“Ever notice that anyone going slower than you is an idiot, but anyone going faster is a maniac?” This famous quote by late comedian George Carlin depicts a phenomenon called the contrast principle, which holds that we make judgments, not against standards, but largely through comparison. If, for example, we are presented with a series of photos of people with horrible muscle tone, then asked to evaluate our own physical condition, we will give ourselves higher marks than if the photos had been of people who are top physical specimens. Our condition is unchanged, our muscle tone is what it is, yet our perception of it alters as the basis of comparison changes.
Interestingly, while traveling the road to our goals, we can be successful without attaining excellence.
Success bases our worth on a comparison with others. Excellence gauges our value by measuring us against our own potential.
This is seen in sports quite often when a player wins a game over a lesser opponent. He may have been successful in winning the match, but it doesn’t mean he has attained excellence unless he played to his potential.
When we evaluate our potential, we should ask ourselves two questions: 1) Can I? and 2) Will I? The answers to these questions will help us understand not only our abilities but also our attitudes. If both are “yes”, the potential for personal excellence is high.
Do you want to settle for less than your best personal effort? This may be the pivotal moment in your progress. Consider your own direction in life. Measure your true excellence against your own personal potential. Don’t use standards set by others and don’t measure your progress against others. Require the best of yourself rather than set your sights on beating someone else. Aim for your personal best, and you will succeed.
Do not settle for just beating someone else for a prize or title. As great as this recognition may feel at the moment, you may sell yourself short. The journey is not about winning out over someone else. I am reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela, who wrote, “We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”
Is your value as a person based on meeting certain standards of personal excellence, or largely through comparison? If you are spending your life asking why you should be considered brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous, I encourage you to ask instead… why not?
Aim to be your best self, and you will always be a winner!