Competition Breeds Unproductive Envy
Competition Breeds Unproductive Envy

Competition Breeds Unproductive Envy

In the book “Think Like a Monk,” which Demetri and I just recently did a book review on, Jay Shetty discusses the toxicity of negative emotions and the ways in which those negative energies can radiate into the atmosphere. Shetty discusses negative emotions such as greed and hate, self-centeredness and ego, whining and helplessness. Shetty goes as far as to argue that even sympathy for a friend may have underlying motives of virtue signaling or selfishness.

One emotion the book hones in on is envy and its interconnections with competition. As with many monk teachings, Shetty is illustrating the superficial nature of emotion and true emptiness of thoughts like envy. To illustrate this, he offers a parable:

If someone else sells more apples than you yesterday, and less apples than you today, you have learned nothing about how much better you have gotten at selling apples.

Shetty argues that building our image of success upon the imperfections of others is to behave like the Foolish Builder from the Bible. In the book of Matthew, it is said the the foolish builder lays the foundation of his home on sand, and when the rain falls and the winds blow, the house collapses. Building our house upon sand can be likened to building our reputation upon the nature of others — unstable, easily moldable, and unreliable. Contrastingly, the wise man builds his house upon stone — that is, his house is built upon a strong, permanent faith in himself and God — and the house is able to endure the rains and winds from knocking it down.

Like the wise builder, we must build our measurements of success on a foundation that is concrete and unchanging, and according to many, such as the Yogacara Buddhists, the only entity that possesses true existence is our mind.

Thus, we must not look any further than between our ears for what will make us great. Simply, one needs to resist becoming a product of their environment and grasp a firm footing of what we envision ourselves becoming.

In the world of running, this is a mental battle I face repeatedly. Even though running is an objective sport — that is, you are defined by your ability to cross from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time as possible — I fall into the gimmicks of competition and envy nonetheless. There are times where I set a personal best by fifteen seconds and should be celebrating this breakthrough success, but if I lose to a teammate or competitor that my ego believes I should beat along the way, then the performance feels like a failure. This feeling of failure is rooted in an idea of success that preys upon the shortcomings of others rather than my own flourishing.

This unhealthy sense of success goes beyond athletic competition. Ask yourself, why do you want the better grade point average, more likes on Instagram, more views on YouTube, better results than your colleagues? Is this goal rooted in your own dreams of success or someone else’s failure metrics of what is good enough?

One of the most authentic ways to envision success and eliminate envy is to practice dreamlining. In “The 4-Hour Workweek,” Tim Ferriss describes dreamlining as imagining the end game experiences you wish to have, be, and do in your lifetime. The practice forces one to peel back the short-term fulfillments and ask oneself, “why am I doing this?” and “what do I truly desire?” As seen from the example worksheet from Ferriss, all dreamlining goals exist in a vacuum — they are objective rather than relational.

The goal is not to be a better-selling author than person X, Y or Z but simply to be a best-selling author. Ferriss does not wish to be more flexible than Simone Biles or a better cook than Gordon Ramsey. All his desires reflect inward growth as the ends, not as the means, to bettering others.

From this realization, I’ve come to learn competing against none other than myself is the most productive means towards growth.

First, an inward goal setting leads to inward system improvements. Instead of only stretching for ten minutes a day because that is what this teammate does or only aiming for the academic marks my colleagues hit, I search for what my body and mind feel are the appropriate steps towards my goals. From this inward search, I’ve found that I much prefer to do yoga versus static stretching after a run, and the study habits that optimize my time look far different than that of my classmates.

And secondly, an inward goal setting practice has brought me more fulfillment when success arrives. Prior to this realization, my goals felt like a sliding scale. Improvement only mattered if it meant I beat everyone around me. This lone wolf, alpha mentality is motivating, but unproductive and toxic. If all my teammates improve at the same rate as myself, I should feel compassion and pride in the fact that trained hard together and now reap the benefits as a collective.

As counter intuitive as it seems, building inward focused goals bolsters an attitude of loving-compassion. As we learn to love and respect our own journey, we learn to transpose those emotions outward to the rest of the world.

Have an awesome week!

  • Chantz

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