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Hi folks! Today I’m participating in the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a blog hop for writers who want to learn from each other and build a community. Last month I tackled comparisonitis, the tendency to make yourself feel like crap by comparing yourself to others. Today I’m going to look at the opposite: how you can make comparisons that actually serve you.
What are healthy comparisons?
I’ve heard it said that the only healthy comparison is a comparison to your past self. I even almost agree with it. After all, using your past self as a basis for comparison keeps you focused on your own journey, but still encourages you to keep moving forward. It seems like the best of both worlds.
But here’s the thing: our work isn’t created in a vacuum, and our goals shouldn’t be either. We need at least a vague idea of what other people can accomplish to make realistic goals for ourselves. We need people to admire and achievements to look forward to. Comparisons, done right, can give us all of these things.
Healthy comparisons, then, are comparisons that inspire you rather than dragging you down. They are comparisons that push you to improve yourself and your life.
Today I’m going to show you how to make those comparisons.
How to make healthy comparisons
You can build healthy comparisons into your life by intentionally choosing what my friend Sharon Ledwith calls pacesetters. These are people who are living the life you want, with one caveat: it must be reasonable to believe that you can replicate their success. In other words, you don’t want to compare yourself to a writer like Stephen King, because his level of success is an anomaly. But it is reasonable to believe that you could achieve a level of success similar to someone like Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, who is one of my own pacesetters.
You can create a list of pacesetters with this three step process:
1. Choose an area of your life to improve
Comparisons are only healthy when they’re intentionally used to improve specific areas of your life. You need to know what you want to improve to be sure that you’re making the right comparisons. You also don’t want to be comparing every single detail of your life to someone else’s. We’re all different, and our lives should be different.
In fact, I think healthy comparisons should focus on specific skills you want to improve. For example, you shouldn’t compare your entire writing career to someone else’s, but comparing the quality of your worldbuilding to someone else’s can be useful. You want to compare your cooking skills, not your overall diet or health.
You probably want to improve more than one area of your life, but for now, pick one and focus on it. Once you’ve trained your brain to make healthy comparisons with pacesetters, you can add more to the list.
2. Find people with the level of skill/success you want to develop
This should be the simplest part of the process. There’s a good chance you already know who these people are, even if you haven’t intentionally designated them as pacesetters. These are the people you avidly follow on social media, consuming their podcasts or blogs or whatever it is that they do. They’re the ones whose work already inspires you on some level.
I chose Joanna Penn as my primary pacesetter because she publishes quickly (28 books in just under 10 years) but not so quickly that it sounds impossible. My goal isn’t to hit her pace exactly, but to train myself to write faster so that I can eventually be publishing at least two books a year. I also want to write a combination of fiction and nonfiction, and Joanna’s balance between the two is pretty close to ideal. I’m confident that if I keep improving my process at the rate I have been for the past two years, in another five I can hit a similar place with my own work.
Your own pacesetters should be similar. It shouldn’t be easy to achieve their level of skill, but it should be something you can accomplish with a solid five year plan.
Choose no more than three pacesetters. Like everything in life, healthy comparisons can become unhealthy if you spend too much time on them. The easiest way to prevent that is to limit who you’re allowed to compare yourself to.
3. Study their success
For pacesetters to truly improve your life, you need to go beyond simple comparisons. Become a student of your pacesetters’ success. Study how they got to where they are, and what they’re doing to move forward. Map out their journey, taking careful note of anything you can replicate in your own life. Create goals that will help you do that.
If your pacesetters are other writers, you get lucky on this front: many writers openly track their goals and successes through blog posts, podcasts, and/or YouTube videos. Joanna Penn does all three, and has been since the beginning of her author career. This means you can access all the knowledge you need to replicate elements of their success, without having to reach out and hope they have time to answer some of your questions.
4. Do regular reality checks
Healthy comparisons are great, but you need to be careful with them, especially if you struggle with comparisonitis. The downward spiral into crippling comparisonitis and self doubt happens fast. If you’re not paying attention you might not even notice it happening.
At least once a month, check in with yourself. Ask all the questions from my article on how to beat comparisonitis. Are your comparisons realistic? How much time are you spending on them? If you don’t like the answers, stop making the comparison completely. Pacesetters are only helpful if you’re mentally healthy enough to avoid the spiral into comparisonitis. Get some professional help, learn some practical coping mechanisms and self care techniques, and return to this article when you feel ready.
Comparisons can be healthy if they’re used properly. Choose your pacesetters, study their success, and model your own life after it – but don’t forget to check in regularly and make sure those comparisons are still serving you.
Do you have pacesetters? Who are they and how did you choose them? Let me know in the comments section below!