Is Competition a Good Thing?

12 years ago, my mentor and colleague Mimi Herrmann said to me, “You hate competition. But you’re very competitive.”  I quickly said something like, “Shhhhhhh!!!  No one knows, and I’d like to keep it that way!”  When you have my personality pattern, it doesn’t feel safe to be competitive.  In my first career as a professional violinist, I would go to symphony orchestra auditions, which are very competitive, and make friends with everyone, encourage them to do well, but be secretly thinking to myself, “But not too well, because I want to win!”

Since then, I’ve done a lot of work to unlearn my buried competitive tendencies, and I’ve thought a lot about this subject.  As a violin teacher, I’ve seen the benefit of competition for students.  Most kids won’t push themselves to master a something as hard as playing the violin without the incentive of “sitting at the front of the orchestra.”  I certainly didn’t, nor have any of my students.  And trust me, you don’t want to hear an orchestra full of players who haven’t pushed themselves towards perfection.

But then, I look at what I’ve gleaned from work on my own competition issues and those of my Quanta Change clients.  There, I see a very different and detrimental aspect to competition.  It is an issue that stands squarely in opposition to expressing your uniqueness.  You can have one or the other, but not both at the same time.  And expressing your uniqueness is what you’re on the planet to do, so maybe competition isn’t such a good thing.

Competition and uniqueness are built on different platforms.  Competition is based on scarcity.  There’s a winner and a loser for everything, and you either try to win it or bury that need to win it.  If you’re one of the people who is saying, “But wait, I’m just not competitive,” you’re like me – you’ve buried the need to win.  I chose a competitive field, so that buried feeling was revealed to me, but you may have it so under wraps that you’re not even aware of it.  In any case, whether you compete or avoid competing, the way you relate to other people will very often be driven by that feeling.

Uniqueness, on the other hand, is built on a platform that is limited only by the number of souls in the universe.  Each of us has a unique gift and voice that is ours alone.  You can’t compete for something that is already yours, and no one can win it away from you.  Nor can you take anyone else’s from them.

A bonus of the uniqueness platform is that it breeds cooperation and teamwork.  Each person brings something different to the party, and everyone’s gifts work together.  When I was a kid in orchestra, it was hard to see that.  Winning the seat closest to the front of the orchestra was the only thing that mattered.  But once I started playing in professional orchestras, it didn’t matter where I sat.  On a very practical level, nearly everyone was being paid the same, playing the same music, and dealing with the same work issues.  And I started to learn that smart orchestras actually put some of the strongest players in the back of the violin section, because that helps keep everything together.  So sitting in the dreaded “last chair” became an honor.

From some bad gigs, I also started to understand the importance of every single player doing their part.  When only a couple of violinists in a section of 20 are playing the music well, the result is awful.  It might not be as glamorous to play in a violin section as it is to play principal flute, but a Brahms symphony only sounds good when all 80 people on stage are playing their own parts well. And of course, this counts for every position and job in society, no matter how humble it seems.

So, in the contest between competition and uniqueness, the latter wins for me, hands down.  I know we’re not getting rid of competition in our society any time soon, but I think we’ll be better off when we do.

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.

How to Find Compassion for Those Who Don’t Seem to Need It

“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” ~ Plato

“Really, everyone?”  15 years ago, that would have been my response to Plato.  There are lots of people in the world who show their battles clearly, and I think I find compassion easily for anyone who is having a rough time.   But what about the people who don’t seem to need my empathy or compassion?Continue reading

Your Uniqueness Makes More Light for Everyone

UniquenessYou embrace some form saying, “I am this.”
By God, you are not this or that or the other.
You are “Unique One,” “Heart-ravishing.”

