Winning isn’t about medals


In the race of life, winners are superior, not to others, but to their former selves. Life presents many external symbols of our accomplishments: promotions, degrees, bonuses, new jobs, bigger cars, achievement milestones and such. They represent new levels of internal growth that we’ve been aiming for: contentment, friendship and vitality. We shouldn’t assume that to reach our goals, we have to defeat or tread on other people. And though we may fulfil our ambitions, we feel empty when we only do enough to keep someone else from their goal rather than excelling in our own right. Instead of holding others back, we should try and compete in a healthy and productive manner.

Zero-sum competition — competition in which one must lose for another to win — tends to undermine the best in most of us. It makes us wary and distrustful of others, causes us to withhold and distort information, inspires us to negatively caricature other people making us intolerant of uncertainty and change, and narrows our focus, leaving no space for constructive creativity.

A study conducted on athletes’ performances showed that competitive words caused more than double the level of stress-hormones such as norepinephrine. Performance improves when you take pressure off yourself.

For most of us it’s only about competing with others. But there are people who make breakthroughs in their professional and personal lives by focusing on excelling and self-improvement. Such exceptional people stand out from the crowd. They do not need to put others down to give them a sense of worth, but make it a point to acknowledge distinctive attributes in others. That is what makes them great people to work with.

To excel, you need to anticipate and then exceed expectations. This can be done by fluidly and ingeniously working at the upper edge of your capabilities — not once in a while, but hour after hour, even when there’s a lot of stress, uncertainty, sudden changes and high expectations.

Competitiveness comes from not wanting to stretch or change yourself. The failures of others can make it seem that you are advancing when in truth, you’re standing still. Here are some tips that may help you bring out your best without entrapping you in ‘zero-sum’ thinking:

  • Every time you get overly competitive, lighten up and focus on new ways to excel.

  • Remind yourself of how debilitating external competitiveness can be. Shift gears. Change your view. Surprise yourself.

  • When you notice that you’re comparing yourself to others, change your perspective.

  • The medal goes only to the winner. But in the race of life, winners are superior, not to others, but to their own former selves. Focus on improving yourself. Don’t let jealousy and cynicism get in your way. Remember the adage: Even if you win the rat race, at the end of it, you’re still a rat.