This is taken from a section in my upcoming book “The Flow State”.
A lot of people are averse to “beating” another, feeling that “winning” is at another persons expense. So instead of trying to win the game, they focus on playing well. This no-desire state can be relaxing, as it lacks Ego. But it’s based on a misunderstanding of the purpose of competition. Competition has little to do with the Egos rigid focus on subduing others. The flip-side of that rigidity, is lack of determination. The sweet spot is in between the two: You can have intention to win, that does not involve all the worries that go along with it.
External obstacles let you learn about your abilities and limits. Once you realize that, competition becomes your friend. Losing, failure, competition and challenge are tools of self-discovery. Yes, opposition is a mere tool, not the dramatic disaster some people make it. Every goal and every game has obstacles to overcome. Without them, there is no game and no growth. The bigger the obstacle, the more ingenuity and courage it brings out of you. If there is no opponent, focus weakens. Competition allows you to achieve peak performance.
“Winning” is not about bragging or oppressing others, it’s about potential. Your potential. The path to a goal is more valuable than reaching it. It was never about the goal, it’s about who you become as a person, while overcoming obstacles. The goal is merely the carrot stick that lures you onto an obstacle-course, where you can grow. Regardless of whether you have achieved your goal or not, look at who you have become while pursuing it. You might as well believe in a fairy-tale goal that doesn’t really exist, but if pursuing it makes you better, who am I to argue?
Your “opponent” is your friend. This friend tries to make things as hard as possible for you. He or she is helping you learn and become better. Just this little re-frame of what opposition means, can reframe your whole experience of life and the world. Then, instead of an ordeal, it becomes a fun play.
In playing tennis, I remember a time that I was hoping my opponent makes a bunch of mistakes. “Yes, hit into the net! Yes, let’s see you double-fault!” I wished. After I changed my attitude, I began to hope that my opponent is strong, well, healthy, fit, successful, possibly even stronger than me. This shift made me a better player and also put me into a stronger position to return the ball. Nothing is gained by hoping for a weaker player, just so my Ego could say “I won the game”. Sure, I did want to win, but more importantly, I wanted to grow my skills. Winning against a weaker player doesn’t feel like much of a win. The real “win” is not the final outcome, it’s learning and growing during the game.
This shift in attitude also meant, I let go of worrying about other players lack of skill. If my opponent wasn’t good enough, I used to go soft on them, playing easy balls. But how could they ever develop if I only went easy on them? So I began playing balls I “knew” they “couldn’t get” – and it turned out that indeed, sometimes they could get the hard balls. My “compassion” had not been helping them stretch beyond their current ability. A lot of so-called “compassion” really isn’t. It’s pity, which is truly disempowering. How do you feel when you are across from someone who has pity with you or views you as weak and helpless? That doesn’t mean I now play all balls hard, without consideration. A person can enter flow at a level slightly above their comfort zone, when the challenge is neither too hard, nor too soft. But today, I mostly play my authentic game, without worry about how it will be taken by others. I am responsible for my game, they are responsible for theirs. This manner of Being, makes things flow smoothly. The exception is, when there is a player several levels below mine. Then genuine compassion arises and I intentionally hit the ball to help the person get into their own flow. And so we live our lives, developing our own skill and flow and helping others achieve theirs.