I have the privilege of helping people discover this about themselves every day.  It can be a challenge – so often, our uniqueness is hidden from us.  Your wants, your needs, what really matters to you – these things are the key to uncovering your uniqueness.  When I ask my clients what it would feel like to have what matters to them, here are the typical responses that I get:Continue reading

Woman’s Dream Allows Her to Find New Ability to Care for Herself

I heard the best dream yesterday and just had to tell you about it.  The most productive time of day is when we’re dreaming – it’s when we recharge the sense of self and in Quanta Change, it’s when we permanently remove layers of the negative feeling called Learned Distress.  Well, the client who had this dream got a LOT of work done in it.  She went all the way back to high school, when the feeling “I don’t matter” got intensified in a big way for her, and she unlearned a big chunk of it in this dream.Continue reading

Why Doesn’t Joy Trigger Us to Change?

Have you ever made some fundamental change because things were going great?  If you have, you’ll be the first person I’ve heard of who has.  Usually, people show up in my office because they’ve hit a brick wall of some sort, and they feel that something has to change….now.

Why is it that we only change when things get “so bad”?  Well, it comes down to survival.  Your sense of self (which stores how you feel about being human and then generates every moment of your life from those feelings) is your survival mechanism—it’s literally how you feel you need to be to stay alive on the planet.  So, it’s actually quite natural that your sense of self resists change.

But what about changes that you know are good for you, like exercising more, eating well, not working so late?  Why would your sense of self resist changes that are obviously going to be beneficial?  It’s because your sense of self isn’t part of your thinking brain. Your sense of self was developed before you could think, so it doesn’t respond to rational thoughts.  It merely stores your survival mechanism as “the way it is to be human,” without regard to whether what it stores and generates is objectively good or bad for you.

Wait, really?  Yes.  Here’s an example.  Your sense of self was put into place when you were younger than 2 1/2, so let’s look at how a 2-year-old would respond to a change they feel affects their survival.  Think about an abused child who is being taken away from her abusive parent.  Often, she will cling to the person who was hurting her, because that person is her whole world – they have always provided her survival.  We know rationally that this child is going to be better off, but her little 2-year-old sense of self can’t understand that, so she clings.

Your sense of self never grows beyond the age of 2 1/2.  So, you’re always clinging to your survival mechanism, even when it is “abusing” you.  That’s why I always remind my clients to be kind to themselves when they’re making big changes.  The 2-year-old inside is just terrified, even by changes that make sense rationally.  So, it’s only when a situation becomes absolutely intolerable that we are willing to make the courageous leap away from the way we’ve survived all these years.

A situation I see over and over again is one created by the survival mechanism that says, “It’s not safe for me to matter or voice what I think.”  An example is someone who is constantly passed over for job promotions in favor of his subordinates, where his boss always second-guesses his decisions and never recognizes his accomplishments.  You’d think if this man were in the position to get another job, he would jump at it, right?  But if his sense of self includes the feeling that “it’s only safe to be silent and invisible,” this job is a perfect fit.  His sense of self says, “This is great!  I can survive forever like this!”

But there is a unique voice within each of us that yearns to be seen and heard and to openly express what truly matters.  At some point, this man will reach the point where the cost of burying that voice to in order to survive is just too high.  It will become too painful to stay invisible.  He will reach that brick wall that my clients talk about—and that they find Quanta Change helps them dismantle, layer by layer.  As the brick wall comes down, they more often find themselves in situations (often with the same people as before!) where they are invited to share their opinions and gifts, and where it feels safe and easy to do so.

Does this sound familiar? Is part of you screaming to make a change, but you just can’t seem to do it? What do you think is the survival mechanism standing in the way of your good change?

Update: The client I spoke of above had some significant changes in his job situation recently, as a result of working on the feeling that he does matter. He got a new boss who really honors my client’s opinions and who even asks for feedback on how he (the boss) is doing his job. He received an honorary bonus for the first time ever, after many years at the same company. He’s being recognized by many around him for his gift of managing difficult situations calmly. He said it’s a huge change for him that he’s amazed by, given that he hasn’t taken any rational action to make any of it happen, and he’s doing his job the same way he always has.

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.

Meet the 2-Year-Old in Charge of Your Life

The 2-year-old in charge of your lifeEvery moment of your life is generated by a 2-year-old.  Sounds crazy, right?  But every time I explain how this works to someone, the response is, “Finally, I can understand what’s going on in my life.  That makes so much sense!”

