Why Am I So Damn Competitive?

In every arena of life, we have to compete with other people.

In school we are taught to compete for higher grades. At work we compete for career promotions or higher salaries. In most life situations there is another person also vying for what we want.

Whether we like it or not, our lives are full of competitive situations. And if you are a competitive person, this can either be a benefit or a curse.

If you are a competitive person, you will probably relate to a lot of what is in this article. If you’re not competitive by nature, it might sound like the ramblings of an insane person.

The question I want to try to answer here is ‘why am I so competitive?’ and ‘is there a way to stop being so competitive?’

My Life as a Competitive Person

For as long as I can remember, I have been an over-competitive person. As a young kid, I loved to beat my classmates on tests, or try to win at sports, and video games.

My brothers and I would play the board game Monopoly against each other for hours (and sometimes days) at a time. We would keep playing until someone was completely broke and the winner owned everything. Often the game would end in tears.

Why am I like this? Honestly, I think it comes down to a deep insecurity that I harbored. I was a pretty quiet, shy, awkward kid. I wasn’t really popular or cool by most kid’s standards. So I looked for ways to feel special, to feel validated in my life.

Whenever I was ‘good’ at something – school work, sports, video games – then that thing became my life. I would push myself harder than other people to get better results. I would study longer, and face more setbacks just to prove I was the ‘best’.

On the one hand, being competitive was a good thing, and led me to create success in some areas of my life, but it also limited me greatly in others.

Personally, it took me until my mid-30s to start to understand that being too competitive is not good for mental health. Unhealthy competition leads to low self esteem and insecurity. It can also isolate you from friends, family, coworkers and limit your long term success.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Being Competitive

What I’ve learned is that there are distinct benefits of being competitive with others, as well as some serious drawbacks.

Benefit: being competitive drives you to get incredible results. You push yourself well beyond what most people will attempt, and often  won’t quit until you’re the best at something.

Drawback: Competitiveness makes you obsessive, jealous, and resentful. You find it hard to actually be happy for the success of others, and you can’t let go of a loss or have anxiety at being seen as ‘less’ than another person.

A competitive spirit can be both healthy and unhealthy. It depends on how our intrinsic motivation is driving us. 

The Psychology of Being Competitive

There is a lot of psychology that backs up the reasons why we tend to be competitive. A 1998 study for the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization showed that people feel better about themselves knowing they earn more money than their peers.

Another 2015 study from Frontiers of Psychology showed that people who believed they were competing against others demonstrated faster reaction times, and put forth greater effort.

Of course, there is a downside to competition and hyper competitiveness as well. According to Good Therapy “Excessive competition can also hurt the individual. A person may spend so much effort training to succeed that they neglect other parts of their life, such as friendship or hobbies. This can quickly lead to burnout and isolation.”

A 2022 study from The Journal of Research on Adolescence showed that as children grow into teenagers, their tendency to compete grows, and their desire to be cooperative declines. This is due ‘an increase in public evaluation and concerns about social comparison’. Taken to excess, competitiveness in teenagers can lead to anxiety, depression, jealousy, and low self esteem.

Although many of the studies related articles around competitiveness are focused on small groups, the reality is that in normal everyday life competition is part of what we must contend with.

Healthy competition is all around us, whether driving in a car, vying for a promotion, or trying to get a date with someone we are attracted to. We also love watching athletes play a competitive sport and cheering on our team.

Learning to navigate through life while curbing your competitive streak is a great way to find balance and find more fulfillment.

Do People Have to Be Competitive in Order to Succeed?

It does seem that a competitive mindset helps people achieve their goals in business, sports, and other areas of achievement.

There are many examples of highly successful people who are also extremely competitive people.

Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, and Larry Ellison are all known for being obsessively competitive in their fields. These high profile competitive people use their failures as fuel to do better and eventually beat their competition. 

However, all three men are also known for being extremely difficult to deal with on a personal level at times. Steve Jobs in particular was known for his rudeness, intolerance, and emotional outbursts if he felt something wasn’t the ‘best’ it could possibly be.

Of course, there are many examples of people who are not competitive who also succeed over the long term. People like Warren Buffett and Bill Murray are examples of people who seem to focus more on the process rather than the result, and achieve great results.

What are the Signs of a Competitive Person?

If you are wondering if you are too competitive in life, it’s good to take a look at your behavior. There do seem to be typical traits that competitive people have in common.  

Here are five common signs that you’re a competitive person.

  • You want to outdo or ‘beat’ others either in personal achievements or in business
  • You’re not interested in games where there is no clear winner or loser
  • You constantly check on how others are performing and tend to compare yourself to them
  • You enjoy when someone says you ‘can’t do something’ and proving them wrong
  • You find it hard to accept someone did better than you

Very often when someone is too competitive, they will experience a lot of negative emotion or act like a sore loser if they don’t win. They can’t let go of the fact somebody else has outdone them.

Again, while these behaviors can help to drive you and create success there is a cost to your ambitions, and competitive behavior.

Is Being too Competitive a Weakness?

