Ok these rules are getting more difficult. Ok, I can stand up straight. I can try to look after myself better. I can try and spend less time with toxic friends. But there are so many times I compare myself to other people. Whether it is to my detriment, I don’t know. But it probably is. Jordan Peterson said so.
Whenever my friends give me praise when I play pool, I usually respond with “You should see how good the pros are…” When someone tells me I’m doing a good job selling 6-10 security alarms per week, I say “Someone did 118 in a week.” If someone tells me I write well in my blog I thank them and then think of some of the best writers I have had the honor to read from.
In a sense I don’t fully agree with this rule. The reason I was able to sell 6-10 security systems a week was because I’d heard through the grapevine that someone sold 118. At the time I was only doing 1-3 sales per week, and I thought to myself “Surely, I’m not 60x worse than this guy, maybe I can sell six in a week.” I ended up doing 10, with no other difference other than my renewed mindset.
Likewise when I played a professional snooker player in a tournament one time. He demolished me. It was actually a pleasure picking the balls out for him. His safety game was astounding, as well as his potting and break-building. And he was one of the worst pros on the tour. It made me think “This is what ‘being good’ is”. This is the new level of what I could achieve. I saw it with my very own eyes.
When Roger Bannister broke the four-minute-mile in 1954 – a feat that was considered impossible – the record lasted only 46 days and has been broken countless times since. I think it’s important to look at what others are doing for inspiration, and to be able to see where the bar is set.
However, I can see why Peterson recommends ignoring that and focusing on personal improvement. No matter how good you are at something, there is 99.9% chance that there is someone out there better. This could be demoralizing for some (though I find it in equal parts inspirational). Those that are demoralized may say that it is meaningless anyway. Who cares if you are the best actor, athlete, or tiddlywinks player in the world?
But instead of being nihilistic, we can focus on which games we want to play, and which games we want to improve at. There’s the career game, the money game, the friends game, the love game. Sports, art, and personal projects are games. So how do we rig the game so we win? We do this by focusing on personal improvement instead of beating people. It doesn’t matter if someone is out there running marathons in 2 hours if you just completed one with a personal best time. You won at the game of personal improvement!
This is why most competitors focus not on whether they beat an opponent upon reflecting upon the contest, they’d rather focus on whether they played a good game and to their own standards of performance. After all, you cannot control what the opponent does, only what you do yourself.
Peterson encourages us to change our aim, to change our focus. If we know what we are focusing on, then we are more likely to see or hear things that will help us toward our goals. It’s amazing that in my work if I focus intently on sales I almost always end up getting them. If I am focusing on personal problems, or the fact that I’m hungry, or that I’m too cold or too hot, I will likely miss the opportunities that tend to arise when I am laser-focused on my goal.
The fulfilment that we get from our journey uphill could be as simple as looking on our desk to see what we can do today that gets us closer to a better tomorrow. Who can I reach out to that would set things between us right a bit more? What problem can I solve? Can I do one more push-up than I did yesterday? And before you know it, you’re smashing 50 push-ups in a single set and smashing targets at work and in life. That’s consistent daily action and improvement. That’s compound interest.
Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today.