So, who is this 2-year-old, and how in the world did it get to be in charge?  The 2-year-old is your sense of self, the part of you that stores how you feel about being human, and it is the generating force behind every moment of your life.  Your sense of self was developed from conception until you were about 2 1/2 years old.  During this time, you absorbed how it feels to be human from the way those around you felt about being human – good or bad.

In a perfect world, the absorbing process was meant to expand your natural well-being, the kernel of energy you began with in the womb.  You should have reached age 2 1/2 feeling that it is GREAT being you, just as you are.  What went wrong?  Well, the people around you didn’t feel great about being themselves in every moment.  When they felt bad, your sense of self absorbed that feeling as “there is something wrong being human.” Actually, because your sense of self only really understands “me,” it absorbed that feeling as “there is something wrong with ME.”  We call this feeling Learned Distress.

Of course, you didn’t choose to store this feeling.  Your thinking brain hadn’t begun to operate yet, so you were just a sponge.  A sponge doesn’t have a choice in what it absorbs.  It takes it all in without any ability to discern what might be helpful or not. Your sense of self sponge couldn’t evaluate the negative feelings as “good” or “bad” for you – Learned Distress was just “the way life IS.”

So, by the age of 2 1/2, your sense of self had become a mixture of these 2 feelings: well-being and Learned Distress.  And each moment of your life has been generated from one of those basic feelings – automatically, without your conscious control or input.  (Click to read about the science that explains how this works.)  Of course, you have the ability to cope with or control the moments that don’t feel good, and you have undoubtedly developed good mechanisms to do just that.  But often, those mechanisms get overridden by the intensity of your Learned Distress.

Here’s an example from my own life.  My dad was diagnosed with kidney failure when I was still in the womb, and he died when I was 3 1/2.  So, one of my bits of Learned Distress became “the way to be an adult is to get sick and die.”  And in my 20’s, I did get sick – my endocrine function started to deteriorate.  After years of working with different doctors and approaches, I found an MD who had great success with my condition.  He evaluated me after several months on his regimen and said wasn’t working for me. On the surface, I was disappointed, but something deep inside me was jumping for joy.  This was puzzling until I looked at my Learned Distress.  If “the way to be an adult is to get sick and die,” I was right on track!  Success!   It makes no rational sense, right?  Who would be happy about that?   But the 2-year-old can’t operate rationally.  It’s just operating from what the sponge-like sense of self absorbed.

There are countless examples of  this – what we call negative Brain Direction: someone eating a certain food despite knowing it makes them feel bad, someone continually having their ideas ignored despite speaking up for themselves, someone whose career is going nowhere despite “doing everything right,” and the list goes on.

Where is your 2-year-old making life difficult?  What would it be like if well-being were the generating force behind your moments, instead?  The Quanta Change Process was designed to allow that to happen, which it does by permanently removing layers of Learned Distress.  The 2-year-old is always in charge, but when well-being is the generating force, life starts to look and feel very different.  As layers of Learned Distress peel away, the good things start to happen  just the way the negative moments have always happened – automatically!

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.

Why Seeing Things Differently Isn’t Enough

voyage of self-discovery“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” –Marcel Proust

I have a love-hate relationship with this quote. I love that it points toward a deep discovery of self as a way to experience life differently. But, if “having new eyes” means “understanding or seeing” oneself differently, it doesn’t go nearly far enough for me.Continue reading

How Dreams Run Your Life

Do you know how much influence your dreams having on your waking life?  It’s immeasurable.  Each night, your brain takes how you feel about being human to sleep with you.  It uses that feeling to recharge your sense of self, which is the invisible engine that generates every moment of your life.  Your dreams determine so much of what happens for you and how you feel about it!Continue reading

From Crisis to Creative Expression: A Quanta Change Success

Sometimes Quanta Change brings dramatic, longed-for changes.  One of these happened for a talented singer-songwriter and guitarist whose health issues prevented him from playing guitar for several years.  Having his favorite creative pursuit stifled was discouraging, but he had accepted it.  The direct connection between his health problems and inability to play led to a fascinating Quanta Change.Continue reading