what could you do to make that happen?

If you are making progress on this, then you should be encouraged. If you are not, you can make adjustments. That’s the opportunity you have.

Our immediate emotional reactions to others’ successes in areas we want to be successful in is generally not that helpful. By thinking just a bit differently about these things, we can avoid some of the common discouragements we face and set ourselves up for the long haul of building skills, character, and relationships. Wherever we are, we are. Are we moving forward? That is the question. Better not to compare ourselves to others. Better to compare ourselves to where we were yesterday.