A close friend of mine recently asked me an interesting question:
Do you ever have days where you just get stuck in these hopeless spirals wondering what you've actually accomplished with your life?
After thinking on it for a bit, I realized that the answer is typically a resounding no. The reason for this is my mental framework of evaluating my life goals, achievements, and performance so far.
I learned long ago I can't compare myself to my ideal version, or other people. I just have to compare myself to 2 weeks ago, 2 months ago, and 2 years ago.
Why not the ideal?
True ideal is impossible. The ideal version of you may have finished school with perfect grades, had no cavities, never messed up a relationship and has never stubbed a toe.
We learn though our mistakes and experiences. If we lived our ideal life from the start, how would we learn, adapt, grow, and change? We would never face any challenges or encounter any obstacles that make us stronger.
It simply does not make sense to compare yourself to your ideal version that lives in your head. I believe it's smart to selectively strive for some of those traits, but there should NEVER be an expectation that you would actually become that person.
Why not others?
It's tempting to compare yourself to others. Someone 10 years younger than you who is smarter or has more money or a better job. Or maybe someone your own age, happily married, while you are single despite your best efforts. This isn't healthy either.
Why would you compare yourself to the Queen of England, or Bill Gates? They had a different life than you, a different start, different opportunities. You have talents they know not, and vice versa. Comparison is meaningless.
What about your past self?
This is where things get interesting. Your past self is you, with all of your flaws, imperfections, and fun quirks. The question to ask yourself is this:
Are you still growing and evolving? Or are you stagnating?
You probably already know the answer. But if not, a few simple comparisons can help you check your trajectory.
1. How do you compare against yourself 2 weeks ago?
This is a very short time frame, but habits can be born or die in this time. Sometimes, life kicks us hard. We get divorced, our car breaks, we have to move out, and maybe our job changes. Shit happens. But sometimes, you meet new friends. Learn a new skill. Get new inspiration, or discover new joy in your life.
2. How do you compare against yourself 2 months ago?
Meaningful change can happen over 2 months. A workout and diet may start to stick. A friendship or relationship can blossom as the connection deepens. Your move might be done, or you can find your feet at a new job. Check the trajectory - are things getting better?
3. How do you compare against yourself 2 years ago?
A year can sometimes feel like a lifetime, or fly by in a blink of an eye. Either way, we aren't given that many years to enjoy on this planet. I find that two years is a long enough time that change should be immensely clear. It doesn't have to be external - it's awesome if you are in a stable relationship at a well paying job. The question to ask yourself is this: are you still learning and evolving? Are you growing in other ways, perhaps with deeper introspection or new personal insights.
As long as you are in a better place, no matter what that means to you, then you know you're on the right path.
It is my sincere hope that this mental framework will be useful to you.