I consider myself to be highly competitive. When I get on a treadmill, I can’t help but sneak a peek at the person beside me, assess their speed, incline, and duration and decide if I need to modify my performance plan. In the pool, although they never know it, I inevitably choose a set of five to ten laps and race my lane neighbors. On a hike, if I see anyone ahead of me, I do my very best to pass them. If there’s anyone behind me closing the gap, I pick up my speed because, if I can help it, there is no way I’m getting passed! Even in yoga (yes, I know the one place we’re told to leave our egos at the door), I compare my yoga poses to others.
Not only am I competitive, but I strongly believe when used effectively, competition has a lot of power and influence on performance. In my professional and experiential opinion, with proper perspective, mental toughness, and positive behavior, competition can be a catalyst for performance.
Seeing Competition with Others as Help
So far, the competition I have referred to is intercompetition or competition between other people, instead of with yourself. Let me ask you, do you look at your competition as your ally and not your enemy? In other words, do you use people to further motivate and inspire you to increase your effort and raise your game? In my personal examples above, my competitors on the treadmill, in the pool, on the hiking trail, and in yoga played an important role in helping me exert more energy towards my performance. My feelings toward them are nothing but positive, regardless of the outcome. Even in real competition, I have learned, and teach the athletes I consult, to perceive their competitors as helpers, always encouraging high levels of effort.
Shifting to Internal Competition
With this intercompetition perspective, it becomes easier to shift focus gears and devote your energy towards your biggest competitor of all–yourself. For me and the athletes I work with, once there is an appreciation for the people you are in competition with (i.e. whether real or fake competition), it’s easier to bring the focus back onto yourself, only concentrating on others when it’s necessary to get a quick boost of extrinsic motivation.
For example, on the treadmill, once I choose my workout routine (that may have changed once I caught a glimpse of the person to my right), I must focus on my breath in order to help maintain control (which I know I can get when I’m not paying attention to my process and form). In the pool, the only way for me to beat my lane neighbor is to concentrate on my arm technique. On a hike, I must direct my attention to my foot placement. There is a little bit of breath control required to maintain my intensity, but for me, the challenge is watching my step.
In yoga, I can recall a specific class when I needed to consciously shift my focus away from my chosen competitor in order to perform my best. There was once a woman roughly my age and ability one row ahead and slightly to the left of me. She was within my eyesight for most of the class and I did allow myself to compare our poses (I know...bad, bad, bad). Then, it was time for Half Moon pose that requires a great deal of balance, stillness, and breath control. If I stood the chance of holding this pose, in my mind I had to thank this woman for supporting me today and then direct all of my attention to my process. To this day, I have no idea if I was able to hold the pose longer than this woman or if our level of development was matched. What matters is that I was able to bring my focus onto myself and what needed to be done to master Half Moon pose.
Harness the power of intercompetition with others, to help support your performance, while understanding that your biggest competitor is yourself. Use the competition you have with someone else to give you a shot of motivation. Then, bring your focus back onto the only thing you can control – yourself and your personal best performance!
Note: Consult your health care provider before starting any exercise routine.