Most people I talk to have unreasonable and unrealistic standards of comparison for their life. I find this to be especially true about twenty-somethings. This happens when you find a model of “perfection”, and then measure yourself in comparison to this model. If you’re an athlete, maybe your standard is Usain Bolt, Katie Ledecky, or Russell Westbrook (Sidenote: Russ is doing such ridiculous things on the court this season that if you’re within 3 hours 8 hours of OKC, go watch him this season.) If you’re measuring yourself in business, you could find a model standard like Buffett or Zuckerburg. If you’re aspiring in fashion or modeling, maybe you’re standard is a Kardashian or Tom Ford. When you begin to compare, you can think that perfection is a level to attain. One of the reasons why measuring yourself based off your perception of perfection is that perfection is a moving target. (Photo from Daily Mail.)
When do you ever arrive? The answer is, “You don’t.” Your standards aren’t static. Who you compare yourself to will change with time. Standards are meant to be broken, and perfection is something we don’t reach. This is how we are wired. And it’s not just you. (Do you think the Kardashians don’t have someone they wish they looked more like? Do you think Russell doesn’t wish he had a few traits of someone else in the NBA, past or present?)
The question is what do we do with our standards of comparison? Even if you don’t refer to the standard as “perfect”, you can make yourself miserable trying to measure up to the success you perceive that they have. When you fail at reaching a standard, you will probably do one of two things.
- You will keep trying to reach that standard. You will keep aiming for the moving target, and find yourself frustrated that you never hit it. That’s the nature of comparison.
- You will pretend like you don’t care about the standard anymore. Instead of making progress in the areas you once made progress, you’ll probably make excuses based off your perception of your own failings. Internally, you’ll likely make comparisons, but it will just be a reminder that you’re not as far along as you wish you were.
If these are the likely outcomes of comparison, then how do you keep yourself from always missing, or being cynical about life? I would like to propose a third way of going about the comparison game.
First though, I want to give a bit of background on my thoughts about most people. Here is what I believe. You are probably doing better than you think you’re doing. Sure, there are some areas where you’re not bringing your A game. You’re not perfect after all. It’s hard to remember that when you measure yourself based off of others. So here is the third way.
“Create realistic standards of comparisons with yourself.”
Many people create standards of comparison for themselves. I am saying to compete and compare with yourself. You know your default mode better than anyone else does, and better than anyone else ever can. You know when you are likely to quit. You can continue to challenge yourself, and create genuine growth in your life. I know it may sound a little bit crazy to turn the comparison inward, but you can actually begin to see how much you’ve grown over a long period of time when you compete with yourself. Compare with yourself. Compete with yourself.
This past Monday, I used 65 lbs dumbbells on . When I finished my first set, a guy sat down on the bench next to mine, and started pushing up 90 lbs dumbbells. Instantly, I felt like I was weak. Then, I remembered the story of this year. On January 1st, 2016 my sister, Tricia took me to the weight room She was five months pregnant at the time, and she put me through a workout. In this workout, I used 15 pound weights for bench press, curls, lunges, and anything else we did. I was in such bad shape that 20 minutes into the workout, I threw up. It was embarrassing, and I felt discouraged. But I stayed with it. I did a Beachbody workout at home. The first three weeks, I only used resistance bands. Then, I started using a gym, and went to 35 lbs dumbbells for my bench press. Now, I’m up to 65 lbs. I plan on continuing to grow in this, and reach some of my weightlifting goals as I go forward. A year ago, I would have struggled to even pick up 65 lbs dumbbells. I was telling myself a story that I was failing, because I was comparing to someone else. I needed to be reminded of who I am actually competing with, and that is myself.
You probably have some areas in your life where you have grown a lot over the past one, two, or five years. You’re probably doing better than you think you are, but it’s hard to accept your growth, and lean into future growth when you hold on to unrealistic standards of comparison. Create realistic standards of comparisons with yourself. What are you capable of doing in work? How would you approach your spirituality if you were challenging yourself to go beyond what you normally do? How would you go about giving in your relationships if you competed with your past efforts? How much better of a listener could you become if you were to set a realistic standard of comparison that would help you become better than you were in the past? You are probably doing better than you think you are. If not, it is simple enough. Create a realistic standard of comparison with yourself, and then go to work competing with your past efforts.
Question: What is one specific area you want to improve in that you can compete with yourself to become a better version of yourself?