Sunday, January 12, 2014

Comparison and Self evaluation

Comparison - something which we indulge in almost at every step of our lives, either consciously or unconsciously. It is hard for me to identify an area where I have not compared myself with others or recall a choice which was made without comparing the available options. Considering the amount of time and energy being spent on this, I thought it is worthwhile to make an attempt to understand it better. 

So, where do we often use this tool of comparison? Is it an inevitable requirement? Is it something which we can do without? What are its advantages and disadvantages? 

One aspect which I would definitely like to explore more is how it is most commonly used as a strong tool for motivation. It is almost like this is the only tool available for motivation, without which it would be next to impossible to get the best out of people. It is like running a race with no competitors and apparently there is no thrill in such a race. How would we react if we are put in a situation where we have to give our best in a race with no competitor? Sounds scary!! The question is, would we be able to give our best in this situation? Is it even worth participating in such a race? 

Let us imagine two athletes 'A' and 'B' racing against each other. Let us assume A wins the race by completing the run in 'T' seconds. During the race, it is highly likely that A's main concern is to be faster than B. Now, what if A is asked to run the race alone and record his best time? There is a good chance that he might complete the run in less than T seconds. Assuming that A is giving his best during the solo race, the worst case situation is that he does not better T seconds. There is nothing to lose in either case. But, the former case is an often ignored flaw of comparison, where it could potentially limit us to just being better than the closest competitor and not the best we can be. 

Even assuming that it is inevitable to judge on a relative basis when evaluating two or more individuals, the question is - what metric do we use? For a fact, we know well that all of us are not blessed with the same level of skill sets and opportunities, which immediately rules out the chance of developing a fair metric. In the absence of a fair metric, most of our conclusions from comparison tend to be incorrect. It would be like comparing 10 rupees and 5 dollars and concluding that 10 rupees is greater than 5 dollars!! 

But, on the other hand, are there any advantages to the process of evaluating things on a relative basis? How would the world be if we stopped judging things on a relative platform? More importantly, is it even possible? I think the answer is 'NO'. We eventually have to compare to judge the value of almost everything animate or inanimate. But the challenge is in choosing the right metric. 

There are two situations when we possibly have to be cautious about the metric. One, where the world is evaluating us and the second is where we are evaluating ourselves. We have no control over the metric in the former situation and as such, it is always better to take the judgment with a pinch of salt. I am more bothered about the second scenario, where I have complete control over the metric and the subsequent conclusions and the onus is on me to make the right choice. Whom do I compare myself with and how do I rank myself? How to judge if I am making progress in the right direction? Can I risk using the wrong metric and ending up with the wrong conclusions? 

The fact that our skills sets and available opportunities are not uniform rules out the option to compare myself with anybody else for the purpose of self evaluation. So, automatically, I am left to compare myself with my own self again!! As cliched as it may sound, the more I think about it, the more I feel that this is possibly the best choice.., Here, we have a thorough understanding of our own skills sets and available opportunities and as long as we are honest, it is hard to go wrong while developing the metric. Maybe, the primary tool for self evaluation should be if we have done justice to all the opportunities that came our way and if we have used our abilities to the fullest and if we are getting better at it with each passing day? The answer to this question can be the basis for self evaluation. One great advantage of this evaluation is that once we get a good hang of it, we possibly don’t have to look down upon others to feel superior or give a chance for anybody to make us feel inferior. Perfect balance!! 

As always, theory is easier than practicals and this is easier said than followed. In an ideal world, I would leave it to the world to compare and evaluate me by its own standards and accept the judgment with caution. But, when it comes to self evaluation, I would rather stick to my process with my customized metric. I can always look up to others for inspiration and direction, which is a different discussion altogether. 

If we actually think about it, there are more than 7 billion people on this planet and it would be a never ending loop if we continue comparing ourselves against each person we encounter. It will be a colossal waste of time and energy and we will end up going in circles without ever reaching any meaningful conclusion!! 

Do check this from Zen Pencils: Dont compare yourself to others