Saturday, 1 June 2013

Play the ball, not the man

Some people possess an aura that instills feelings ranging from immense respect to fear into their peers.  While these people are extremely skilled and competent, the media and society often amplify their achievements to exaggerated levels.  They get billed as geniuses, oracles, visionaries, magnates, gurus or the perennial favorite: unstoppable.

Jennifer Brown from the University of California, Berkeley, did a study which revealed that professional golfers performed worse when they played against Tiger Woods.  Exempt golfers (the most skilled players who don't have to qualify for a tournament) are almost one stroke higher when they play against Woods.  When Woods was on a winning streak the study found the "superstar effect" to be even more pronounced on the other players: they would perform much worse than what was customary for them.  Nevermind Tiger Woods going on the prowl; the individual performance of his competitors dropped in his mere presence.

Yet when you play golf you’re hitting a ball.  It's you, your club, the wind and that ball.  In fact the ball is all you're playing in most sports.  In a game like Soccer there happens to be an opposing player controlling the ball, but it's still the ball you're after, not the man.

Focusing on a competitor takes your eyes off the only thing that matters and the only thing you can control: your game.  You're not going to perform by watching someone else, you will only perform when you extract the best out of your abilities.

Don't compete against other people.  Don't compete against yourself either.  People (yourself included) are hard to measure.  Compete against a target, a goal.  This goal can be based on what someone else has achieved, but make sure you're pitting yourself against the target and not the person who set it.  It's about swimming a lap within a certain time, scoring the highest possible mark in an examination, selling a certain number of products, or investing to earn a desired return with tolerable risk.

It's an illusion to compete against another person.  In any case, real life isn't a sporting arena and not everything you desire is something you have to compete against someone else for.  Competing against other people is a tiring game that has no ultimate winner - the "winner" keeps changing and the goalposts therefore keep moving for those who play the man instead of the ball.

Consider: you may be setting the bar too low if you use another person as a benchmark.  It's best to seek gratification through the meeting of personal targets instead of victory over a particular person, because the gratification from meeting your expectation will outlast the satisfaction of beating someone else.

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