There are few things as destructive to motivation, personal development and productivity as making meaningless comparisons.
And yet, people do it all the time.
We’ve all been in the situation where we’re struggling with something and we look over at someone else to see they’re doing just fine. It’s disheartening. And, a lot of the time, it’s flat-out incorrect.
The problem is that we have unlimited access to information about ourselves that we don’t have about others. Most importantly, we all know what we mean to do. In our mind’s eye, we have a vision of perfection. As we undertake an activity, it’s almost impossible to evaluate our own performance without taking this intention into consideration. And this is fine. I firmly believe that having a goal or a vision is critical to truly exceptional performance.
Where we run into trouble is when we compare ourselves with others. When we see someone else, all we can see is the result of their effort. We don’t know what they meant to do. We don’t know what they’re thinking. And we don’t know how many times they’ve tried and failed before we observed them. The result is that their performance appears effortless and perfect.
In a sense, we are in effect comparing our blooper reel to someone else’s highlight reel. This is hardly fair and in many situations, the research shows that our own performance suffers when we perceive that we’re in a grossly unequal competition.
The key then is spend the greatest amount of our time competing against our former selves–becoming better than we were yesterday. There are certainly occasions when we need to compare ourselves against others to gauge our progress; however for the most knowledge work, this is not the case and we are better served focusing on self-improvement and encouraging those around us to do the same.