Imagine you decided to become fitter and more flexible and you attend one of your first yoga or group fitness classes. You try hard, but everyone around you seems to be better at everything. Leaning over, the reach the ground, they can lift more with the weights and they don’t miss steps in the choreography or the beat of the music.
How do you feel?
Would you return to this class the next week?
What motivates or even spurs one person on can totally block and frustrate another.
Nature has given us a certain striving for superiority (in the past, our lives depended on it) and in our society we have been socialised to compete (top managers earn more, top students get scholarships, top stars get more title pages and better conditions …).
But striving for superiority and the external comparison that comes with it has several disadvantages:
- We never finish! There is always someone who has more or who is better – and who defines who or what is a good performance anyway?
- Our satisfaction and performance is dependent on others
- It limits our social competence – because if we feel better when someone is worse than we are, this does not exactly increase our empathy and we also run the risk of letting the other person feel our superiority (e.g. by giving advice without being asked for). But also, if the superiority of our counterpart makes us feel bad about ourselves and we tend to be envious rather than happy for the other person, this will certainly tend to minimise our circle of friends in the long run.
Comparison with others is particularly blocking if we derive our self-worth from how we perform. If we have learned and experienced in the past that we get a lot of attention and care when we do better than everyone else, this can easily happen.
So if you compare yourself with others to achieve your goal or inner change and perceive the following …
- You idealize the others and make yourself smaller than you are.
- You notice that envy or negative thoughts about the other person arise in you (you look for the snag, the hair in the soup …)
- You suddenly want too much too fast and are impatient with yourself (it must be possible!)
- The fact that the other person has achieved what is not (yet) accessible to you makes you more reverently shy than curious about how he/she has achieved it.
… then the competition is most likely not for you and rather blocks you in your progress, because your thoughts are not occupied with how you can become better, but why you are so much worse than others (focus on negative view = roadblock).
The flow state works better (you can also try it out if you are a competitive animal ;)).
When we enter the flow state while fulfilling a requirement, we become fully absorbed in the task and
- don’t take ourselves too seriously, but focus completely on the task and how we can do it well (and not on the comparison)
- achieve higher productivity, more performance and more effectiveness through this very focus.
- we forget about time. We dive in and when we emerge hours have passed that felt like minutes.
- experience satisfaction and joy because we feel successful self-efficacy and see it in the results.
- are motivated to continue.
But how can we achieve the flow state that gets our inner elephant moving so enthusiastically and facilitates goal achievement?
- Challenge yourself – instead of comparing yourself to others. You are the standard. No one else is in your body, your thoughts, your life. Beat yesterday!
- Find the perfect balance of demand and your abilities. The optimal level of challenge that enables flow is neither too high nor too low. So if you want to improve, choose a challenge that is a little bit above your skill level.
- Keep at it. When you start the task/exercise/habit, keep at it, don’t stop it when the first resistance appears or you don’t get it right away. Give flow time to emerge.
Flow makes you happy.
Flow enables peak performance.
Flow makes your inner elephant dance!
So – go with the flow!