When we think of competition, we tend to think about events like the Olympic 100-meter dash, in which an athlete like Usain Bolt outraces their peers to win a gold medal. However, we rarely talk about people who do great without competing against others.

Interestingly, external competition can have a negative impact on our performance. Self-competition, on the other hand, is much more productive.

Competitive Stress

Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson, the authors of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, ran a competitive stress experiment with Princeton University students. After breaking the students up into two groups, Merryman and Bronson had one group take a test that had a threatening and stress-inducing title. The second group took the same test, but with a “friendlier” title.

Students in the first group got 72% of their answers right, but those in the second group answered 90% of the questions correctly. By influencing the competitive stress, the researchers were able to “engineer an 18% difference in their test scores.”

Therefore, this means competition is bad for our performance, right? Not quite!

Self-Competition

I believe competition should be about chasing your own undiscovered potential. Your future self will always be one step ahead, but you can thrive when you accomplish what your ideal self would want.

Instead of creating your own game, you are following someone else’s rules when you compete with others. By letting others define your performance indicators, you just create additional stress for yourself. Truthfully, most people do not care whether you succeed or not — only self-competition should be driving you forward.

Healthy Self-Competition

Competition can get ugly, and you do not want to fall into a vicious cycle of self-hate and procrastination. Here are three ways to compete with yourself in a healthy way:

  1. Set ambitious, but exciting, goals. Working on something meaningful with simple actions will go a long way. Try to make your goals actionable, purposeful, continuous, and traceable.
  2. Define your values. You should rely on your own internal values to make decisions to decide how well you are performing against your personal metrics.
  3. Embrace the growth mindset. When you start seeing failure as part of the process, it becomes easier to compete with your past self. In self-competition, think of each failure as a learning experience.

I know it can be hard not to look at other people who seem to be way ahead of you. However, make your past self your competitor, and your future self the hero you look up to.

What do you think about self-competition, rather than external competition? Let me know in the comments below!