Tip # 16: The Sweetest victory comes from competing wit yourself

Jennifer Veltsos

February 13, 2018 |

Are you watching the Olympics? I’m not a sporty person, but I do love the Olympics. While many people think figure skating is the ultimate winter sport, I’m obsessed with halfpipe snowboarding. The sport is so fast, so dangerous, and so elegant at the same time. As I type this, Shaun White just scored 94.25 points (out of 100), launching himself 18 feet above the edge of the half pipe, spinning and flipping again and again. After a tumble in his second run, he scored 97.75 on the final run to once again take the gold medal. In the post-run interview, a faint scar is visible from a bad landing a few months ago. Sports ain’t for wimps. That’s why I watch from my couch.

But the story that really made me stop in awe is 17-year old Chloe Kim, who won the women’s gold medal. Kim had a solid lead going into her final run. In fact, she was already going to win the medal. She could have taken it easy, played it safe. Instead, she became the first female snowboarder to complete two back-to-back 1080s. (That’s 3 complete twists…each).

"I was like tearing up and wanted to cry, but I just knew I wasn't going to be happy, even if I went home with the gold, if I knew I could do better," Kim said of her decision to attempt the back-to-back 1080s. "So that third run was really just to prove to myself that I deserved it and did everything I could. I'm so happy." 

One of the myths of self-improvement is the benefit of competition. But comparing ourselves to others is bound to end in failure. Sure, we can learn from people who are more experienced or talented than we are, but if we use them as a benchmark then we’re going to fail because they are better than we are. Or we might compare ourselves to people who are less experienced or talented than we are. That comparison is great for our self-esteem but doesn’t challenge us to keep learning and improving.

The answer is to compete with someone who is like you. Exactly like you. Like Chloe Kim, try competing against yourself instead of someone else. Improve your grading or email response time, perfect your technique, reduce your error rate, submit to a higher profile journal or conference, be a better friend or neighbor. In their article about self-improvement myths, Kayes and Bailey advise us

“Focus on getting better than you were yesterday and living up to your own potential and aspirations, not somebody else’s. This will give you a keener sense of where you want to go, and, more importantly, why.” 

They go on to remind us to expect bumps in the road to self-improvement. There may even be detours. Be willing to change your strategy, or even your goals, to meet your current circumstances. And maybe, just maybe, stop thinking about goals altogether for a while. Focus on the task itself and find ways to make it rewarding. Turning tasks into little competitions with yourself can not only improve your performance but make even menial jobs fun. For example, when I removed wallpaper from our living room a few years ago, I challenged myself to pull each strip as a single long piece. (Guess what: I won!)

We may not be training for the Olympics, but self-improvement requires patience, discipline, and practice. (And a healthy dose of self-kindness helps, too.)

And while we’re at it, let’s stop comparing ourselves to other people on social media, too.

“Everyone on the Internet—they’re not having as much fun as you think they’re having.”
“I guess they’re cropping out the sadness.”  


 Originally posted on U Betcha Teaching and Learning

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