Reality Check: Comparison in Action

Last time, I suggested that it can be helpful to compare oneself to oneself. This comparison can help you see more clearly whether you are, in fact, making progress toward your goals.

The example I had chosen was that of a young man who felt that he wasn’t getting anywhere. However, when he compared himself to himself 5 years ago, he realized that he is making progress and is on track to achieving what he wants. The comparison ended up being a wonderful, satisfying experience. Renewed and reinvigorated, on he goes!

Great for him, eh?

It may have occurred to you that not everyone will see such a rosy picture.

Gene did a similar comparison of his current situation with where he was 5 years ago. His conclusion wasn’t rosy at all. In those 5 years, an important relationship in his life had ended, he had accumulated debt, and he had made no progress either in income or skills. If anything, Gene considered that he’d been better off 5 years ago; he was 5 years younger!

So, would it have been better for Gene to have avoided this little exercise completely? If you perceive that looking at your life will only cause you to be dissatisfied, is it better not to look at all?

As usual, it depends on what you want. If you prefer to live an unexamined life, of course, that’s your choice. However, if you are feeling vaguely dissatisfied and wondering why you don’t seem to be achieving anything, then isn’t it helpful to know whether that’s really true? And if so, why?

After you’ve done your comparison, if you find that things are worse now, it is completely your choice as to whether you take any action. You may perceive that you are doing the best that you can at this time. There may be nothing more to do.

If so, you may want to reevaluate your plans and goals to be more reachable and realistic for your situation. For example, there’s not a lot of value or satisfaction in having a goal to be a concert pianist if it’s impossible to fit music lessons into your schedule.

Switching to a smaller goal that is possible to achieve can at least get you into the mode of working toward something. That’s more effective than saying, “If I can’t be a concert pianist, then I may as well not bother trying to achieve anything. I’ll just watch TV.”

If you feel discouraged after your comparison, remember that you can only start from where you are right now. Yes, it might have been better if you had done something differently yesterday, last week, or 5 years ago. The reality, however, is that you are where you are right now, and it is only from here that you can take action.

So, you want to be a concert pianist? What can you do right now? Book that first lesson.

If you want to achieve your goal—no matter what it is—make a plan, follow that plan, re-evaluate as you go along, and readjust as necessary.

Do you have goals? Are you on track to achieving them?

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