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Competition vs. You: What kind of competitor are you?

Until recently, I had always considered the act of competition as something negative and toxic. I wholeheartedly believed in the mantra : 

‘No compitas, colabora

It’s a nice way of looking at the World, and so when competition entered my life, I would get to work reshaping it into something more cooperative, and when this wasn’t possible, I would gracefully bow out and tell myself I had avoided a conflict.

However, lately, I have been looking at competition in a new light, as I have felt that something is missing from my approach to competitive areas of my life. I was also inspired to discover that the verb ‘To Compete’ comes from the Latin; ‘To strive together’. Together? Isn’t competing a way to pit yourself against others? In the past, this was definitely the case.

Our prehistoric ancestors competed for territory, for food, for the attention of mates and for survival. Competition was life or death, and being at the top of the social hierarchy in the group was a significant advantage. We no longer need to fight for baguettes in the bakery, but that instinct is still there, and the feeling that competition can have serious consequences is a hard one to shake.

Nowadays, competition is just another tool at our disposal. Like any tool, it is neutral and can be used constructively or destructively. By taking the Latin definition of what it means to compete, I understood that competing is a great way to strive with others to test, learn, and improve, as well as using each other to provide a frame of reference for your skillset! I still love to collaborate, but I now have another mantra to live by:

‘Compete Healthily’

This doesn’t mean that competition is healthy: Competition is neither good nor bad, and used in the wrong way, competing can be destructive. The key is to practice healthy competition.


Unnecessary Competition:

Unnecessary competition is self-explanatory but that doesn’t make it any less easy to deal with. Our lives are full of these strange and abstract contests, many of them so subtle that we barely even realise that we ourselves are competing. Think back to vying for your parents’ attention with your siblings, trying to ‘fit in’ at school, the pressure to be the best-dressed at a graduation party. They are often particularly toxic, because unlike two boxers openly challenging each other, unnecessary competition is itself taboo: There are few rules and even less umpires to enforce them because the game is never acknowledged to be in play. They are a breeding ground for bad behaviour and are often associated with things outside of our control, external attention, beauty and the opinions of others.

Necessary Competition:

Think about sports: A tennis match or a race are typical examples of necessary competition. Competing for a professional position can be necessary too, such as a job, a commission, a role or a gig. Sometimes life puts us in situations where not everyone who steps up can get the desired outcome. When these situations are unavoidable, or in our interest to take part in, it is critical that we know how to do so in a way that won’t harm ourselves or others. In the long run, if we know we can compete healthily, we will step up with less fear and so increase our chances of performing to the best of our ability.


Now we know the games, let’s look at who’staking part. People tend to approach competition in 1 of 2 ways, personally, or impersonally. The interesting thing, however, is that the personal approach can result in 2 very different reactions. Fighters vs ‘flighters’ When we take competition personally, the stakes are immediately raised. It is no longer just our skillset being judged, it is us, so if our contribution is unsuccessful, we are emotionally involved and feel a personal loss. This often triggers a fear-based response, and as with so many fear-based responses, the reaction is either fight or flight.


 A fighter that wants to avoid losing at any cost reacts to competition by throwing everything in the ring. They respond passionately, giving it their all, and if pushed will break rules and throw out fair play to avoid losing. By contrast, a flight response will tackle the exact same problem by stepping out of the ring altogether. They avoid loss by avoiding competition.


The 2nd approach, keeping things impersonal, makes for the best base for healthy competition. People who understand that they submit their effort for judgment, and not themselves, are free from personal loss if things don’t go their way. This enables them to focus on what matters instead of being distracted by perceived risk. They can learn, focus on their work or performance at the moment, be inspired, motivated, and even enjoy the process! You see this often in sports, players who aren’t ultra ‘competitive’, but just love to play the game. They can be passionate, but are able to compete against friends or strangers and still have a drink with them afterwards.


The main difference between healthy and unhealthy competition is whether it is necessary in the first place (it is very difficult to have an unnecessary healthy competition) and whether it is approached in a personal way, which lends itself to fear, or an impersonal way which has the potential for love; Love of the competition and love of the other players.  


As always, becoming aware is the first step of any development process. The idea here is to realise what kind of game you are playing and what kind of player you are choosing to be. Identify what kind of competition you are getting into. First of all, is it even a competition? If itis unnecessary, what are you reacting to? Why are you feeling threatened? If itis unnecessary, it is time to stop playing. If it feels necessary, and you think it is a good idea for you to compete . . . Identify what kind of player you are, or could be, in this competition. Are you looking forward to competing, regardless of the result, or is there some fear as well. Is the fear telling you to start working yesterday and put in %110, or is it preventing you from even signing up. 

Make a list of 5 competitions you engage with regularly. 

(There may be more, but don’t worry about identifying them all at once) You might be able to find them if you think in terms of the environments you occupy each day; home, work, gym . . . or the people you interact with, friends, neighbours, colleagues, clients, family. Make a table with two rows: Unnecessary and Necessary, and columns for your responses, fight, flight or balanced and see where your competitions end up!

Once you have the list, save the date and come to the blog club this Sunday. We will talk about this in depth and I will share tools to heal your relationship with competition. 

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