We’ve all heard the phrase ‘healthy competition’. It’s a common phrase that crops up in life, be it in conversation amongst friends in the pub, or with colleagues in the workplace.

It’s a phrase that we can perhaps connect to fairly easily.  There are certainly times when competition is healthy. It can be an inspiration to keep you going, to do things differently, to up your game.

But as with anything there’s also an opposite effect…

Competition (whether prompted by self or via an external party) is totally worthless when it diminishes both the quality of the experience (or task) and the output of that experience (or task). If, what it has set out to achieve, has in fact achieved the complete opposite. There is a fine line between what is healthy and unhealthy competition.

Let me share a personal story with you…

A few weekends ago, I went out for one of my usual 3 mile runs. Something I do a couple of times a week. On this particular weekend Steve (my other half) decided to join me to ‘test out his legs’ before one of his half-marathons. Maybe you’re already getting the picture – I do these runs for exercise – to keep fit and healthy. Steve does this more than just to keep fit – he does it because he enjoys the competition, the race, the adrenalin. He has a desire to continually improve his running performance.

So why am I telling you this?

As we were running, Steve decided to add in a little bit of interval training and so every now and then during the course of our run he would come up behind me, overtake me and sprint off. I could feel myself getting agitated and my thoughts began to chatter… ‘Oh god, I’m never going to be able to keep up’. My self-talk was literally sucking the energy from me and I was left feeling really deflated. And just at the pit of demotivation ….bang! There it is… the emotion then starts to kick in “Grrr is he doing this to show off? So annoying, he’s totally ruining my run.”

Thankfully this nonsense talk only lasted a few seconds…until I had caught it, stopped it and challenged it. I knew it was beginning to make me feel inadequate, it was diminishing my experience but I also knew that there was no need to even think like that.

You see the thing is …

…I feel good about running, I’m happy about it when I consider it in the context of me, why I do it and what I want to get out of it. It’s virtually impossible for someone else to have the same context, purpose and goals for running as I do. And so it was daft, even in that split second of mind chatter, to even consider a comparison to Steve.

We have two different agendas, different things that drive us for this particular activity, different circumstances. There is no need for comparison. We are both happily different. Independently ‘good’ at running in our own context. In that split second of mind chatter, I had lost my context, I was disconnected to my ‘running’ purpose. I was focussing on competition that was unhealthy for me.

It all got me to thinking….

Workplaces up and down the country, across the globe are a hive of comparison. Sometimes the performance system forces it that way and sometimes its just the way it is – the culture of the place, the characters that make up that culture. Maybe its the managers comparing employees against each other.  Or maybe its employees themselves comparing themselves against their peers.

Regardless of where it comes from, we are all responsible for and can take action to manage competition in the best way that we can for ourselves.

So here’s my 4 steps to managing your thoughts about competition so its healthy for you…

  1. Check-in with yourself – when you sense competition is present and you notice you are feeling unhappy about something, identify the emotion that is sitting behind that unhappiness. Is it frustration? Is it fear? Is it anger? Get really clear about what that emotion is for you and what thoughts are prompting it to come up for you.
  2. Remind yourself what is important to you about what you are doing (and if you don’t know then get yourself clear on that in the first place).  This is your big Why. As the why expert Simon Sinek would say it’s getting clear on “the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do”
  3. Question yourself – how is this (thought or emotion) keeping you on track? How is it aligned with your purpose? Make sure you question yourself using open questions – who, what, where, when & how. The absence of these may well prompt the brain to come up with an easy yes/no answer – and this that may not be the right answer for you.
  4. Take immediate action – on that emotion or thought that is either helping you or hindering you. Don’t be afraid to let go if its an emotion or thought that isn’t helping you, isn’t keeping you connected to your purpose. Let. It. Go.

The mind is a powerful resource. One that can help or hinder you depending on how well you use that resource. Next time you’re feeling a sense of competition, perhaps check in with this little exercise. And remember to stay aware, stay grounded and stay true to yourself.

If you want some help dealing with your mind chatter then please get in contact. I’d be happy to explore with you how my team and 1-1 programmes can help you improve your performance at work.

“Focus on competition has always been a formula for mediocrity.”

– Daniel Burrus