The Pleasures and Perils of Competitive Spirit: Doing all the Right Things for all the Wrong Reasons

Competition is negative when we wish to defeat others, to bring them down in order to lift ourselves up. ~ Dalai Lama

For as long as I remember, I’ve been troubled by competition.  Even as a small child, I felt bad when someone lost, because I believed that it made him/her feel bad.  I also felt guilt for winning.  Yet, even while I have and do experience these conflicted feelings, I did grow up in a culture that places a high priority on competition, individuality, and winning.  And ultimately, at the bottom of things, I am a competitive person.  This has exhibited itself in a variety of ways in  my life, to both my benefit and my detriment.

In one example of the benefit of the competitive spirit, I always wanted to get the best grades in any class that I took.  This drove me to work hard and I excelled because of that.  I don’t know if I would have gotten my PhD without that drive.  In an example of the drawbacks of competitive spirit, 20 years later, I still give myself grief over the fact that my first labor and delivery didn’t go the way I wanted – I didn’t do it perfectly.  And, I won’t even get into the relationship between competition, body image, and e.d.

While there are many things that could be discussed regarding this, this is a yoga/veganism blog.  So, today I consider how the competitive spirit impacts these things for me, and I believe for others, in both positive and negative ways.

I’m a vegan.  I’m working on being a raw foodist.  Being competitive, I want to be the *best* at both of these things.  For me, this has meant an increased commitment to researching options for vegan items, both food and non food, and figuring out ways to adapt my life that I think are ultimately good for me and for others.  But, it also means that I sometimes get cranky when other people say they are vegans or vegetarians but (from my standards) “really” aren’t (i.e. “I’m a vegetarian; I only eat fish and chicken”).  And there are times when I can be a little superior about my diet.  I know that I’m not alone here.  My first foray into raw foodism included reading several books and visiting online forums regarding a raw food diet.  What I saw was a little appalling.  While some good information and support was provided, in many venues there seemed to be more fighting over whose version of raw foodism was the best version, who had the best guru, and whose plan was the most healthy.  Hell, people even fight over who picked the best juicer (and then we get into the juicer or blender debate… don’t get me started).

In yoga, my competitive nature almost prevented me from starting in the first place (“I won’t be really good at it, so why try?”) and, as I noted in my last blog, it still sometimes causes me to steal opportunities from myself because I don’t want to fail and be the loser.  I also find that there are times when I pay too much attention to where I am, relative to other students in the class, instead of just being in the pose and with the breath.  Again, I have seen evidence that others also experience this, when I’ve gotten into the middle of arguments about what type of yoga practice is best, whether props should or shouldn’t be used, etc.  It’s sort of ironic, really.  But, while I generally think that competition should not be a part of yoga, it also pushes me to play my edges, keep improving, not let my practice stagnate at one level.

What’s the moral of the story?  I really think that competition is probably not needed or particularly appropriate in yoga or in raw foodism.  But, sometimes it can be the driving force to get you to do what is right behaviorally, even if it isn’t for the best of reasons.  Then again, I could be wrong… but I doubt it,  because you know that my blog is better than yours ; )

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One Response to The Pleasures and Perils of Competitive Spirit: Doing all the Right Things for all the Wrong Reasons

  1. Maria says:

    Wow – this one really hits home. I’m definitely competitive by nature – and like you, can be very conflicted about it. And, I loved the description of the debates in veganism and raw foodism – it’s the same deal in running and triathlon. It actually made me laugh how silly it can be – after all, aren’t there many paths we can take to improvement? Thanks so much for this most inspiring post.

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