We’ve blogged about competition before. See for example Sam’s post “Who’s the Competition? She Is?” and my posts “The Competitive Feminist: the bad, the ugly, and the good” and “Feeling unmotivated? Get competitive.”
I thought about competition again today because I had a great workout, spurred on by the competitive spirit. When I got to my personal training session, I felt tired and uninspired for my workout. But when my trainer Paul said that he’d given almost the same workout to Kim earlier in the day and she did it amazingly, I felt a little kick. I wanted to do at least as well as Kim!
As a result of that little nudge, I managed to crank out four sets of fifteen chest dips (at body weight, not on the gravitron) coupled with some pretty heavy barbell shoulder presses for my first round of exercises. If not for the spectre of Kim’s amazing workout (which, for all I know, Paul wasn’t even being wholly truthful about but I doubt it because she is a machine), I would have maxed out earlier on those dips I’m sure.
So this got me thinking about whether competition is a good thing, a bad thing, or what. If you look around the internet, there are at least three prevalent ways of thinking about competition.
Number one: you should compete only against yourself
There’s a lot of this type of thing out there, about running your own race, improving only against your own self, and not being in competition with anyone else. But this misses out on a key idea that is also quite prevalent…
Number two: competition motivates.
This is what got me going today. A sense of competition, not sure if it was “valid,” made me give it that extra push. In the end I have no idea whether my workout was in any sense “better” than Kim’s. It didn’t even matter. Just knowing that I was trying to do as well or better made me do better than I otherwise would have. Is that healthy? Is that valid? I don’t know. But it worked for me today.
Number three: there is something wrong with competition.
What could be wrong with competition? A related idea out there is that it brings out the worst in people, makes them want to crush other people, and is just basically not nice. Why do we need to be better than others to feel good about ourselves?
Another way of putting it is something like:
The basic idea: be like that flower. Just do your thing.
I’ve asked this before and I’ll ask it again. What do you think about competition and how does it work in your life? Is it something you feel positive about or does it bring you down? Do you compete against yourself, others, or not at all?