The Fire Within
Grappling with over-competitiveness and how to harness competition for your own growth
Okay here's the deal. I'm writing this as a 22 year old Law Graduate, Social Entrepreneur, Sports fanatic, and photography hobbyist. And in each of those aspects of my life (and essentially every other aspect of my life) there is this one part of my personality that I notice carries over each and every time. My competitive nature. For as long as I can remember I have always craved competition in order to drive my own success. I often manufacture that competition by putting headphones on and listening to hip hop artists rap bars about why THEY are running the 'game' and why everyone else needs to get out of the way. I take those words and I conjure up some ridiculous scenario in which I might be pitted against someone else (usually someone I know so it is more relatable) and I leave that person in my wake.
Law School is a generally competitive place. There are a bunch of really bright, really ambitious people concentrated in a small cohort and amongst that cohort there are a lot of people who want to be the best. I am one of those people. So when I first started at University I began doing mock trials (also known as moot competitions) as an extra-curricular activity. As soon as I had done one, I sought an opportunity to do another, and another. Because I realised that in these mock trials I had a legitimate platform on which I could stand and literally beat someone else in an adversarial situation. Over the course of my degree I would have done 20+ mock trials and even went to Oxford University to do it for two consecutive years. I didn't win them all, but these mock trials filled a burning desire for competition in my law school journey.
How about sports? Sports is the coal-face of competition. There is arguably no more competitive forum than a sporting one. So, naturally, I follow sports teams in all different sports across the globe in order to satisfy my craving to embrace competition. AFL, Cricket, Soccer, Gridiron (American Football), Basketball, Baseball, Tennis, Golf, heck I even have a favourite Ice Hockey team. I take every opportunity I can to watch these teams and my mood is often dictated by whether or not they win on that given day. When they win, I'm a much more pleasant person to be around than when they lose.
Of course there are many more examples I could give but it is about time I got to the point.
Competitiveness - like anything - has pros and cons. A pro is that competitiveness fuels motivation and helps you work towards being your best self. Competitiveness also gives you a passion to do something and do it well. But, I have also experienced the negative aspects of competitiveness. It can alienate you from less competitive people around you, it can lead to extreme highs and lows in your mood and it can also have long term negative effects on your mental health. A competitor often takes loss or failure to heart. It affects you more than someone who is less competitive. And, over time, if you consistently take failure to heart you can end up being too hard on yourself which may contribute to a lower mental state and even anxiety and depression.
I have felt the brunt of my competitiveness but it has also put me in a position today where I can say that I have achieved so many things I never otherwise would have. So, I thought I'd write down some of my thoughts on how draw motivation from a well-balanced variety of places rather than a desire to experience victory often at someone else’s expense.
Getting caught up in competitive fervour is easy once you're in it. But once you’re in it, if you are the type of person I am, it is often very difficult to escape from. So, the trick is not to get too caught up in it in the first place. Sounds easier said than done, right? Well, yes, it is definitely easier said than done. But here are three of my top tips for focusing on you before you focus on competing with someone else.
The 90-10 Rule
The 90-10 rule is one that I’ve seen others talk about but is also one that I’ve taken and adapted to my own situation. And, for me, it has become a key guiding principle for me on a day-to-day basis.
90% self love and positivity
10% I’ll prove you wrong
This rule is based on the now well-established research that positive self-talk increases self esteem and self-esteem boosts value creation, income, subjective success (i.e. achieving goals) and overall mental well-being. One of my favourite rap artists, NF, says in his song called ‘The Search’ “…if you look at your face every day and think you’ll never be great, you’ll never be great. Not because you’re not but the hate will always find a way to murder your faith”. This mindset is one of successful people all over the world, but it is a difficult one to have if you’re not used to telling yourself positive things.
So, my recommendation for anyone who struggles with self-positivity, is to just smile at yourself in the mirror every morning. Start with a smile. Smiling does amazing things to the mind and will make you feel better about yourself. Smiling is a great place to start and before you know it, you’ll likely find yourself feeling more encouraged to say positive things when you’re smiling in the mirror.
Of course, though, there is the other 10%. I’ll prove you wrong. This is where people like me find that outlet for the burning passion for competition. Most of how you think about improving yourself should be based on yourself. Ultimately, you are the most important motivational source for yourself. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find motivation in competition as well. For me, like I said earlier in this article, this competition is usually contrived based on some scenario I make up in my head in which I’m being forced to prove myself against someone else. And it motivates me in that moment to do the best that I can do, and it works for me. This 10% rule allows me a controlled outlet for my competitive nature in the context of a more well-balanced and positive mindset which helps mitigates some of the risks of over-competitiveness.
For me, setting goals is essential. It is not a secret that goal setting is a powerful tool to help guide your thinking, behaviours and to help give you direction in order to increase productivity. Those things are all true for me. But what I get most from goal setting is something to compete against that isn’t another person. By setting goals you can create an opponent to compete against. That competition you crave or that desire you have to beat someone at something can be met by achieving that goal. And once that goal is achieved you can set another one, and another one, and another one. There is an unlimited number of potential ‘opponents’ for you to compete against and win if those opponents are goals that you set.
Of course, there are a plethora of considerations you should have when you set goals. Are they sufficiently specific? Can you measure your outcomes? Are your goals actually attainable? If they’re attainable, are they realistic? And can you achieve your goals in a timely fashion? But this is all another article in itself. The point is that goal setting is an extremely useful outlet for your competitive side.
Get out of your own head
I know from experience that the burning desire to compete can trap you inside your own thoughts when you don’t have an outlet. You can sit there stewing over the prospect of proving someone else wrong, winning, beating someone else at something for hours or even days. And it leads to a lot of unhealthy thoughts and a less positive mindset. And, like I said earlier, a positive mindset needs to be the thing you focus on most.
One of the best ways to get out of your own head is to talk to someone. Someone else you know who is highly competitive, or maybe a family member, friend, therapist or even a pet. Say the things you’re thinking out loud and help frame them in real terms. Then the next step is to ask youself whether you can you even achieve the things you’re thinking about at all? If the answer is no then you should try to clear your head of them. Breate, listen to relaxing instrumental music, go for a walk, eat something or do something else you love. But if the answer is yes, then turn them into goals and figure out how you can achieve them. This will help you satisfy your cravings for competition and continue to improve yourself as a person.
Ultimately, everyone is different and other people will have other ways of dealing with competitiveness in the context of their own lives. These are just my thoughts based on my experiences and I’m glad to be able to write some of them down and share them. For anyone who wants to talk about things more, or has their own ideas to share, I can be reached via email at [email protected]
“To be a champion, compete; To be a great champion, compete with the best; To be the greatest chamption, compete with yourself” – Matshona Dhilwayo