Directing that Competitive Streak



by Jackson, college student

Competition in modern America is ubiquitous. It permeates our daily lives, our economy, our popular culture, and our education system. But to really understand competition’s effects, I must delineate between two sides of the competitive coin, one negative, and one positive.

Negative competition results when it is targeted externally at a person or group. I’ve noticed this throughout my life in volleyball, academics, and fraternity life. Much of my athletic career was focused on maybe getting more blocks than the other team or really just outperforming the other team. In high school we had class rankings based on GPA. Of course it was silly to try to jump say, #50 to #2 but the marginal advancement suddenly became important. I recall people targeting the students who were one or two ranks ahead of them and trying then to achieve a high enough GPA to advance to those spots. Now, in my fraternity, we tend to set goals to beat another fraternity in intramurals, campus notoriety or, once again, GPA.

While this type of targeted competition creates a push to achieve and beat the opponent, it is inherently limited. It is limited because it is an entirely relative measurement of achievement. For instance, if I desire to move up one spot in my class ranking, it doesn’t mean that I am trying to move from #2 to #1. For all intents and purposes, I could be trying to achieve a 1.1 GPA in order to move from #430 to #429. When my only goal is to beat the rival volleyball team, that team could play their absolute worst and I would only need to play marginally better (which would still be terrible) to win. Targeted competition ties your performance to that of the competition, who may be underperforming.

The other side of the coin is self- directed competition. This side is far more positive and productive because your own performance is no longer tied to the performance of another. Self- directed competition means setting your own goals that are independent of anything that anyone else is doing. The concept sounds simple but the actual implementation is tricky.

Imagine yourself in a vacuum, devoid of anyone else but you’re still engaged in a given activity. Nobody else is in your class, only one fraternity on the Greek scene, and so on. Then, there can be no comparisons. What then? You must compete against your own goals, unlimited by the performance of others. Strive to achieve a constantly improving GPA instead of just to beat another person. Push for zero errors and excellent play in sports. These are examples of self-directed competition.

When you set and compete to achieve your own goals, you can achieve far more than if you were attached to the another’s performance. It also is a much healthier and more positive mindset and likely less damaging  for your relationship with the person you’re trying to best.  Where are you setting your goals too low by comparing yourself to someone else?