The Race Against Yourself
Comparison is the enemy of progress, and there's a fine line between admiration and comparison. For most of us, that line is blurred.
When we compare and benchmark our progress against others, we create resistance.
Resistance is the subconscious force that lives inside all of us. It's the force that says you're not good enough, too tired, or not ready yet.
Talent isn’t a gift from God or an innate force of nature, even using the word talent is misleading, because all 'talent' comes from persistence and incremental impact. Even the most innately talented in the world still struggle and wrestle with the same issues 'regular people do'.
Benchmarking yourself against the results of a life time's worth of labour, without accounting for the tremendous effort needed to achieve incredible results is destructive. Someone else's highlight reel shouldn't be your anchor for comparison.
Regardless of how capable you are in anything, growth is always uncomfortable. In fact, more often than not, growth is painful. Someone who's reached a peak level of performance is still in pain when they push past their limits.
If they're pushing past their limits, someone who is capable of lifting a few hundred kilos will struggle as much as someone lifting 5 or 10. The main difference between those who attain mastery and those who don’t is their ability to push past resistance.
They may admire the talents of others from time to time as motivation, but that’s where it ends. The rest of the time, the genuinely talented focus on themselves.
Talented individuals aren't racing against others. They’re racing against themselves.
Our Obsession with Talent
For hundreds of years, philosophers have described our obsession with talent. We love the magic behind talent and the mystery behind its acquisition. It's much more exciting to believe that those who're top performers received a gift from God than it is to consider the work they put in to see these results.
It's this comparison which leads to an attitude of I can't, or I cannot — belief systems where we describe ourselves in fixed labels and finite identities. It's through our thoughts that we become those who will never achieve the incredible feats of others.
The only person saying you're unable to do something is you, and that's the sad truth about comparison.
Comparison suggests that there's no means for progress. We look at the gap between ourselves and others, rather than looking at the next steps needed to make our own progress.
The only difference between you and the talent of this world is time and effort, nothing else. If you're willing to put in the progress and start small, then you will be able to achieve anything.
Genetics rarely have anything to do with our ability to learn and to develop superhuman skills. Provided your goal aren't superhuman feats (e.g. learn the oversplits instead of the splits) then there's no limit to what you're able to accomplish.
When you're looking to make progress, there will always be resistance.
What's the difference between you and the writer of a book? The writer writes their book. Even if their prose is garbage, they refuse to be defined and owned by their resistance. They know that progress will come from their efforts. If they need to improve their craft in the process, then they'll do it.
Crafting a mindset that's willing to make incremental impact and progress over time is a challenge. Overwriting your subconscious and removing a lifetime of negative beliefs is never easy. But you the journey of a thousand steps always starts with one.
And the first step is understanding that the only opponent you need to face only a daily basis is you—and I know it sucks to hear that.
But you'd be surprised how much easier is to rationalise and bargain with yourself than it is to make progress and to fight resistance.
- It's easier to complain than take action.
- It's easier to blame our genes.
- It's easier to blame our industry
- It's easier to blame others
- It's easier to critique than create
Do you know why it's so easy for me to talk about this? Because I love to make excuses. I love to blame everything but me. It used to give me great solace to believe that the world isn't on my side.
After all, humans are great at making rational excuses. I'm too ill to do anything today, I'll rest and wait till tomorrow. My phone died, so I couldn't make it to that meeting. It's raining outside so I'll go for a walk tomorrow.
Excuses easy. Resistance loves excuses.
And these excuses never disappear. They never disappear, and they never stop sounding like compelling reasons not to do something. But these excuses can't own you, because they aren't you. The little voice in your head that says you can't do something is weak until you feed it.
Comparison feeds resistance.
It's You vs. You, not You vs. the World
When you start something new, you will always suck at it. It will be painful, and most of the time, it won't be fun.
And that's the truth.
Pushing yourself is never an easy process. Which is why you need to understand where you are now, where you'd like to be and what the small steps forward are.
If you want to be a concert pianist, you can't expect to play the same songs you're playing right now (over and over again) to make progress. You'll need to push yourself, and you'll need to learn new complex pieces.
You may suck at the new pieces, and you may hit bum notes, but that's okay. Don't compare yourself to Chopin, or the pianist with 200k Instagram Likes. You're not racing against them, you're racing against yourself.
More challenging tasks will require more sacrifice. The talented in this world have given up a lot to master their skills. What are you willing to do to master yours? There's only so much optimisation which will make an impact. The rest is putting in the work.
Resistance is everywhere, but it's mostly internal, and that's why the race is against yourself and no-one else. How much will you suffer through to accomplish your goals?
And yes, the word suffer is a strong word, but it's apt.
Because let's be real, you will feel pain. Starting is hard, and every time you push yourself, it'll feel as if you're starting again. And that's why it's difficult for the talented to relate to beginners. Not because they don't remember what it's like to be a beginner, but because they feel and remember it every day. But the talented become so used to pushing past their blockers and the pain, that it becomes their new norm.
We encourage you to rest, to be smart, and to avoid extreme pain. But you are the captain of your ship. Only you can decide when this is necessary, and when this is resistance's way of rearing its ugly head.
All action is progress, even if it amounts to almost nothing. If you get to the gym and you feel crap, then go home. If you open your laptop, but can't work because you have a migraine, then take time off. If you write 500 words and they're crap, then bin them.
What counts is showing up. What counts is setting the stakes. What counts is showing resistance that you won't back down easily. Over time it'll become easier to show up. It'll still hurt, you'll still have doubts, and you'll still fight with yourself.
All the greats do in this world do. But all the greats race against themselves.
They fight for their passion, their cause and they continue to break their limits. Comparison may bring motivation to them, or it may bring despair, but they don't dwell on it. They move beyond resistance.
A race against yourself is incremental because It's a race against the old you. And The old you doesn't want to move forward. The old you wants to stay still. If you're willing to show up and make an effort, then the race against yourself is beautiful.
And it's beautiful because you can't lose.