Alan Watts was one of the greatest philosophers and writers of the 20th century. Born in Chilsehurst, England, he wrote over 25 books related to Eastern and Western religion and went on to become one of the world’s most foremost authorities on Eastern culture and Zen Buddhism until his death in 1973. He once said:

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

If you’re a competitive Magic player, it goes without saying that you have ambitions within the game—things you want to achieve and successes you want to accomplish. While that’s all well and good, that desire and ambition can lead to one of the biggest traps that can derail progression and foster unhappiness and discontentment: Constantly making comparisons between yourself and everyone else around you.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. You see other players around you achieving the things you want and finding the success you want to find but that, for whatever reason, you just can’t seem to get your hands on. The longer it goes on and the more you continue to compare yourself and your accomplishments to everyone else, the more feelings of frustration and resentment grow as well—resentment toward yourself, the game, and even the other people who are managing to succeed while you’re not.

When you look up into the sky at night and gaze at the stars, you don’t spend much time, if any, comparing stars to one another. You just admire the phenomenon and appreciate their beauty. As corny as this might sound, I think the game of Magic should always be viewed in the same way. Like I said previously, it’s great to have ambition and the desire to achieve. But if that ambition and desire comes at the cost of enjoying the game and admiring it for the amazing game that it is, then you have to have a discussion with yourself about whether your ambitions and desires are worth it.

I’ve worked with successful professional athletes who found themselves unhappy even after achieving success that most people would give their right arm for. And, often, the major reason is because they eventually realize that their approach to success came at a cost they weren’t actually willing to pay. They reached their desired end destination, but they ended up feeling like they had missed the entire journey there. They spent their time constantly evaluating where they stood compared to everyone else and their own expectations—worrying, stressing, and comparing where they were to where they wanted to be so much that it robbed them of their ability to enjoy the day to day, live in the moment, and appreciate their time in the sport.

Speaking of which, this reminds me of another great quote from one of America’s greatest leaders, Theodore Roosevelt:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

If you spend all of your time and energy dwelling on what you don’t have or what you haven’t accomplished compared to others within the game, then you’re going to rob yourself of the ability to make meaningful progress and enjoy the game. Most importantly, you’ll look back on your time in the game with bad memories and realize, “I spent all of that time worrying and being frustrated when I should have enjoyed it more.” You don’t want that to happen.

You have to stop constantly comparing yourself and your accomplishments to everyone else around you. Here are a few ways to help you do that:

1) Prioritize the process, not the results.

This is a concept I’ve discussed many times here at ChannelFireball, but it’s so important. Competitive Magic is a results-based game, but the best way to get the results you want is to care less about the results. It’s a bit counter-intuitive and kind of an oxymoron, but it’s true. The less you’re emotionally invested in your results, and the more you’re emotionally invested in the journey itself, the better you feel. The better you feel, the better you play. The better you play, the better your results become. You end up getting all of the results you wanted anyway, but it didn’t require constantly stressing and worrying over them. Don’t spend time and energy comparing what you’ve accomplished to others, and instead focus on enjoying the journey and finding ways to improve into the best player you can be.

2) Follow and trust in your own path.

In 2015, Jackson Cunningham made it all the way to the finals of Pro Tour 2015. And do you know what was the most interesting part of that run? It was his first ever Pro Tour. His first Pro Tour and he makes it all the way to the finals. Let’s compare that to someone like Christian Calcano. Christian is a well-known accomplished player within the game, yet it took him over 20 Pro Tours before he made his first Top 8. Now, that’s not at all a knock on Calcano. It’s simply meant to illustrate an important point: Everyone’s path in the game is their own and everyone can arrive at the same end destination at different times.

It took Jackson Cunningham one Pro Tour to make a Top 8. It took Christian Calcano 20+. Neither path was right or wrong, or better or worse. It was just the way it happened to work out. Your path is also your own. You have to stop comparing your path to others’, and stay focused on your own. And, most importantly, you have to trust in your own path. You have to trust that if you put in the time, commitment, and perseverance to get to where you want to be, it will eventually come, whenever that may be. 

3) Create your own personal definition for success.

I’ve always tried to teach my clients that success isn’t something you can hold in your hand or point to on shelf. Success is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking and feeling, and you can feel successful every single day, even if you lose every game of Magic you play. It all depends on your own personal definition, because whether you realize it or not, you have one for what success means to you as a Magic player. Most people just never sit down with themselves to figure out and understand what that definition is. Having said that, is that even important? Does it really matter to understand what your personal definition for success is? Well, think about it.

If your definition for success in Magic is making the Top 8 of a major tournament, then you’re basically telling yourself that you’re a failure until you manage to accomplish that. You can’t feel successful until you reach that. And every time you fail to, what happens? You feel more and more like a failure, more and more like you’re unsuccessful, and more and more like it’s never going to happen. Every time you fall short of achieving your definition for success, your optimism and positive mindset chips away until there’s eventually nothing left and you quit pursuing it, or the game altogether, because you feel like a failure for never having been able to make it happen.

I’m a big believer that success should be something challenging, but easily attainable. It should be something you can experience on a daily basis or every time you go to compete. Success should always be something process-related, not outcome-related. For example, although I don’t have the winning resume of Ben Stark or Owen Turtenwald, I still consider myself a successful player and I feel successful every time I’m done playing in a tournament. That’s because my definition for success allows me to feel that way. My definition for success at a tournament is to have fun, be in the present moment, demand my best performance each game, and stay in control mentally the entire time. If I can do those four things, then I’ve had a successful tournament, regardless of the outcome. That’s what success means for me.

By having your own personal definition for success, you’ll stop comparing your material successes and accomplishments, or lack thereof, to others’. You’ll be focused on and satisfied with your own personal success because that success will truly be your own. You defined it and you created it. You won’t feel a need or an urge to compare it to others because you simply won’t care or see a need to. So, sit down with yourself. Ask yourself, “In order for me to feel like I’ve been successful in _________, what would need to happen?” and create your own personal definition for success that’s process-related, not outcome-related.

Now, in closing this article, I do want to state something clear—there’s nothing wrong with modeling. Modeling is different than making comparisons. Modeling is looking at someone and going, “What do they do that I can incorporate into my own game to make myself a better player?” It’s actively wanting to learn from others so that you can improve and grow. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the bad habit of measuring yourself against other people and your accomplishments against theirs that isn’t good. Learning from others doesn’t require you to compare yourself or your accomplishments to them. So keep that in mind.

I wrote a book about how to improve at the mental side of the game of Magic, which you can find on Amazon here. If you’re into this kind of subject matter, I really believe you can learn a lot from it, enjoy it, and make yourself a better player. Check it out, if you’re interested.

Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you again soon!