From an early age, we’re taught that self-starting, self-reliance and self-sufficiency are virtues. We’re shown that vulnerability is a weakness and the weak get devoured. We are introduced to one-on-one competition about the same time we learn to walk. We start learning that if we’re better than everyone else, we’ll be held up and celebrated. So we enter into competition with our peers and begin measuring our own self-worth against our perceptions of the worth of others. And thus begins a life-long cycle of looking outside ourselves for clues as to how we measure up. It’s human to seek superiority but if we believe superiority will deliver us to a meaningful and fulfilling life, we are sadly mistaken.

Why do we seek superiority?

We all know it feels good to win and be admired. We like praise and we seek it out, and our culture glamorizes the allure of being #1. We all share an innate desire to progress towards mastering what it is we pursue. But how do we determine mastery? Only when we compare ourselves to others do we have a (flawed) marker of our own capabilities. Yes, there can only be one #1, and going back to those early lessons in our lives – we value autonomy and being superior allows us a greater sense of autonomy.

Chasing superiority is a rigged game. The fact is, it actually lowers our happiness. We are terrible judges of own worth, and even worse at judging the worth of others. We just don’t have all the facts and as we all know people can have a nice veneer but underneath that thin layer, things are a mess. Those veneers are painted on with material possessions. The nicer, more expensive the things we have, the better off we are. Right? Wrong. Chasing superiority makes us materialistic but does nothing for our soul. We focus on the outside, our appearances, rather than how we are feeling on the inside. We hide behind stuff and it makes us miserable (not to mention, broke). And it goes without saying that no-one likes someone who is constantly seeking superiority. Those people we’ve all come across who put others down to make themselves look better, whose sole focus is winning at all costs, who constantly seek positive reinforcement.

As if this wasn’t enough, seeking superiority actually lowers our ability to perform. Studies have been done that show when we seek to be superior, we lower our brain’s capacity for intellectual tasks. Our desire for superiority can motivate us, but it doesn’t improve our performance.

If not superiority, then what?

So if we shouldn’t seek superiority, what should we be looking for? It’s called flow. You know – that state of being ‘in the zone’. We should seek out the things that give us full immersion – where time passes without notice – where we are so focused, energized and involved we seek nothing else but to continue in a state of flow.

Can you think of the last time you experienced a state of flow? It’s a great feeling and I’ll bet you were a happy camper coming from that experience. It’s satisfying and makes us likable too. But wait, easier said than done, right? Obtaining flow isn’t easy, but there are some tricks to getting back there:

  • Identify what you’re good at
  • Nurture your talents
  • Challenge yourself, but not too much
  • Serve a need
  • Find what you enjoy

If you’re interested in learning more about flow, I encourage you to read the aptly named book Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

In addition to flow, there are a couple of other ways to combat your superiority complex. First, give yourself a break. We can be our own worst enemies and we’re really, really hard on ourselves. Take a minute to think about all the great things you’ve done today, this week…month…year. Take comfort in knowing it’s never as bad as we think it is. Show yourself some compassion. Second, take a minute and think about all you have to be grateful for. Gratitude is your secret weapon (and actually helps with happiness in many ways). Allow yourself to be thankful for what you have, focus on those gifts (not what you don’t have) and ponder just how good you have it.

Your need for superiority, while it may be motivating, is holding you back. It’s harming your performance and your relationships. It is contributing to why you aren’t happy. Challenge yourself to stop the comparisons with others, let go of your need to be the best (hint – there’s a difference between doing your best and being the best). Instead, pursue things that bring you to a higher plane, give yourself permission to reflect on how amazing you are and take stock of the wonderful things in your life.