Intrapersonal Comparisons: You Might Be Doing It Wrong.

I recently noticed a failure mode in myself which other people might plausibly suffer from so I thought I’d share it.

Basically, I realized that sometimes when I discovered a more effective way of doing something — say, going from conventional flashcards to Anki — I found myself getting discouraged.

Upon reflection it occurred to me that this was because each time I found such a technique, I automatically compared my current self to a version of me that had had access to the technique the whole time. Realizing that I wasn’t as far along as I could’ve been resulted in a net loss of motivation.

Now, I deliberately compare two future versions of myself, one armed with the technique I just discovered and one without. Seeing how much farther along I will be results in a net gain of motivation.

A variant of this exercise is taking any handicap you might have and wildly exaggerating it. I suffer from mild Carpal Tunnel (or something masquerading as CT) which makes progress in programming slow. When I feel down about this fact I imagine how hard programming would be without hands.

Sometimes I go as far as to plan out what I might do if I woke up tomorrow with a burning desire to program and nothing past my wrists. Well, I’d probably figure out a way to code by voice and then practice mnemonics because I wouldn’t be able to write anything down. Since these solutions exist I can implement one or both of them if and when my carpal tunnel gets bad enough.

With this realization comes a boost in motivation knowing I can go a different direction if required.

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