Being the best | Advice for Young People | Jigsaw

Being the best

Being the best

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

We live in a competitive world, where comparison is everywhere. It’s often present in school or college, on the sports field or in relation to social status.

There can be a focus on ‘being the best’ when we are ranked and compared to those around us.

At school or in college there is often competition, with exams designed to assess our academic ability. Ratings can be compared to every other person our age in Ireland.

Sports can come with pressure and a focus on winning. Even in non-competitive activities, such as the gym, we are encouraged to try to get a ‘personal best’. We might focus on doing more weights or improving our time, in competition with ourselves to be our best.

Online and on social media, we can usually see how many followers/friends, likes, or comments another person receives. We often compare our social media stats to those of others. Looking at posts and wondering why some got more support than others can become a habit. What stories are we telling ourselves about success and failure?

Close up photo of several gold stars

The good side of competition

With competition and comparison all around us, it can be hard to avoid the rating and ranking game. However, it can be helpful to know how we measure up to others to understand what we need to work on to progress.

Competition itself is not inherently ‘bad’. In fact, competition can be motivating and encouraging. It can help us reach our potential. Indeed, competition, and particularly winning, can be fun.

It can also lead to a sense of pressure, feelings of failure, disappointment, jealousy, fear and anxiety.

If you feel that pressure from others is unhelpful, consider talking to them about this.

Where is the pressure coming from?

External pressure

When thinking about the pressure to be the best, it’s helpful to understand where this comes from. Perhaps the pressure is external.

We can have teachers, coaches or parents pushing us to be number one. Is it possible to recognise their motivations? Are they trying to be encouraging? Would they be disappointed if we lose, despite trying our best? The way we view pressure from others and the motivation behind it can shape how it impacts on us.

  • If you feel that pressure from others is unhelpful, consider talking to them. Let them know how the pressure affects your performance.

Internal pressure

Perhaps the pressure to succeed is coming from within.

What are we telling ourselves? Are we valuing ourselves solely on our achievements and being the best? If we don’t succeed, does that mean we are unlovable or worthless? What’s the worst that can happen if we aren’t the top of the class or the best on the field? Can we allow ourselves to take the foot off the pedal?

  • Remember, no one can be the best at everything all of the time. Listen to the stories we tell ourselves about success and failure, winning and losing. Do we say things to ourselves we would never say to a friend or teammate? Read more about managing self-criticism.
If we define ourselves purely on our achievements, it can be damaging for our self-esteem when we can’t achieve what we set out to do.

Getting a balance

A little bit of pressure or competition can motivate us but too much can be harmful. Sometimes, we make more mistakes because we feel under pressure. These mistakes wouldn’t be the end of the world under normal circumstances, but because we’re so focused on being the best they can seem catastrophic.

  • When it comes to competition, it’s important to maintain a balance. Try to keep winning, losing and competitive pressure in perspective.

Being knocked off the top spot

If we define ourselves purely by our achievements, it can be damaging for our self-esteem when we can’t achieve what we set out to do. If we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, we can feel badly affected when we no longer measure up.

We see examples of this at Jigsaw. Young people can move from one situation, where they were the best, to a new situation where the competition is different or stronger. This could be moving from primary school to secondary school or from school to university. Someone who was top of their year can find themselves placed a lot lower, which can be disheartening.

We also see the negative impact of focusing solely on achievements when someone can no longer do the thing that they were good at.

For example, an athlete becomes injured and can no longer run. If their self-worth was based primarily on their achievements as a runner, it can be very challenging when this is no longer possible.

  • To avoid this, we need to take a more rounded view of ourselves. Consider the merit of what we do. Place value on our characteristics, how we behave and the choices we make, as well as our achievements.

Being good enough

There are many factors that impact on how well we do. Our environment and the demands placed on us can all have an effect. Internal factors such as our energy levels, or physical and mental health, also play a role.

When we try something new, we may not be ‘the best’ compared to others. Rather than being the best, we can shift our mindset to aim for being ‘good enough’ or ‘doing our best’.

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