Alfie Kohn, a prolific author and expert on the subject of healthy parenting, and building confidence for kids is against competition in schools.

In his book ‘The Case Against Competition’ he suggests that competition can become a recipe for hostility, and can reduce self esteem.

As Kohn explains Studies have shown that feelings of self-worth become dependent on external sources of evaluation as a result of competition: Your value is defined by what you’ve done.”

On the flipside, the CIAP, which is part of Carleton University argues that “Competition not only helps businesses thrive but anyone involved in the process of competing, in any industry, will be persistently learning new skills.”

Of course there is no clear cut answer to whether competition is healthy, or competition is a bad thing. Each person has to make up their own mind about competitive activity in their life.

How Do I Stop Being So Competitive?

In my own experience, there is a healthy way to channel your competitiveness and to slowly quell your competitive nature. 

Here are three ways that I have learned to reduce negative feelings, and find more enjoyment and stop being so competitive.

1) Realize there is no ‘scorecard’ in life

A lot of the time, a person with a competitive streak will be driven to ‘rate’ themselves against people around them. They may want to make more money, achieve bigger goals, or find ways to appear to have higher status than people around them.

The reality is that no matter how much you achieve personally, it doesn’t affect the life and value of anybody else. There is nobody keeping score in life, or ranking people against each other.

Letting go of this idea of rating yourself or keeping a scorecard can lead to a more balanced sense of motivation. It can also help to reduce feelings of envy, jealousy, and resentment.

2) Collaboration Gets You Further

Often our natural competitiveness can make us believe we need to do everything ourselves. This is especially true of entrepreneurs and high-achievers who value independence. We think that other people will somehow gain an advantage over us if we ask for help.

Of course, the reality is that nothing in the modern world is achieved without collaborating with others. We are part of a larger society and world that is completely interdependent.

While hard work on our own can lead to some success, the larger results only come when we collaborate with others.

Collaboration and cooperation is a great thing, and helps us all to do better in life. Even though it seems to fly in the face of a competitive mindset, it actually helps us rise to greater heights.

3) Focus on Your Development, Not Results

The problem with being highly competitive is that you put a lot of emphasis and value on achieving the result. You tend to forget about the self improvement that you gain as a results of the hard work you have put in along the way. 

One of the misconceptions of failure is that if you don’t get the result you want, that all your efforts have been a total waste. The truth is that even though you might come up short at times, you are still growing and developing in skills and experience.

Focus on your long term development and how you are growing as a person. This will nullify the sense of insecurity that can come from a failure or setback.

Keep Competitiveness In Check

As with most things in life, a healthy balanced mindset can be a great asset to overcome competitiveness.

Knowing that ‘you can’t win ‘em all’ is key to having less stress and frustration. Having an abundance mindset and realizing that there is enough reward and recognition to go around is also valuable.

While competitive people do seem to get ahead in some arenas of life, there is immense value in tempering your competitiveness and realizing that there is more to life than always trying to win.

The next time you feel your competitive side taking over, remember:

Let it go, and let yourself grow.

dms

25 thoughts on “Why Am I So Damn Competitive?

  1. Daniel , Great post – enjoying your blog – liking what you have to share. I am not sure if I am competitive, I guess we all are to a degree -but I wont say it is my driver. Thanks for following me – and giving me the opportunity to discover your blog – which is pretty awesome. Good day Regards Bella – from the UK

      1. Thank you so much for posting this. It’s really help me understand why I’m so competitive at work. I looked through videos and articles and this is the only one that made sense and hit home!

  2. I identify with you on so many ways on this topic (more than I’d like to admit)! What a great way to identify your faults and realize the areas you need to work on. Don’t be too hard on yourself though, I think we all tend to have a competitive nature in one way or another. Also wanting to be noticed or recognized for your accomplishments doesn’t necessarily make you a narcissist. As you mentioned, I think the key is learning when it’s fine to let your light shine and take credit for things, and you should from time to time, you should embrace your accomplishments and be proud of them. However; it is also good to realize when you need to step back and let others stand in the lime light. It doesn’t make you any less of a person, it’s just realizing that every single one of us deserves credit and “fame” from time to time. Narcissism vs. Altruism!

  3. Hi,
    I felt connected with every single bit of what you wrote.
    It is hurting. You can easily hurt your friends and loved ones. Without even noticing it.
    You can drive yourself into isolation and resentment.
    It seems there are two ways people take when they notice they have such issue, either it adds to their insecurity and make them even more competitive, or make them give up anything that has any sense of competitiveness in it.
    I am sure both are not the healthiest coping mecahnism.
    There has to be another way. There has to.

    1. Hi Summer, thanks for the comment. To me, it seems there can be a healthy way to use your competitiveness. It comes down to channeling it in a way that helps others. If you can ‘be the best’ in a giving or charitable function you are then serving the world. Whenever I get that urge to compete, I now ask myself ‘who is this serving?’ That question usually helps me stay level and on the right track. – DMS

    1. Hi Amin, I haven’t actually read much about it in books. The only places I’ve heard it mentioned is in articles, and books about narcissism. But as always, the main thing is to be conscious of it. If you’re aware that your competitiveness has kicked in, it is easier to channel it in positive ways. Hope that helps! – DMS

  4. I just was searching how to tame my competitiveness, because it grows to jealousy, and this short, yet deeply thoughtful essay has moved me toward change. Thank you for this topic and your honesty.

