For some strange reason, I like to experience popular culture in a quiet, private space.
(Oh wait, I’m an introvert!)
This means that I often put off experiencing things—hit TV shows, new musical stars, articles about AI—until long after other people have stopped talking about them.
Which brings us to Wordle
I don’t know exactly when the Wordle craze began, but for me, it began two weeks ago. (Wordle is a word puzzle that runs in The New York Times; every day, you have six tries to guess a 5-letter word-of-the-day by making other 5-letter words and getting feedback.)
To my surprise, since I’m not usually good at games, I turn out to be good at Wordle, and quickly got addicted to (a) playing it, and (b) seeing the “WINS = 100%” message that got posted every time I won, which as of last week was every time.
What an ego boost! Way to feel like a winner, Jezra!
Wordle Tells You Exactly Where You Stand
It turns out that Wordle doesn’t just tabulate your wins. It can also compare them to other people’s performance.
So the first thing I learned, when I unwisely requested the analysis, is that the six tries it’s been taking me to solve this puzzle each day—which I was totally proud of—are actually 33% “worse” than the four tries that the Times considers standard for solving it.
The analysis also provides a literal “blow-by-blow” description of how much more effective each of your six guesses would have been if you’d chosen different words than you chose.
And it quantifies this by telling you:
(a) how lucky you were on every guess;
(b) how skillful you were on every guess; and
(c) how your stats compare to those of other players.
This information might have turned me off to the game for good, because comparing yourself to others is a sure way to undermine your confidence and sense of accomplishment. (Particularly when you’re being compared to a word-generating AI bot!)
But fortunately, I’ve wrestled with the dread “comparison-itis” in another context—public speaking—so I knew how to resist its pull.
Comparison-itis Is a Killer!
The minute we begin to compare our public speaking performance to someone else’s, we start bleeding joy and satisfaction out of our own success.
Instead of, “I did really well!,” the thought becomes, “So-and-so would have done better.”
Instead of, “People learned a lot from my talk,” we find ourselves thinking, “They would have learned more from a real expert.”
That way lies madness, because there’s no faster way to diminish the joy of an accomplishment than to have a bot—whether it’s the The New York Times‘ AI, or the internal bot I call your Nasty Little Voice—telling you that someone else would have done better.
Fortunately, There’s a Cure for Self-Comparison
When I catch myself coming down with this dread disease, I usually start by talking to myself, in a reality check that goes like this:
“Of course someone else could have done better. There are 8 billion people in the world, so there’s absolutely no statistical doubt that one of them could have done better than you did.
“But they didn’t do it! YOU did!!! You’re the gold standard. You’re the person other people trust. When you talk, they listen—and that means you’re doing it right.”
(In case you haven’t read my book on public speaking yet, that last sentence is Jezra’s First Law: If you’re talking and they’re listening, you must be doing it right.)
It’s wonderful to succeed at a complicated task like public speaking.
Wonderful enough that we don’t have to be the best at it, we just have to do the job well, and enjoy the accolades.
Thinking beyond that is a fool’s errand, because success—at any level, in any form—is always worth celebrating. And even though I often forget to do that, I know that celebrating your success reinforces it and sets you up to succeed again.
So whether you’ve succeeded with a presentation, or with Wordle, enjoy that!
And as for that person in Mongolia, or Nigeria, or Guatemala who could theoretically have done a better job than you or me?
I hope they’re enjoying their successes, too! 🙂