Curbing The Urge To Compare & Compete

Would you rather:

A) Make $50,000 while knowing all your friends and acquaintances earned $25,000

or

B) Make $100,000 while knowing all your friends and acquaintances earned $200,000

I don’t really know if it’s surprising or not, but presented with this question, the majority went for Option A. And this choice wasn’t made because these people applied their knowledge of purchasing power or inflation really well (I digress). Instead, this showed that most people just wanted to be ahead of their peers.

This mentality can be really useful since without it, our ancestors would probably not be able to out-compete predators to survive and then out-compete fellow humans to find a mating partner. You get what I mean? =)

But then, as you can see from the choices many made in the experiment above, this mentality does lead to irrational behaviour sometimes. And it’s not just the average Tom, Dick and Harry that’s afflicted by it. Isaac Newton & Thomas Edison are highly regarded as great scientific men (always knew that from many of my Primary School Chinese text ) but to get a complete picture of their characters and the perils of competition, it might be useful to read up on Robert Hooke and Nikola Tesla respectively.

Great men come with great flaws, eh? So it’s not surprising that I am also susceptible to the urge to compare and compete. =p

And at the risk of embarrassing ourselves (Some observation in the Mrs too), I shall acknowledge that it’s sometimes senseless, especially in these areas below:

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Personal Finance

I realised that ever since I started this blog, I have been much more active in the stock market. There are good reasons for this. Firstly, some shares have tumbled slightly compared to early 2013 and then we were also done with the two money bombs, our wedding and renovation. So we had some excess cashflow and wanted to put it into good use.

However, I am secretly wondering if I was trying to “catch up” with other local financial bloggers during this period of time. B with his current portfolio of close to a quarter of a million comes to mind. Since we are of a similar age, there is a good chance I might have subconsciously used his portfolio as a benchmark. If this is true, I am thankful that I haven’t gone overboard.

P.S. Don’t worry, B. I am definitely not hoping that your portfolio will crash just to get “ahead”. Afterall, we do share some common holdings. =p

Fitness

I picked up swimming not long ago, after learning from a series of Youtubes. Mrs 15HWW can swim decently and I used her as my benchmark then. I was slower than her initially, but even then, I always wanted to know how far I was behind her to monitor my progress. I would always make sure we start out a lap at about the same time and then I always find myself quickening my pace when I was running out of distance to catch up in a lap. As a result, I was always gasping in the end as my strokes and breathing became messed up. Not the best way to learn, I guess.

I have surpassed her since then and I have looked to other “targets”. Whenever a good female swimmer is in the pool, I will inadvertently be pacing myself against them. Afterall, a guy’s supposed to be faster, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In the end, instead of enjoying the session, I could be fatigued and “angry” with myself at the end of the session. Isn’t that absurd? Mrs 15HWW simply can’t stand this competitive streak of mine in the pool too.

Wedding and Renovations

Sometimes after a house warming at a friend’s place, Mrs 15HWW would just remark at how beautiful our house is just before we turn in for the night. We would start talking about our brick walls and the dining table all over again and sometimes she would “lament” at how not-value-for-money others’ renovations are. Oops.

And after being to two weddings during the past two weeks, she has started comparing their weddings to ours. Be it the venue, quality of the food, the ambience or the chandeliers in the ballroom. A tinge of envy most of the time.

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By acknowledging our urge to compare and compete, it should help us to detect it and then to subsequently curb it. All the best if you’re also trying to stop obsessing over how others are doing relative to you!

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14 thoughts on “Curbing The Urge To Compare & Compete

  1. Jared Seah

    15HWW,

    With the awareness in catching ourselves when we wallow in self-pity or laughing at others, how can we not improve our happiness index and EQ?

    We won’t worry whether our T-shirts have the right brand or style of the season; and we don’t mock others if their T-shirts have holes in them.

    At your relative young age, you are already looking at yourself from the outside looking in… Wow!

    Impressive.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi SMOL,

      I am a big fan of stoicism and I am even inclined to say that I am a practicing student (although not doing too well so far, I would say).

      After your comments on one of SGYI’s post, I decided to do a thorough reflection and hence, this post! So credit must go to the both of you too.

      Maybe I should make it a daily practice to look at what I have done for the day from a 3rd person perspective. Hopefully, like what you say, my happiness index a, EQ and most importantly, life will improve!

  2. LP

    Hi 15HWW,

    Usually my wife does the comparing and the competition. I prefer to compare myself against me in the past. Perhaps it’s the nature of my job, where I don’t really have to put myself in situations where I had no choice but to compare with others. Better for me actually because I understand that it can be quite emotionally unbalanced.

