3 Aspects of Competitive Behavior

This is the first blog in a series of weekly blogs in which I let my Facebook friends give ideas on what to write about. I’d like to write more often, but generally only write blogs when I’m really riled up about something. This isn’t such a bad thing, but it only happens every month or two, and I’d like to write more often.

I got a bunch of fun suggestions and I’m going to start by talking about competitiveness. Someone asked me to write about:

Pros and Cons of being ultra-competitive: the effects on your health, relationships, etc.,

I think that having a healthy competitive attitude is definitely a good thing, and I think there are three key aspects to competitiveness:

1. The desire to win, or do as well as you can, while you are competing

2. The willingness to work outside of competition, in order to help yourself when you do compete.

3. Your reaction when you fall short of your competitive goals

I feel like we live in a society where it’s considered an ideal to be competitive, but most people throw the term around without really knowing what it means. I can’t tell you how often someone tells me that they don’t do something because they are just “too competitive”, as though somehow they are going to turn into some raving psychopath if they lose at anything. This isn’t being too competitive, this is being out of touch with reality.

Let’s examine each of the three aspects one at a time:

1. The desire to win, or do as well as you can, while you are competing

Anyone who throws around blanket statements like “anything less than first place is unacceptable” is generally an idiot. The only time you can really put all of your psychological energy towards winning, is when you’ve worked extremely hard at your field, otherwise there’s no reason to expect to win, and all you can do is just try your best.

From a personal standpoint I’m pretty good at this aspect. I see it on a daily basis when I go to Crossfit, as every day is a different competition. I’m always hoping that there will be someone in my class who I suspect is a little better than me at whatever the workout is that day, as this always pushes me to do better. Note that I don’t have an unrealistic expectation that I’m definitely going to beat them, but it makes me push harder, and generally do better than I otherwise would. I just love to see the clear contrast between their performance and mine it helps me to figure out exactly what I need to do better. And okay, every now and then I do beat them.

2. The willingness to work outside of competition, in order to help yourself when you do compete.

This is the most important and often neglected aspect of competitiveness. As a chess trainer, I’ve seen many kids with what could be considered a huge competitive drive. During tournaments, these kids work their butts off and are absolutely desperate to win each game. When they win it’s pure euphoria and when they lose it’s devastation. These kids clearly have mastered the first aspect of competitiveness.

As you can guess, they fall short at the second aspect of competitiveness. Wanting to win is not enough to make it happen. A strong competitive drive does push you to do better than you normally would during an event, but the kids who spend hours at home every day studying almost always end up winning. This is true in almost any field.

We can call people like this competitive all that we want, but in reality if they were really so competitive, wouldn’t they work harder in order to achieve their goals?

I’d like to run a sub 6 minute mile, but I don’t do the specific things necessary to achieve that goal, so clearly when it comes to this goal, I’m not competitive enough. Yes when I race someone I’m going to try really hard and push myself, but that’s just temporary competitiveness. In order to actually be “ultra-competitive” about something, you must have mastered this aspect.

3. Your reaction when you fall short of your competitive goals

If you haven’t mastered aspect 2 of competitiveness, you have no business pouting when you fail to achieve your goals, although many children are inconsolable after a loss at an important chess tournament.

I once played a friendly game of Boggle with a few people. I am very good at Boggle through years of memorizing random word lists. No random person off the street is going to beat me, unless they’ve put in serious work in the game. I kept winning and one guy who I just met that day got super upset and emotional, stormed off screaming “What’s the point, you’re just going to win every time”.

Getting upset because you lose at something that you’ve put in little actual work to master, makes you a delusional idiot, it doesn’t make you “competitive”.

I act competitive about everything I do, but mainly because I find it entertaining. When I lose I’m entertained and when I win it’s even more fun.

This is the aspect of competitiveness that can result in poor relationships with others, which was one of the main points of the original question being asked to me. If you can’t handle losing and fly off the handle when you do so then you have serious psychological problems to work out. You aren’t competitive, you’re a sore loser.The old cliche is true: “Just try your best”. As long as you do that, win or lose, you really should be satisfied. Being okay with a performance that’s less than you hoped for, doesn’t make you any less competitive. It just means you’re grounded in reality.

2 thoughts on “3 Aspects of Competitive Behavior

  1. Dear Abby (oh no! Greg!)

    I am the kind of competitive person who has mastered items 1, 2 and 3 in your blog post pretty well, at least to my own humble judgment. My problem is, that time and again I run into people who have issues with the third aspect. They like to play board games, they are used to win at board games, and then they challenge me at some game or other.

    What I really like about board games is that most games allow for some strategic considerations – even if you’ve only just encountered the particular game for the first time. And figuring out strategies is one of my favourite passtimes! The next thing that happens is – I win the game I was challenged to, and then my adversary starts complaining about me strategising! As if that is an unfair way to play!

    I’m sure you would say these people should realise they can’t always win and that it’s their problem, not mine. Still the situation makes me feel unconfortable. Is it my competitive drive getting in the way of my social life after all? What should I do? Please help me out!

    The Desperate Sandster


    • Hi Desperate Sandster:

      One big “problem” you have is that you are a woman. A lot of men in particular get irrational when they lose to women in anything, so that could be one issue you are facing that I don’t have to deal with.

      Also your competitive drive isn’t getting in the way of your social life. It’s helping you to avoid socializing with people who are annoying. Just consider the board games a screening test.

      Liked by 1 person

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