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Healthy competition? My foot

The focus this week is on the stress we experience when we fuss too much about competition. How our rival will fare matters much more to us than how we fare vis-à-vis our own self.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2011 01:08 IST
Sonal Kalra

I’ve been getting a lot of emails in the past few weeks from students asking me to write about examination stress in this column. And my response to all of them is the same — I really don’t know what to say to those who fret about not doing well in exams. Because I genuinely don’t believe in exam scores being the right criteria for judging a good or a bad student. And also because after being stressed my entire student life because I competed with a classmate over every single mark, I now realise how utterly meaningless…and needless that stress was, in the overall scheme of life. Anyhow, I’m not talking about just exams here. The focus this week is on the stress we experience when we fuss too much about competition. How our rival will fare matters much more to us than how we fare vis-à-vis our own self.

In school or college, we secretly feel happy when a classmate gets lesser marks than us. It’s another matter that we ourselves may have barely passed. The grief we feel if the Indian cricket team loses out in the world cup quarterfinal kinda melts away if Pakistan’s team loses too… ain’t it? I feel always being worried about how someone else is doing turns out to be a big factor to rob us of calmness in life.

Here’s why…
1.When we compete with ourselves, it is on the basis of criteria we have set on our own. But when we compete aggressively with others, it is like measuring ourselves with a yardstick set by someone else. And that’s simply not fair, or sustainable. For instance, whenever I make a decision to work out, I’m able to sustain it for long if I try to better myself by adding five additional minutes to the treadmill or jogging time each day. On the contrary, if I try matching up with friends who’ve spent a lifetime in the gym, I find it difficult to cope and give up soon after.

2.Always competing with others may lead to a situation where, if you happen to reach the top, you’ll risk getting complacent very soon. It’ll seem as if there’s no place to go any further, and hence no incentive for you to continue working harder. Competing with yourself, however, leads to a constant learning process, that too at your own pace.

3. Forever getting bothered about how others are performing is too taxing on the mind. A friend of mine has a rule of never asking her son about how much marks his friends have got, when the results get declared. She compares her son’s performance with his own from the previous exams and it’s a party at home if he has done better than himself. “Asking about someone else’s marks and constantly bothering about his rank in the class used to be so stressful. One day I thought if the whole idea of growth is to become better each year, why not focus just on that and not bother about others,” she says. I’m not sure if her decision to not look at growth as relative or comparative is wise or not, but I do know for sure that I almost always see her son happy and relaxed.

I feel the term ‘healthy competition’ is one of the most misused and misunderstood terms. It gives us a reason to justify fierce and aggressive competition as long as no unfair means are being used. But tell me, competition may be healthy but what good is it if it makes you unhealthy? We may think that competition is unavoidable because there’s only one spot on the top, or only one position at work to vie for, or only one business contract that bag…but actually, the truth is that there’s scope in this world for everyone to succeed. We only need to focus on the differences that set us apart rather than trying to be clones of each other in this ‘cut-throat’ world. By the way, I hate this term ‘cut-throat competition’, used so easily even when we are simply telling kids to do better in exams. I don’t want to cut throats … I surely don’t want mine to be cut either. So competing just with myself is much
easier to relax…and survive. Think about it.

Sonal Kalra has written this piece in a deep, philosophical mood, as you may have noticed. No, she hasn’t turned a spiritual guru, just that she wants to submit this write-up for a spiritual writing contest. The competition is fierce, so it better be serious.

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