Do You Compete Against Yourself?

When someone is being competitive they’re often regarded as having heightened levels of motivation, so fuelling their desire to improve, stretch themselves and elevate their game. At certain times many of us may feel prompted to move out of our comfort zones, challenge ourselves, prove to both ourselves and to others that we’re prepared to do what’s needed to succeed, excel and perhaps even beat others, aiming to come out on top.

But, if we’re ‘not feeling it’, competition can trigger us to walk away, feel defeated, possibly even worse than before we started and certainly disinclined to make any further effort.

That’s why it’s so important to think things through and plan for when you’re looking to up your game and compete. And sometimes competing against yourself can be the best option of all, especially at the outset.

Competition requires setting a goal and working towards it. It may mean competing against others, where additional pressure can come from there being a time limit, a fee to pay to get involved, or working alongside others as part of a team effort. Assessing what’s involved, the different stages, noting and addressing any obstacles and impediments and then working to overcome them, using tenacity, determination and negotiation are usually part of the masterplan.

But, the problem of competing with others is that it’s rarely a level playing field. Others may be fitter, healthier, they may want to succeed more than we do, have more available time to devote, with less distractions. We all have different agendas, which is why it’s often constructive to start by competing against yourself.

Think about a high-jumper. For them it’s always apparent that they only know they’ve achieved their best when they fail to clear the bar. Otherwise they keep on going, raising the bar after every successful jump. They’re competing against their previous best performances, whilst using the performance of others as a benchmark against which to measure their improvement and progress.

Being in a good place to compete means first clarifying what really matters, what would be meaningful to achieve. The next step is to then identify what’s required to reach that goal, whether it be improved fitness levels, better health, more specialised knowledge, skills enhancement, de-cluttering or delegating some responsibilities.

Would it be useful to bring on board a coach, mentor or guide, someone to provide the necessary level of support and instruction, who will require us to check in and be accountable. That in itself can be a useful motivator, moving us into a focussed action plan. Individual areas of blockage and resistance can be identified and assessed, then subsequently broken down into bite-sized chunks, ready to be worked on and remedied.

For some, a vision board is the answer, where pictures and images of what they want as a desired outcome are pasted onto a large board, setting out what success means to them, what it looks like. Displaying your goals on a board or writing them in the front of your diary or journal can be a constant reminder of those aims and what they represent to you, as well as making you accountable to yourself.

Some people claim that all they want in life is to be happy, but that’s rarely a goal in itself. Happiness is a by-product of other things; it comes from doing a good day’s work, spending a pleasant afternoon with friends, a satisfying workout, a lovely walk in nature. At those times we may catch ourselves smiling at how happy we feel.

All too often we’re very clear about what we don’t want. We don’t want to feel sad, unhappy, bored, alone. Identifying what we do want, how to move into a better place, can often be a tougher ask and require time to move us from perhaps apathy and inertia into more focussed, goal-orientated, clearer thinking. It takes work and effort to de-clutter our customary default and achieve this mindset.

Questioning ourselves, asking, ‘how am I feeling, what do I want, what needs to happen to move from here to there, from A to B’, can sometimes be enough to start the ball rolling. Identifying the steps we need to take may well be enough to prompt activity and movement. It helps to have highlighted the goals we’re aiming for. Doing that allows us to then move forward.

Ensure that you’re your own best supporter when you’re competing with yourself and working towards an important goal. Accept that some days may be full of distractions, unexpected demands on your time, important deadlines which need respecting. Or it may be that you’re especially tired, stressed and need a break. Then there are those times you may have invested a lot of effort and enthusiasm into something that doesn’t work out as hoped. At those times be gentle with yourself and give yourself a break.

Understand, too, that it’s exciting and sometimes life-enhancing to occasionally follow a detour, or pause for a while, even if it results in you taking a little longer to achieve your goal. Treat these times as part of the process, which may deliver a variety of unexpected experiences. Enjoy the lessons to be learned, the exercises in patience, flexibility and resilience. Relish the journey. That’s often equally, if not more important than any eventual outcome.                       

Susan Leigh, Counsellor & Hypnotherapist, Altrincham, South Manchester