Friday, March 23, 2012

Comparisons Are Odious

I'm a competitor. There, it's out. Not that this is any surprise for any of my friends and acquaintances. Though I've tried to tame my competitive spirit over the years, I've not succeeded. Essentially I've stopped talking about it and tried to hide my feelings. But seriously, for those of us who are competitive, it's tough to shake. My competitive self comes alive in everything from cards, to sports, writing, speaking, business - you name it, and I'll compete in it. The upside is that competition has made me better in many areas and so it can be a useful tool in striving for personal greatness. The downside is that competition is based on comparisons and as Barry Schwartz puts it so well "comparisons are odious."

Competition drives us to be better in the things we attempt to do. When we examine our role models in the various dimensions where we want to succeed, we raise our sights on what we believe we are capable of doing. We broaden our concepts of how we will attempt to succeed in our endeavors and hopefully learn from our role models what other aspects of our discipline we wish to develop. So competition can have an upside.

Yet the cost of competition, especially the constant comparison to others, comes at a hefty price. If our comparisons always find us lacking in some capacity, eventually that will impact our self-image, our happiness and ultimately our well-being. The poem/prayer Desiderata offered "If you compare yourself to others you may become vain or bitter, for always there are greater and lesser persons than yourself." The phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" encapsulates the idea of comparison with our neighbors, but with TV and the internet we have the opportunity of comparing ourselves constantly against a much higher bar and it can leave us feeling drained and worn out.

Once again, balance is key. Utilizing our skills and abilities to their maximum is shown to increase experiences of "flow" and a growth in self-esteem. When we push ourselves to attain the next level in whatever our discipline, we can enjoy more positive emotions and a higher level of happiness. The discipline is to compete with ourselves after examining what others are doing. We can learn from them what might be the next level in our discipline, but then we have to create our own goals, so that we are not comparing ourselves to them, but to what we believe we can achieve.

Competition can be a tool, if used well, in moving toward our personal greatness. When balanced it will push us toward the best we can be, but in a competition against ourselves.

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