Benchmarking is Bullshit

Tuesday 09th, July 2013 / 14:34Written by
Benchmarking is Bullshit

Do you want to be happier? Don’t compare yourself to others. Stop benchmarking yourself, your children, your income or whatever against others. Benchmarking is bullshit as it is based on partial data and external cues that do not tell the complete story.

Are you keeping up with the Joneses? You noticed that your neighbour got a new car. Your colleague got a pay rise. Your friend travels around the world all the time. These are the things we see and compare ourselves against. We don’t see the price people are paying for the things that we see. Your neighbour has maxed out all her credit cards, your colleague works for 70 or more hours every week not seeing his friends or family. Your friend is burning money without any clue what will happen when the money runs out.

Different perspective

Coat-of-arms-of-Sir-Isaac-NewtonThere’s a story about Isaac Newton that he was either gay, dominated by his mother, or had difficulties with forming emotional relationships. He never married, he wrecked many of his close relationships and some say he died a virgin.

When he was asked about what was the highlight of his life Newton answered:

I consider my greatest accomplishment to be lifelong celibacy. ~~Isaac Newton

This may seem strange to most people. We think that coming up with the laws of motion and universal gravitation that dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries is really hard. But for Newton himself it was easy as child’s play:

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. ~~Isaac Newton

And as you can see Newton also had a really cuul coat of arms.

What you see is only part of the story

Measuring other people’s results is one of the most futile activities you can waste your time on. You will only see some aspects of what they achieve or have and you will assume what their actual goals are. If you use what you see as a benchmark for your own goals then based on this partial data you may achieve the results but the cost may be overwhelming. The different initial conditions mean that you probably need to take different actions to achieve the same goal. Even if the steps needed are the same they may be something that doesn’t fit into your life without some adverse effects. Set your own goals based on the resources you have available and ignore what other may be thinking.

Get to the roots

This does not mean that you should totally ignore what others are doing. Try to understand what works and get complete understanding of tools and tactics. Find out what are the starting conditions, what are the steps to take, and what are the expected results. Use tools and tactics you understand and demonstrably move you towards your goals. Collect specific tools and make sure you know in which situations to use them. Ask for help from people who have been in the similar situations and use the parts that fit you, discard everything else.

Your goals, your pace

Concentrate on your own goals. Don’t try imitate something you don’t understand simply because it seems that it leads to results you want to achieve. For example if you want to lose weight don’t pay attention to the guy next door who has lost 40 pounds in a few months and seems to be running every day. You need to consider all aspects of weight loss to get to the shape that you are happy with. You will also need to understand the routine you have to develop to keep the weight off in the future.

If you just try to imitate someone without understanding the full range of tools involved the you will eventually fail and feel bad about yourself. This means that being in “benchmarking mode” will also lead to you beating yourself up for not getting the results you see in people you are comparing yourself against and that will lead to more unhappiness.

The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others

When I was writing this post a few weeks ago then I noticed that another guy just published a post about the exact same topic in a blog that is probably the most read in this field. Leo Babauta from Zenhabits wrote The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others. I have to say that it shook me up a bit and I as I had a vacation coming up I left the post unfinished. But then I took Leo’s (and my own) advice

And that’s the only thing we should focus on in life — enjoy the walk, learn about ourselves, keep taking steps and drop the comparisons. You’ll love the journey even more. ~~Leo Babauta

Increase your happiness

Pick your own path. Pick the pace you are comfortable with and ignore the rest. Always keep your eyes open to find better tools. Ask help from people who seem to have similar goals. Get the tools that match your goals and learn how to get the maximum value out of them. Find out what works for you and makes you happy. Then do that until you get where you want to be.

Benchmarking-is-Bullshit

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Image credit Coat of arms of Sir Isaac Newton by Avalokitesvara
Image credit Measuring time by Louise Docker

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