Run Your Own Best Race
Do not waste time focusing on the gifts or good luck of others. Focus only on making the most of your own.
One of my favorite images from the Olympics was of South African Chad Le Clos in the 200m butterfly final glancing across to his arch rival Michael Phelps in the next lane. The fact that Phelps went on to win the race against Le Clos, who’d won it four years earlier at the London Olympics London, holds a poignant lesson for anyone who gets caught up focusing more on the progress of others than on furthering their own.
As social beings, it’s only natural to compare ourselves with those around us, particularly those with whom we share a common background or interest. Family members. Work colleagues. Competitors. Old friends. Neighbours. There’s even a name for it “Social comparison theory.” While it can make us grateful or boost our ego, we have to be vigilant not to judge our own worth or success against the people around us. Why? Because no matter how well we think we’re doing, there’ll always be someone who’s doing something better. Always.
Heck, one day even the incredible Michael Phelps will stop hauling in the Gold.
Here’s the truth as I see it:
Every minute you spend comparing how well you’re doing against someone else is a minute you aren’t spending running your own best race. Not only that, but the very act of comparing yourself generally triggers emotions that leave us feeling either resentful, intimidated, inferior, jealous, flat or fearful that our life just isn’t measuring up… that we aren’t measuring up!
Our innate tendency to compare is also why too much time on social media can be an act of self-sabotage. The continuous roll of other people’s highlight reels leaves many feeling like they’re missing out or falling short. Little wonder research has found that too much time on Facebook can trigger depression. Social media appeals to our vanity and vulnerability and can all too easily ensnare us in a web of negative comparisons. Interestingly enough, research shows that the happiest people aren’t those who only make the most positive comparisons with others. They are those who don’t make any! What they do instead is focus their efforts to improving themselves (and not living on Facebook!)
The truth is that we all have our own mountains to climb, strengths to nurture, and opportunities to seize. Likewise, we all have our own to hurdles to jump, burdens to carry, mistakes to learn from and fears to conquer. We bounce back from our setbacks faster and leverage our opportunities better when we are focused on making the very of what is right in front of us (and within us) rather than looking across to see whether we’re gaining (or losing) ground on those around us. Genuinely happy people focus only on doing the best with what they have and being the best version of themselves. What others are doing is irrelevant beyond the opportunity to deepen our gratitude, nurture compassion and avoid their mistakes.
Le Cros lost to Phelps by 0.04 seconds. Whether he would have still lost had he never glanced over at his rival we will never know. But one thing is certain, had Le Cros focused solely on running his own best race he’d likely have come in that little bit faster than he did.
As I wrote in Brave, “The only race that ever truly matters is the one you run is against yourself; to be that little bit better than you were yesterday.”
So run your own race and do the best you can with what you’ve got. The rest will take care of itself.
After all, when you give up comparing, you win.
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