I think that everyone, to one to degree or another, considers themselves special. Each of us has something we do well. We each have a value we contribute to the world – something unique about ourselves.
Even when you know you’re awesome, it’s easy to fall short of your own expectations. Comparing yourself to people smarter, stronger or cooler than you is a slippery slope. Having goals or role models is great. The danger comes when you think someone is “better” than you.
When you look for ways to improve, in any manner, it’s important that you measure yourself at a fair standard. Evaluate your expectations, capabilities and progress when you determine how “good” you are at something.
Let me give you a simple example that you can probably relate to. I like Sudoku. For as long as I can remember, every morning while I have my coffee, I play Sudoku on my iPad. I like to think I’m pretty good at this game – but the app likes to tell me otherwise.
I play the daily “Simple” game, and I feel like I solve the problems fast (usually before it’s time for my second cup of coffee.) It’s a fun way to get my mind working and ready for the day.
When your round ends, the game lets you know how well you measure up to other players. As the score tallies up and the rankings flash on screen, I find myself frowning into my coffee cup. Although I think I’m a Sudoku ace, I rarely rank higher than the 20th percentile of all players.
Every time I see that 80% of Sudoku players are better at the game than I am, my score reminds me of a favorite song, Ben Fold’s “There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You.” No matter how hard I try, there’s always going to be someone better than me – so, why try at all?
When we evaluate ourselves for improvements, we usually compare ourselves to others that are far superior. When you want to be a leader in business, you model yourself after a Fortune 500 CEO. If you want to be famous, you take your lead from celebrity culture. When we want to lose weight or get in shape, we measure ourselves by the highest physical standards.
Instead of getting inspired by other people’s successes, we end up focusing on our “failures.” We magnify our shortcomings. The constant comparing can erode your confidence and make you feel like you’ll never be “good enough.”
We all do this, but the truth is, it’s a destructive habit. Instead of only comparing ourselves to the best of the best, we need to measure success by our personal best. You can’t get off the couch and run a 5K. But you can run two minutes longer every day. Tracking your progress, seeing yourself get faster and run longer, is an attainable and actionable way to improve.
It’s natural and excellent to pursue self-improvement. Do so without only comparing yourself to people that are “better” than you. No one is inherently better than anyone else. They’re just more skilled or advanced than you are right now. If you want to perform at an elite level, you need to start slow. Achieve many small, positive gains over a long period of time. Create strong, lasting habits for self-improvement.
Keep track of your improvements, in your career, fitness, personal life, wherever you want to advance. Set a few smart goals – qualifiable, specific ways for you to improve. Record your progress. Literally, write it down on your computer or in a notebook dedicated to your self-improvement.
– Record the data.
– Measure the progress.
– Reflect on the results.
– Achieve your improvement.
Instead of just comparing myself to others, I set specific goals for how I will improve. I create strategies to help me achieve them – milestones I need to reach. This lets me know I’m on my way to where I want to be. I don’t beat myself up looking at the whole world as my competition. I focus in on where I can make the most improvement – myself.
When I play Sudoku in the mornings, I don’t worry about the 80% of better players in the world. I play to beat my personal best times. I don’t only measure my professional success on how much money I make. I work to give the best service to each of my clients and always find new ways to serve their needs.
How do you go about self-improvement? Are you used to comparing yourself to others? Let me know how you feel and remember: you can only do you best – and then improve on it.
Paul Purdue is a principal at Attorney Computer Systems. He’s a self-proclaimed “infrastructure nerd.” Check out Paul’s growing library of legal technology articles and videos on Attorney Computer Systems’ web site.