If you’ve ever been to a swim meet where young children were competing, you’ve seen The Peek. During the race, usually breaststroke, a swimmer will turn his/her head to check out the competition. Some little ones do this occasionally, some almost constantly, some are obvious, and some get very good at being subtle about it. And some never lose the habit.
It is an almost irresistible desire when you’re racing: wanting to know where your competition is. Am I ahead? Am I behind? How am I doing? Unfortunately, giving in to that temptation alters the outcome of your race. As soon as you change your head position to check out someone else, you change your body position, and ultimately change how you end up doing. You have no effect on the other person, but comparing yourself to them has changed YOUR race.
That’s pretty powerful.
Beyond the physical detriment to head and body position that a swimmer experiences by peeking, there is a mental/emotional effect as well. By expanding your focus to include how someone else is doing, you let go of following your own plan and you allow their experience to become part of how you define yours. In a swim race, that can end up as either, “I did well because I beat Johnny” or “I did my best, but I lost to Johnny so it wasn’t that good”. Instead of comparing ourselves against our own plan or our own progress over time, it becomes about the comparison against someone else.
Comparing ourselves to others is the ultimate sucker’s game. There is no winning this one. There will ALWAYS be, for EVERYONE, someone who has more, is better at something, etc. We all have people who make us feel inferior. Social media hasn’t helped, since now we can peek into other people’s lives with impunity, forgetting that Facebook is the ultimate ongoing “Christmas Letter”, full of everyone’s surface wonderfulness. Reading Facebook, one would think that no one is unhappy, failing school, a bad cook, fighting with their kids, in danger of being laid off, unable to afford vacation, or worrying that their spouse is cheating on them. We are all looking around, peeking constantly at our “competition”, and becoming more and more convinced that we are “losing”.
Comparing ourselves to others alters the outcome of our journeys, plain and simple. We cannot be our best selves if we are focused on someone else. We cannot be truly happy and at peace if we define success in terms of someone else’s journey. When we make comparisons, we only hurt ourselves in the end.
So, at least for today, No Peeking!