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Competition itself isn’t an unhealthy thing.
On the contrary, it helps us challenge ourselves, strive for more, and is enjoyable in healthy doses. The act of competing, and winning, can provide that delightful rush of feel-good chemicals that go along with victory.
But, of course, there are also the lows of defeat which aren’t so low if you have reasonable expectations.
But a sense of competition can become unhealthy if you’re not aware of it or in control of it.
The difference between healthy and unhealthy competition is that unhealthy competition causes harm. Harm is a broad term that is used to encompass all kinds of different problems that people experience.
In this case, harm may be damage caused to your social relationships because you force the people around you into competitions they don’t want to be in.
It may be increased depression, anxiety, and health problems because you stress yourself out so much over a coworker having a better car than you. It may be tearing your self-esteem and self-image down because you just weren’t good enough.
All of these things can negatively affect your life in several ways. An unhealthy competitive nature is typically referred to as hypercompetitiveness. And if you are a hypercompetitive person, which you probably are since you’re here reading this article, you’ve probably experienced some of these problems. The most obvious is just losing friends and relationships because hypercompetitive people tend to act like jerks whether they win or not.
Why are some people hypercompetitive?
Hypercompetitive people are often driven by outside rather than internal factors. For example, a competitive person may be focused on performing at their best or mastering a particular skill. A hypercompetitive person may be interested in those things, but their focus is more on winning than competing.
A competitive person may be disappointed in a loss, but they know it’s not the end of the world, so they can move on quicker from it. A hypercompetitive person may use that loss to tear themselves down or get angry at the people who did better than them. They may consider the loss a personal insult because they weren’t good enough to win.
The hypercompetitive person may strive for approval and to bolster their self-esteem. They tie their victories to their self-worth because they may not know any better. This kind of thing may happen if they were forced to earn love and affection as a child.
For example, a child who didn’t get any love from their adult carers unless they had a report card full of A’s may connect the need for success to validation and self-worth. Unfortunately, to some hypercompetitive people, winning is a strong way—or the only way—they can feel worthy and good about themselves.
That’s not a healthy mindset because no one can always win. There’s always someone better out there.
So, how do you dial back the hypercompetitiveness? How can you change?
7 steps to becoming less competitive:
1. Genuinely congratulate or compliment the “winner.”
I’m putting “winner” in quotes because, as we’ve previously established, hypercompetitive people may be competing without anyone else knowing. So the “winner” may just be someone you’re envious of for their success, like a coworker who received a promotion that you were wanting.
A way you can start breaking down those barriers is to offer genuine congratulations to winners of competitions. Maybe they played hard, trained hard, or just performed exceptionally well if it’s a sport. So find something to compliment about their victory.
Similarly, when you are envious of a person who “wins” something that you wanted, like that promotion, take some time to think of a genuine compliment to give them. Maybe they worked hard, did something innovative, or have been a long-time contributor in the workplace.
This will force you to start thinking about competition in a less competitive way.
2. Ask your friends and family to tell you when you’re being competitive.
It’s not always easy to see what’s going on in your brain. Unfortunately, not everyone has that much self-awareness. The good news is that hypercompetitiveness is a problem that just about anyone can see clearly from the outside. Generally, there is a major attitude and personality shift once the hypercompetitive person engages in competition mode.
Ask the people close to you to point out when you are slipping into that mentality. That will allow you to focus on your thoughts and redirect your behavior to something more acceptable.
3. Purposefully lose at competitions.
A hypercompetitive person will likely find the idea of losing to be extremely uncomfortable. That’s okay. That’s normal. However, those feelings need to be challenged to move in a healthier direction.
One way to do that is to purposefully lose a competition. Then, when you lose, you can feel the emotions associated with losing and develop better comfort with them. Being more comfortable with those feelings will take the sting out of loss.
An alternative is to engage in activities that are not competitions, to begin with. For example, do something like a walk to raise awareness or fundraise for a charity. Then, instead of focusing on the act of “winning,” because there are no winners other than the charity and the people they serve, you can instead focus on just the activity. You can also enjoy the added benefit of knowing that your participation is helping to make a difference to someone.
4. Choose goals that will improve yourself.
The kind of goals you set for yourself can help steer the way you think about competition. Instead of focusing on goals with a winner or loser, focus more on choosing goals that allow you to empower yourself. For example…
a) Maybe you’re a runner. Instead of winning a marathon, you may focus on just completing the marathon. Then, if you complete the marathon, you can instead focus on beating your previous time on the marathon. You may still be in a competition, but you’re no longer in competition with other people. You’re just working on developing your own ability.
b) Maybe it’s school related. You want to have great grades to do better than your peers. Why? Is it necessary? Sometimes it is if you compete for grants or other benefits from exceptional grades. But if you’re not in a position where you must compete, you don’t have to approach the problem that way. Who cares if someone else gets a better grade than you in a class? Instead, focus on improving your grade because you want to be better than you were yesterday. And again, pay those top performers a compliment to further work on that issue.
c) Maybe you’re playing volleyball with your friends and family. Sure, volleyball is a competitive sport. However, it’s also a fun activity that doesn’t require score-keeping or has benefits to winning. This kind of controlled environment is also helpful because you can have people who care about you help provide a little reality check if you start getting competitive. Then you can force yourself to take a step back, remind yourself that this is just for fun, and have more fun with your friends and family.
5. Don’t quit if you feel like you may lose.
In a similar spirit of purposefully losing, be sure not to quit things you will lose. For example, maybe you’re running in a race and not performing as you’d like. You can clearly see that you are not in a position to win. There are other people far ahead of you, and you’re just not likely to reach them. A hypercompetitive person may be tempted to quit and say, “Why bother?”
If you feel that inclination, push through. Instead, focus on just finishing the race. Sure, you didn’t win this time, but it’ll help you see that it’s okay not to come in first.
6. Focus on finding healthier ways to validate yourself.
Do you only feel good when other people are heaping praise on you? The truth of the matter is that too much praise can be a bad thing.
For example, Steven has been killing it since he was a little kid. Straight A student, all kinds of activities, star on his high school’s football team, the lot. At every step, people praise him for being exceptional and gifted.
But then, he hits college, where he becomes surrounded by many other exceptional and gifted people. All of a sudden, Steven isn’t at the peak. Instead, he finds himself more like halfway up the peak. There isn’t so much praise anymore. That makes Steven feel unworthy, unloved, and as though there is now something wrong with him.
Instead of learning how to love and validate himself, Steven was taught to seek that approval from the outside.
People like Steven need to learn to create their own validation. It’ll be difficult, but he can learn to look at his accomplishments with pride and be thankful for his own skill.
7. Considering counseling to work on the problem.
Hypercompetitiveness is a problem that a counselor should be able to help you with. Chances are pretty good that there are underlying reasons that you feel so hypercompetitive with other people and the rest of the world. You may need to address those underlying reasons before you’re able to move on to something better.
Looking back on the previous example, Steven may have a difficult relationship with his parents because of their skewed perspective of success and the excessive praise they gave him when he excelled at something. Steven would do well to speak to a counselor about his relationship with his parents and other people to ensure he has a healthy perspective.
It may also be a problem with self-esteem and self-perception. And if that’s the case, then it’s not a problem that can be solved with self-help. Instead, it’s something that will need to be explored more so it can be appropriately healed and built up into a healthier space.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
The good news is that you don’t need to be ruled by your hypercompetitiveness or have it destroy your life. There are solutions out there for you. And with some focused work, you can dial that into a healthy level, improving your quality of life, mind, and relationships.
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