One in the running

Many people enjoy watching competitions, whether it be supporting a sports team, listening to a debate or watching TV game shows. But how many enjoy being a competitor? From a young age, competition is encouraged, and most can recall – or even know – that super-competitive friend for whom losing in any event on school sports day was akin to a disaster. Those born naturally competitive thrive on the desire to be the best and it’s a great motivator. Often, these people are confident, ambitious and determined in their climb to the top, and this doesn’t mean they’re selfish or only out for themselves – it’s how they survive and improve on what they do. But what if the thought of losing or competing against others causes anxiety or panic instead of an adrenaline rush?

For some, any kind of competition is enough to cause a cold sweat, whether they’re the best or not. They don’t enjoy being in the spotlight or the concept of winners and losers. Every day, most people are faced with areas in which they could be competitive. Social media feeds are flooded with images of others’ achievements, whether it’s from the finishing line of a half-marathon or cruising in their new car after getting a big pay rise. In day-to-day life, you might feel a sense of competition with the accomplishments of colleagues, friends or even fellow gym-goers. But comparing yourself with others or vying against them could leave you feeling demotivated. However, whether you relish competitions or loathe them, there’s one person you can compete with on a regular basis to improve all areas of your life. Take a look in the mirror – it’s you. What better person is there? You’re not in the spotlight, you can set your own targets and it doesn’t need to be stressful.

Everyone’s different

One hard truth of life is that there’ll be skills and activities you struggle with that others find a breeze. Think back to school days and your fellow students. Remember the maths geniuses who couldn’t spell? Or the straight-A students who couldn’t throw a cricket ball? A widely used saying, attributed to German physicist Albert Einstein, states: ‘Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.’

It’s a reminder that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and as adults it helps to understand that whether it’s a result of the brain, genetics or socialisation, we’ll all be good, bad and okay at different things. That doesn’t mean you can’t improve on skills. By deciding to set yourself targets to compete against, you can develop any aspect of your life. Without a time limit, others observing you, or an element of losing, you may find it easier to relax and find your own rhythm. You can set the goal, the pace, and remove all the stress and anxiety of competition with others.

You’ll be happier

When you compete against others, you follow their rules. Success is often defined by those around you. For example, you’re only successful if you’re the winner in a competition, running at a certain speed, in a good job with a lofty salary, or own a big house and have a perfect family. If you let go of others’ expectations and follow what makes you happy, you can define your own success. By changing your mindset, you could choose to see it as taking part in an event, running at your own speed or being happy and comfortable living alone. It’s your choice. You make the rules. When you compete with yourself, you are freeing yourself from external judgements and relying on your own opinion. You’re the best person to answer questions such as: “am I doing the best I can?” and “is there more I could do?” But even then, don’t berate yourself. Instead, reassess and keep moving towards your own success.

Remove negativity

To avoid placing stress on yourself, focus on the positives in your efforts. Consider how much progress you make rather than how long it takes. If you have a bad day, week or month, don’t let it upset you. Instead, be proud of your achievements so far and get back on course the next time you can. Everyone has bad days, but it’s the determination to keep going that matters. Sometimes you may want to just have fun. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not setting a new personal best. Whether you tell anyone other than your diary or goal-tracker is up to you. Telling people has its disadvantages – in that you may feel under pressure to do well because you’ve divulged – but it can also be a motivator as people can support you. So, if you want to post gym selfies to update people on your progress, or you’re proud of an achievement and want to let people know about it, then go for it. The important thing is to be happy and stress-free.

Celebrate your achievements

You may not get a medal, but you should definitely reward yourself for any milestones you reach. One good motivator is to plan treats for when you tick off mini-successes and a big reward when you achieve your goal, such as treating yourself to a luxurious massage or a weekend break. Then, you can start aiming for a new target – if that’s what you choose to do. By competing against yourself, you will recognise that winning and achievement come in many forms – not just money or glory. There’s an inner satisfaction in doing something that brings self-improvement. Furthermore, the elation of winning a competition of any form is fleeting. What lasts forever is that feeling inside of being inspired, of conquering a challenge, and if you can keep improving yourself and looking for ways to do that, you will be fulfilled.

Words: Donna Findlay