Who's your reference point?

I woke up early on Saturday morning to hit a 7,5km trail run at Groote Constantia, one of the oldest wine farms in the greater Cape Town area. The farm is set on land that rises from just above sea level to well over 400m above sea level, ergo... we expected one or two tough hills.

The race started off well. We quickly found ourselves battling the first hill. I got to what I thought was the top (hooray!) and stopped to take a photo of the view. "Awesome", I told myself, now it's just a little meander from here to the other side of the mountain, and i'll be able to bank this run. Here is the view from that point:



And here's the thing: this wasn't the last hill.

Of the 7,5km, I reckon we we ran uphill for 4km.  It could have been more. Each time i'd get to the top of a hill, there would be a horizontal stretch for 100m or so and i'd meet the bottom of another incline. Rewind, repeat. That's pretty much how the route unfolded.

I was strong for the first 4 hills, but after that I found myself walking more and more. On one of the next few hills I noticed something. I'd always start a hill with the intention of running the whole way, and then as soon as enough people around me started walking, i'd start walking. It was almost as though their decision to start walking gave me permission to do the same. 

And then on one of the next few hills, I noticed how people passing me gave me renewed energy to keep up with them. It was uncanny, on the hills that followed, how people's behaviour around me influenced by own behaviour. My mind was now racing, even if my legs weren't.

I thought about other people in my life and how their behaviour had influenced my behaviour. I thought about my brother, with whom I work closely, and his recent progress as a businessman and how this has inspired me to do better. I thought about friends who had been wildly successful in business and how their success has made me impatient for my own success, even jealous. I thought about my wife Keri, who is the salt of the earth, and how her behaviour keeps me real. There are so many examples I can think of.

We're influenced by the people around us. We all know this. But how much attention do we pay to who's influencing our behaviour? We're social by nature. The people we choose to be influenced by - and it is a choice - become the reference points for our own lives. We should know who they are and what influence they are having on our lives. I'd argue that this is a necessary step in taking control of our personal development.

But I think there is a more powerful way of managing our personal development: using ourselves as a reference point. In the same way that a golfer plays against themselves by using the handicap system, so we should be regularly reviewing our behaviour against our historical behaviour as a way to determine our performance. Are our skills improving? Are we identifying and ridding ourselves of bad habits? Are we becoming more emotionally mature?

But it's so much easier to compare ourselves against others. It doesn't require much work, in that all we need to do is make simple comparisons based on whatever information we have available at the time. They've got a better car than me, a worse house than me, more friends than me, less skills than me. What a useless way to assess ourselves.

But it's hard work to implement the equivalent of a golfer's handicap system for our personal development. It requires measurement and management, and for this we need the overhead of systems and discipline. It's no wonder so many people let themselves be influenced by whoever they happen to find themselves spending time with.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about measuring my personal analytics with a special bracelet device. It worked quite well. Although I think that using myself as a primary reference point on my journey towards self improvement is going to be a lot more challenging than wearing a bracelet!

Any suggestions on how to measure and manage your personal development?