Getting Ahead Of Yourself
Getting Ahead Of Yourself
September 23, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
It is often said that life is a rat race and, in some ways, it is. There is a related theory, however, that argues that, while life might be a rat race, there is only one rat running in each race – you. Hence, the real competition is not against the other rats but against yourself. The renowned British artist, Stewart B. Johnson, captures the essence of this concept in his quote that states that: “Our business in life is not to get ahead of others, but to get ahead of ourselves – to break our own records, to outstrip our yesterday by our today.”
Even though you are oftentimes told, “Don’t get ahead of yourself”, in this “rat race of one” the only way to win is to do exactly the opposite by striving to get ahead of yourself. Getting ahead of yourself involves getting past your doubts, fears and other limitations, in order to reach your highest potential. When you are able to consistently get ahead of yourself then you will consistently win. It is important to note that the entire race takes place in your mind. At the starting line of your personalized race you have two competitors who are all fired up and ready to go. Specifically, in your mind there is an eager winner who is brimming with confidence, optimism, resilience, diligence and passion for the race. Right there at the starting line is also a loser who is reeking of fear, doubt, shame, low self-esteem and who cannot get over past failures. The loser also represents your hyper-critical mind as well as other types of negativity. In short, the loser is a naysayer who is afraid of success and will do anything to botch the race.
Both of these competitors represent valid parts of you and both of them are desperately trying to dominate the race. Your challenge in getting ahead of yourself is to always ensure that the winner gets ahead of the loser. It is up to you to do everything in your power to always let the confident, resilient winner rise to the occasion and win the race. Only you can stop the loser from dominating the race. The loser dominates the race by psyching out and preventing the winner from even attempting to run or complete the race. When that occurs, the loser becomes the champion of your life as well as your most vociferous critic.
The implication of this concept of the “rat race of one” is that success at winning the race is determined by us and is within our capability to achieve. Also, the decision to award ourselves a medal, or not, is ultimately based on our discretion. In other words, success or failure is in the eyes of the beholder and only you can reward or punish yourself for your performance in the race. That said, don’t think that, because you are running against yourself, the race is easy or non-competitive – far from it. Your mind can play tricks on you, prevent you from appreciating your efforts and declare you a perennial loser who is undeserving of any medals. Sadly, but true, you can be your harshest critic and fiercest competitor. That is why, even when you beat out countless other rats, you might still not be satisfied or be any closer to being happy and feeling like a winner. In short, until you get ahead of yourself, by living up to your full potential and by besting your previous best, you will oftentimes not be satisfied.
To some of us, running against ourselves seems odd and pointless. It feels more rewarding to race against other people, beat them fairly and squarely and get a medal for doing so. To us, that is the essence of true competition. However, the real competition in life is winning against yourself and living up to your standards. Sorry to tell you but your colleagues at work are not your biggest competitors. Neither is anyone else you consider to be your archrival. While it might seem counterintuitive, nexus to the other rats in a competitive environment, for example at work, does not mean that we share the same race or that the reasons for wanting to win is the same for all of us. So, while we might visibly see the other rats racing, they are all on their personalized tracks trying to win their races for their unique reasons. Further, each race is based on how much we live up to our potential. Thus, the race is about you versus your potential as well as your level of satisfaction with how close you come to living up to that potential.
Always remember that winning against others does not guarantee you victory against yourself (i.e. satisfying yourself that you have lived up to your full potential). There are countless stories of people who excel in many aspects of their lives but still fall prey to lingering discontentment and disappointment in their minds. Hence, after they successfully do battle with their perceived competitors, they go home and fall prey to the harsh critics in their minds who were just not quite satisfied with their victories. Over and over again, they hear their own voices in their heads saying, “Come on, you could have done better than that!” Ultimately the race in your mind is the only race that counts and getting ahead of yourself is the only way to win this race. So how do you get ahead of yourself and silence your inner critic? Here are three things that you can do:
- Always bring your “A” game. In other words, always do your absolute best no matter what you are doing. It is best to not do something if you are not going to do it well. You might be successful at fooling others but it is actually quite difficult to fool yourself. Even if you are racking up promotions, raises, awards and medals with your “C” game, your inner critic will instantly know that you are winging it. You might be winning against the other rats but you are sorely losing against yourself because you are not living up to your full potential. When you sub-optimize your potential you will disappoint yourself. You also disappoint others. As Marianne Williamson points out, "Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you…[a]nd as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” It is when you disappoint yourself and others that the harsh critic in your mind gnaws at your conscience and any external victories that you experience might feel vacuous. So, in order to truly get ahead of yourself and silence your inner critic, you must always bring your “A” game and do your absolute best. It is only then that there will be no room for disappointment, shame and other negative emotions. Most importantly, it is only then that your inner critic will be speechless.
- Believe in yourself. According to Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right.” In other words, if you believe that you are a winner who can live up to your full potential you will succeed at winning. Conversely, if you believe that you are a loser who cannot live up to your full potential then you will succeed at losing. Why not err on the side of believing in yourself so that you can win? In life you are only capable of achieving what your mind believes you can achieve. The rat race of one is completely a mind game and discipline is the tool you must use to ensure that you do not get psyched out and lose your race against yourself. Discipline originates in the mind and it is the catalyst for success or failure. If your mind is not disciplined enough (e.g. it listens to negativity and cannot let go of past failures, etc.,) then you will not believe in yourself and you will not succeed at running the race in a disciplined fashion. It is your disciplined mind that makes you start and not stop. Also, when you stumble or fall, it compels your tired hands and feet to keep pressing on. The only way to get ahead of yourself is to use discipline to train your mind to specifically focus on thoughts, actions, people, places and things that promote your ability to believe in yourself and to achieve your full potential.
- Leverage accountability partners. Great competitors need partners who can hold them accountable for staying the course and reaching their full potential. As mentioned above, you can essentially terrorize yourself with nonsense if you fall prey to the negativity being spewed by the loser in your mind. For example, you might get stuck in the past or you might start to listen to all the negative thoughts and words that the loser keeps pulling out of the filing cabinet in your mind. When this occurs, you become an enemy to yourself. Also, when you can only hear the negative voices in your head, you have no reference point for what the truth really is and your ability to successfully run the race becomes impaired. Fortunately, just like the positive impact gained from training in a group or having a work out buddy, accountability partners can help you to develop the discipline to filter out negativity and provide you with a more confident and independent voice. This will not only help you to defend yourself against yourself but it will also help you to ultimately get ahead of yourself and win the race. In the end, you must invest the time to identify suitable accountability partners who care about you reaching your full potential. No one might immediately come to mind but these accountability partners are out there. If you diligently seek them out you will find them.
My challenge for you is to evaluate whether you are bringing your “A” game to the race every time. Also, ask yourself whether you really believe in yourself and your ability to attain your full potential. Finally, evaluate whether you have, or are doing enough to find, the right accountability partners who can help you to navigate the race and stay the course. If you are dissatisfied with your responses to these inquiries, then I encourage you to consider the above steps so that you can ensure that you will successfully get ahead of yourself in the future.