#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: How to make healthy comparisons

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Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2 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.

Final advice

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!

24 thoughts on “#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: How to make healthy comparisons

    • dlgunn

      Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 And yeah, it’s really important to have people in our lives, whether literally in our lives or connected through the media, that we can use as both inspiration and a reminder that it CAN be done.

    • dlgunn

      That’s not disappointing! We all do things differently. I just think pacesetters are really important for a lot of writers.

  • D.R. Shoultz

    Great insight. I have my favorite authors, but they are far above my status. I started writing late in life, so comparisons are difficult. I just try to improve each year.

    • dlgunn

      My pacesetters aren’t necessarily my favorite authors, because most of my faves are also at a level that currently feels out of reach. So my current pacesetters are my favorite bloggers who also happen to be authors.

  • I’ve often heard “stop comparing yourself”, but this is the first time I’ve heard of a strategy for constructive comparison, and I like it.
    I think you’re spot on about narrowing the scope. Even if someone does compare themselves to Stephen King, a general comparison is just too complex.
    But if someone wants to say “(famous author) writes for an hour first thing in the morning, then does other things before coming back 1-2 hours later for the lion’s share of their writing,” that’s a very doable comparison.

    I think the biggest challenge is emulating another author’s practices without expecting the same results/response from the world.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • dlgunn

      I’m so glad you like it! I think a lot of us actually have systems like this, but we don’t talk about them, so people get the impression that ALL comparisons are bad.

      And that definitely IS the biggest challenge. For me a lot of it is reminding myself that a lot of the authors who are ahead of me are ahead simply because they’re older and were able to enter the social media world before there was a noise floor, but that’s not an advantage (or disadvantage, depending on my mood) that everyone has.

      • Thank you for reminding me. And I agree. I think sometimes we get too “stuck in our own heads” to remind ourselves that we’re far from alone in these struggles. That’s another thing I really like about the blogging community. I don’t have any friends “on ground” that share my focus for writing, so it’s a welcome thing to read and talk with people who do.

  • Thank you for introducing me to the pacesetters term. Okay, I’m taking a moment now. What am I going to work on. This may end up being a diary entry, so bear with me. I need to work on the roller coaster that is my confidence in my writing ability. Also, I’d like to read more. I’m at about a book a week, but more would be better. Love Joanna Penn. 🙂

    • dlgunn

      Confidence in your writing is SO SO SO important. Maybe that’s what I’ll talk about next month 🙂 I did a series on it ages ago, but it’s… Well let’s just say it’s the quality of writing I produced several years ago.

      Also, a book a week is better than I’m doing lately, so good on you! And good luck increasing that number!

  • Great post! The whole “compete with your past self” was really useful to me when I was just getting started, but now that I’ve grown way beyond who I was, that comparison is no longer really useful. I love the idea of pacesetters, and as I was reading through your post, I thought of a few people who might qualify as pacesetters. 🙂 And I’ve never heard of Joanna Penn, but I’ll be sure to check out her work. Thank you for sharing!

    • dlgunn

      Glad you liked it! I still find comparisons with my past self useful, but they’re definitely not as useful to me as they used to be. This is particularly true when it comes to marketing my work. Comparing past campaigns to new ones is useful, but it’s even more useful to take a look at what more successful authors are doing to sell THEIR books

  • This is such good advice, because it’s easy to look at the success of others and just get jealous and bitter because you’re comparing it to where you are in your own life. Instead, if you want that person’s success, it’s much better to study HOW they did it and try to emulate it. Even if you don’t do as well as they did, you learn something in the process and better yourself.

    Great post!

    • dlgunn

      Exactly! I think almost every negative emotion or thought can be transformed into a positive experience that improves your life.

  • Great advice, especially for using comparison in a positive way instead of a negative one. I think I have naturally done this and haven’t even really thought about it, but you did an amazing job of laying it out and providing ways to avoid the pitfalls. I don’t think I have one pacesetter but different ones for each aspect of my writing career. However, I can definitely see how it can be useful to target a person you admire and follow a path that has already succeeded. Thanks, Dianna. Keep moving forward in your goals. I am sure you will succeed!

  • This is wonderful advice. I used to make unhealthy comparisons all the time when I first started writing because I saw how beautifully certain writers wrote and Id say, “I don’t write like that.” After I learned that that’s okay, I no longer do this. But I do tend to still have unhealthy comparisons when it comes to marketing/publishing. I’m working on this.

  • Good advice! And I had never heard of the term “pacesetter” before. I used “benchmark” instead but pacesetter sounds more fitting since my goal is indeed to write daily and publish with more frequency. Thanks for sharing!

  • I don’t have any writers I use as a pacesetter, but there are a few on social media who inspire me to have a positive outlook, to go after what I want and to live healthy. If you have those three, everything else should fall in place.

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