    Sometimes the difference between a good and a bad day is just that you’ve learnt your sec-sch friends earn a few k more than you do, all other things being the same. When I encounter this, I usually started numbering the things that I’m thankful and grateful for. Works most of the time lol

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi LP,

      I am inclined to think that even comparing against our past (esp excessively) could have negative side effects too. Sometimes natural limits are reached and it might be pointless to improve some more?

      Emphathise with you on the difference between a good day and a bad day. I sometimes catch myself being “angry” when a peer with poorer grades than me is doing much better than me in terms of income now. But on hindsight, it’s pretty silly, especially since I am an advocate of social mobility beyond our grades and background.

  3. SG Young Investment

    Hi 15HWW,

    Very good article! Humans always want to have better things. Better cars, better house. This most of the time cause our unhapiness.

    Sometimes all these comparing do motivate us to do something better for our lives so its not so bad after all. Its bad if we don’t know when to stop and still unhappy even though we have reach our goals. I always believe in one thing that is if we can’t be happy now when we have little, then most likely we also won’t be happy when we have a lot. Happiness is a choice. We can choose to be happy no matter what.

    Still, I think we should enjoy the process of life. We’re sometimes too focused on results and sacrifice too much just to achieve something. Some overwork and pay with their health just to earn more money. Is it worth it?

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi SGYI,

      Precisely. Happiness is a choice. One can be positive even in the most dire of circumstances. I would recommend you to read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” if you haven’t already.

      “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

      1. SG Young Investment

        Hi 15HWW,

        Thanks for the book recommendation. Will check it out. You must have been reading the various comments on my blog which set you thinking. We’re in our early stages of adulthood so I guess our thoughts and emotions are different from those who’re older than us. We still got lots to learn. Everyone of us have got different priorities in our lives. Whether its worth it to pursue or not will be known in later parts of our lives. Most importantly is live life to the fulles and never live in regret no matter what.

  4. B

    Hi HWW

    Ohh noo… I hope my portfolio is not going to crash insanelessly soon 🙂

    My intention of starting the blog was to provide motivation and learning both to myself and the public who are ignorant about money. It paid off in some sense as I do have friends now who are under the influence of all our financial.bloggers postings have made various improvements in their lives financially. I really hope that it doesnt provide a sense of jealousy or showing off atittude and the chase for a higher portfolio. I think we are all too smart to realize that.

    But like what you and SGYI have mentioned. If it does provide that little bit of motivations then its great but otherwise its meaningless to simply compare around when we hv different backgrounds and needs.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi B,

      Apologies for using you as an example without seeking your permission first. And no worries, the market went up by quite a big today. =p

      Besides influencing and inspiring readers, I have also learnt alot from others after starting a blog and engaging in discussion with other bloggers and readers.

      To learn, some form of comparison is unavoidable. But like what SMOL said, we really shouldn’t reach a situation where one wallows in self-pity because his portfolio is smaller or look down on others if the situation reverse. After all, everyone has different circumstances to contend with.

      1. B

        Hi HWW

        Please don’t apologise 🙂 You are helping me to increase awareness. I am happy for it.

        I am learning everyday, thanks to your posts and the other financial bloggers posting even if it is their own personal experience, I can relate to that. I hope you don’t find guilty for comparing yourself to others, which as you said is inevitable at times. I think you and Mrs. HWW are a role model for many and I think many would have look up well to you, at least I do 😉

  5. Money Honey

    When you are comparing apple to orange within fruits category, is this fair?

    Even when it is within so-called same category of fruit, is it still fair comparison; on Mandarin orange, between Lukan or Swatow, which is better?

    How about durian?
    D13? D24? XO?
    Some people like myself prefers ang-mo-liu-lian (local name for Soursop)

    Investors are different too even when all claim to have investment style liken themselves to be Warren Buffett.

    It is important to be peaceful with yourself.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Money Honey,

      Everyone wants to be like Warren Buffett. But there’s only one Warren Buffett, just like there’s only one Money Honey and one 15 HWW.

      However, it does take effort to remind myself of the above “truth” and curb my innate urge to compare and compete. Have been trained to be competitive since young too. =p

  6. J

    Hi you had your dinner at hilton? On hindsight what do u think of hilton compared to the weddings u have been to? Why do u say u see them with envy? 🙂

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi J,

      Yup, we had our wedding banquet at Hilton and it was really good. However, when I was writing this post, we had just been to one of our friend’s wedding at InterContinental which was really posh and grand. Oh well…