The Competitive Mindset : Helpful or Harmful?

In one of my yoga classes last week the instructor made reference to the competitive mindset and how he believed to truly experience a sense of mindfulness we need to learn how to harness competitive urges so that we can use them when they will be of the greatest benefit to us.

This got me thinking – being a naturally competitive person I have always been drawn to activities that are largely independent. In school I swam, because there were no team mates to slow me down; after school I focused on making money, at one point I was working three back-to-back jobs; and now, as a university student my grades are my competitive focus. My competitive mindset has pushed me towards high achievements in all aspects of my life; economic, social, physical and academic – and for the most part I find it to be extremely beneficial.

BUT for every high there has to be a low – you know that old saying “the grass is always greener on the other side”? This is where having a competitive mindset becomes harmful to our health and wellbeing.

For example – the practice of yoga takes years and years to finesse. It isn’t the sort of activity that is designed to be competitive because it would be impossible to judge. When you walk into a yoga class you central focus has to be on your own body; physically, mentally and emotionally. If you try to force your body into a pose, because the person two mats in front of you is doing it with ease, it won’t work and more often than not you will harm yourself.

Another example can be found when we examine our desire for material things. The girl from work got a new car and, even though your car is only 18 months old, this makes you feel like you’re not doing enough. So you go out and buy a new car. You put yourself into debt all for the sense of satisfaction that you feel because now you are equal, or even better, than the girl at work. This satisfaction is sometimes so strong that people begin to justify the economic harm that they do to themselves, that they will continue to do to themselves because, as we all know, happiness from material objects is short-lived.

Romantic relationships are one of the hardest competitive mindset cycles to break. Your friend is happy, engaged to be married and head-over-heels in love. You took years to find your current partner and even-though things don’t feel quite right you stick it out because your afraid of the stigma you’ll face if you’re alone. You try to convince yourself that everything is fine, you make up stories, take a lot of cute instagram photos and basically do everything in your power to convince the world that you’re happy when really you’re not. Being with someone, for the sake of being-with-someone, is a problem that so many of my friends face; it’s a problem that I have faced more than once in the past; and I don’t think it’s a problem that is going to go away anytime soon.

All three of the above examples are very different but they all come back to the harmful effects of a competitive mindset. I’m not a doctor, or a scholar, or even university educated (yet – 17 months to go!!!); this whole article is just my opinion. All of my examples stem from real life situations that I have experienced or witnessed my friends, colleagues and peers experience. In the end I think that being competitive is fine, as long as your goals are clear and you don’t lose touch of what is truly important.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Alfie Kohn to have a think about ❤ ❤ ❤

“When we set children against one another in contests- from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read- we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health. We invite them to see their peers not as potential friends or collaborators but as obstacles to their own success…Finally, we lead children to regard whatever they’re doing as a means to an end: The point isn’t to paint or read or design a science experiment, but to win. The act of painting, reading, or designing is thereby devalued in the child’s mind.” – Alfie Kohn.

Have a good week everyone,

Namaste x

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