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By Jane Sandwood

Vince Lombardi espoused a value shared by many sports fans when he said, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” While being competitive and doing one’s best are indeed laudable virtues, should they be our main aspiration? Studies indicate that when it comes to reaping real benefits from life, self-improvement and caring win out over competition, which prompts the question: is it time for a shift in the way we view ourselves and the world around us?

Self-Improvement Reaps Greater Rewards

A study by scientists at Michigan State University found that athletes who were trained by coaches who emphasized the importance of teamwork rather than winning, reported deeper life skills and character development. Creating a focus on self-improvement works on two levels: on the one hand, it hones social skills, by promoting care about others’ emotional well-being. On the other hand, it creates a stronger sense of identity – one that exists irrespective of whether or not one ‘wins’ at one’s chosen sport. The researchers concluded that it was up to coaches to stress the importance of self-improvement, so that players can take something more meaningful from sport; something they cannot achieve by merely testing their mettle in accordance with what the scoreboard says.

Why is Teamwork So Important for Self-Improvement?

Research by the Association for Psychological Science showed that how you think about your goals (whether you wish to improve yourself or, instead, outperform others), affects whether or not you achieve these goals. It can also affect your relationships with others. The researchers noted that it was important to balance both regardless of your goal. If you simply work hard to beat others (as an elite athlete might do), you might miss out on sharing and listening to different perspectives, and cease to build fruitful, long-lasting relationships with others.

Tempering High Expectations with Self-Compassion

Self-improvement essentially aims at improving self-confidence through achievements. Self-compassion, however, works very differently. Its focus is on being kind and accepting to ourselves, as much as we would be to others. While trying to improve daily or as part of a long-term plan can bring positive gains, balancing this out with self-compassion is key if we are to maintain our mental health and well-being.

Studies on Self-Compassion

A study by researchers at Duke University found that treating yourself kindly during tough or disappointing times could be an important aid to weathering these moments with grace. As noted by the scientists, “Self-compassion helps to eliminate a lot of the anger, depression and pain we experience when things go badly.” They added that those who were self compassionate had less negative emotions to bad events, they accepted more responsibility for the things that went wrong, and they reacted less narcissistically to failure than those without this quality. Because their sense of self-esteem was not dependent solely on their achievements, when bad things happened, they were still able to enjoy mental tranquillity.

Self-improvement can make us into stronger, more caring individuals. When our goals are centered on improving relationships with others as well as achieving personal goals, we can benefit from shared information and more enriching relationships. Regardless of the areas of our lives we wish to improve, we should also remember to be self-compassionate, as a buffer for the times in which we do not achieve important goals.


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