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What “Better” Is Really All About

Don’t compare yourself to others; compare yourself to prior versions of yourself.

Earlier this year, I sent a tweet out into the internet that read: “Don’t compare yourself to others, compare yourself to prior versions of yourself.” 

The tweet spread far and wide, but not everyone loved the message. A handful of folks questioned whether we should be looking back at prior versions of ourselves, especially after injuries, aging, and other hardships.

Since then, I’ve done some reflecting on this message. And while I still think it’s the right one, it’s worth clarifying why.

When we look back at prior versions of ourselves, I think we should be asking something along the lines of, “Are we better than we were before?” But here’s the thing: “Better,” at least in my eyes, doesn’t center around any objective measure of performance. It’s not just about how fast you can run six miles, how many sales deals you are closing per week, or how many articles you publish in a year. While those kinds of accomplishments certainly contribute to “better,” they are merely a small part of it.

Deals closed, medals won, and promotions earned make up only a small part of the balance sheet that is one’s life.

What better is really about is about becoming stronger, kinder, and wiser. That’s the kind of growth I think we ought to be after. I know I don’t want to have any traditional measures of performance on my tombstone. But I do want folks to remember me as strong, kind and wise — those are the attributes that really matter; and the journey ought to be about becoming them.

When I think about my own life, it’s been the times when my objective performance was the worst that I most became stronger, kinder, and wiser. During injuries and failures (both physical and mental) I may have felt awful in the moment — which sometimes lasted for days — but when I came out the other side I was better. I wasn’t more productive or a higher performer during those dark times; I was fucking miserable. But looking back from the other side, it was during those stretches that I truly became better. Not a better writer. Not a better athlete. But a better human. Stronger, kinder, and wiser.

What better is really about is about becoming stronger, kinder, and wiser.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t care about objective measures of performance. We should. They matter. But it’s equally important to remember that deals closed, medals won, and promotions earned make up only a small part of the balance sheet that is one’s life.

So don’t bother comparing yourself to others. Compare yourself to prior versions of yourself. And when you do, ask if you’ve gotten better. Are you stronger, kinder, and wiser than you were before?

If you enjoyed reading and want to keep the conversation going…

Follow me on Twitter @Bstulberg where I love to share and discuss big and meaningful ideas. 

Brad Stulberg writes about health and the science of human performance. He’s a columnist at Outside Magazine and New York Magazine and author of Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.

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