    1. Thanks Rose, so glad ti was valuable for you! Yes, being competitive is a blessing and curse all rolled into one… I hope you find your own way to manage it and turn it towards healthy endeavors! – DMS

  5. This resonates with me so much, every detail of it actually. The way you describe what you’re goig through in you head whilst it’s happening is word for word what I’ll often think. I have just been doing a lot of research on ADHD because I’ve recently been diagnosed though I declined medicine (I value the benefits of my overactive mind enough to power through the negatives) and I’m lead to believe that a lot of my issues including my anger and overreacting to small occurrences, like repetition for example stem from my ADHD. Though my competitive nature I csn trace back earlier. Much like you i took pride in video games, i was the best at them among my friends and won almost every time, though the rare time i lost, it showed badly. But now since I’ve been exposed to online gaming there is a none stop flow of players who are better than me and it’s extremely difficult for me to handle. Even in minecraft if i die i will lose my mind which i am quite imbarassed to acknowledge. And winning feels great, but is never enough as you put it, and whenever i lose it gets ugly very fast. You saying its like an extra dose of heroin, I’ve never thought of that before but it makes sense when you think about it. Thank you for your insight and clear descriptions. I’m going to research the connections of my ADHD and competitive nature, to see how well i can harmonize them without being self destructive.

    1. Thanks for sharing Dragon, I can definitely relate to what you are saying and sometimes just knowing there is someone else who has the same thoughts and feelings can make it a lot easier! Keep on your own path in life, and remember that not everything is a competition. But at the same time having competitive drives is not wrong as it keeps you making effort long after others have given up. Go easy on yourself, and keep doing what you’re doing – DMS

  6. I appreciate this post. I’ve been realizing lately that I’ve got an almost Hermione-Granger-like attitude when it comes to knowledge. I always raise my hand; I always know the answer, and if I don’t, I get upset and make it my mission to know. That part about narcissism hit me and made me squirm because I know it’s me. So, thank you for this. It’s been helpful in making me think about my own issues.

    1. Hi Miranda, so glad it made sense for you too! There have been many times in my life where I wished I wasn’t this way, but it does have benefits as well. Wishing you all the best, and make sure to keep me updated on your journey! – DMS

  7. Thanks for this post! I really saw myself in some bits of this post, yet not in others. The bit about the desire to be noticed hit me like a ton of bricks, and its great to know other people feel the same way. On another post I read that my competitiveness will have stemmed from something that happened when I was younger, but I don’t know what that could be other than my younger sibling. Do you know if your competitiveness stemmed from something, or is it just natural like mine?

    1. So glad that you found value in the ideas here – and that is a great question. I am not sure if my competitiveness is intrinsic, or if something created it. All I know is that I have to recognize it when it’s there and make sure to use it in the correct way! Hope you can find a balance as well! – DMS

  8. Wow! That is so me! I had a perfect childhood, 4th of 6 siblings, so why am I so darn insecure. I’m pretty sure I have ADHD but – ouch – the narcissism hurts! Menopause has really accentuated my issues so maybe I need something to help control my brain. I have a lot to learn about myself. This is just what I needed to hear to get myself motivated to change. Thank you!

  9. I loved this. I admire your raw honesty, I needed to read this article today. Today was a tipping point of awareness of how competitive I am. Sometimes I notice the moment I start to build skill in something, I want to show it off and get that positive reinforcement to show that I’m a desired and great person. I suffer and benefit from both the same ailment as you of wanting to be someone other than the crowd. I’ve been plagued with feeling like a narcissist or a overachiever who needs attention some days.

    But I realize too, those who are competitive are the ones who have such a drive to go above and beyond and swim up the stream. I think we can be the ones that sometimes bring the most change due to our sometimes crushing and unkind competitive nature. Because we want to stand out as above average. That means we may do things that are unthinkable for some due to the ridiculously high standards we hold for ourselves. We are the world changers, because we can’t stand not to be!

    I feel as long as we balance it with awareness and constant readjustments to bring a healthy and kind mindset, we can bring a lot of beauty into the world. It really took an awakening in my teen years for me to start seeing how important it was to be inclusive to all. If that awakening didn’t happen I know I’d be a narcissist.

    Thanks for creating the material that created the evolution that allowed me to write that realization in a comment! Without your article I would have never thought about it, just that way.

    1. Thank you for sharing Layla, it’s so cool that you were able to find awareness from sharing your perspective. I agree that competitiveness has an upside, and it’s a matter of finding the balance that feels healthy for you. Wishing you all the best for the next phase in your life! – DMS

  10. Thank you for your words, helped me better understand myself! And thanks for being so honest, we need that more from a lot more people to realise that we often have the same doubts, fears and insecurities but that part of healing those is also a collective task…

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