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

Mindfulness: What does it mean and why is is important?

We’re almost back into the swing of things at Uni, classes are about to start and as of next week all of the new and returning students will be flooding onto the campus grounds – excited to get back into their respective degrees.

We had our mentor training session today – where we went over all the do’s and don’ts of supporting the new students. The thing that stood out the most for me was the little chat that we had about mindfulness. I found it really encouraging to see that such a simple concept was being embraced on such a grand scale; and as a result I was inspired to write this blog post.

What is it?

In a nutshell mindfulness is;

  • The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something (Google Definition)

 

  • “The unfailing master key for knowing the mind and is thus the starting point; the perfect tool for shaping the mind, and is thus the focal point; and the lofty manifestation of the achieved freedom of the mind, and is thus the cumulating point” (Nyanaponika Thera – Buddhist scholar and monk)1

 

  • A deceptively simple way of relating to experience, has long been used to lessen the sting of life’s difficulties, especially those that are self imposed (from the text Mindfulness and Psychotherapy)2

 

Three very different definitions, collected from three very different sources, but essentially all saying the same thing. Need a bit more? Below I’ve embedded a nifty little you-tube clip  (Language Warning!!!) that sums up the entire concept of Mindfulness in under 3 minutes 🙂

 

Why is it important?

Mindfulness is important because it allows us to examine the inner workings of our own mind and recognise when we might be overthinking, exaggerating, losing self-control or procrastinating.  By looking down on our actions and their consequences, as if through a lens, we are able to be objective and instead of acting on impulse – as we most commonly do – we are able to pick our actions based on whichever path we deem to be the wisest.

For example; imagine that you have a group assignment due on Monday, everyone has contributed except for one member of the group who has done the bare minimum the entire time and has now failed to submit their final draft.  Now everyone would react differently in this situation – personally my instinctive reaction would be anger and annoyance and I could be tempted to send off a nasty email or two. But a mindful person would rise above this primal urge and instead examine the situation objectively. Sure writing that nasty email would give me a chance to vent and temporarily make me feel better BUT it probably won’t encourage that last group member to submit their work, and could even make things worse. A mindful person would recognise that maybe there are circumstances beyond the other individuals control that they haven’t shared with the group at large, and that perhaps help and support should have been offered by the remaining group members earlier to ensure that each group member had an equitable (yet fair) workload.

This final clip is one of my all time favourites – it’s simple, short, to the point – and I think (for some of you) it will do a much better job than me at explaining why mindfulness is essential for human happiness.

This is just an example – and by no means am I suggesting that to be mindful you have to let people walk all over you and do the bare minimum. Rather it is the way we deal with these situations, through wise decision making and not raw emotion, that makes us mindful, empowered individuals.

Final Note:

I hope you enjoyed this post. A few people noticed that I took a little break from the internet over the christmas period but I’m back now and I’m planning (hoping) to upload at least one post a week this year. So stay tuned 🙂 Exciting things to come !!

Namaste xx

 

References

  1. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015). mindfulness.Mindfulness, 6(6), 1481-1483. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-015-0456-x
  1. Germer, C. K., Siegel, R. D., Fulton, P. R., & ProQuest (Firm). (2013). Mindfulness and psychotherapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.