Athletic competitiveness is great — to a point, says Bhrett McCabe, PhD, a clinical and sports psychologist in Birmingham, Ala.
When we’re striving toward a goal, he says, we compare ourselves with others, “and we tend to compare our weaknesses to what we see as their strengths. Humans always want to be better.”
This isn’t necessarily bad, because it motivates us to push beyond our comfort zone. When comparison and competition stay open-ended, however, things can get ugly — especially for the chronic competitor. “We chase someone else’s achievement, then meet it; then we spot someone else who’s better at that, and we go after that,” notes McCabe.
When we’re behaving as if nothing we do will ever be good enough, we deny ourselves any sense of satisfaction. This can leave us feeling stressed and resentful. “We can totally lose perspective on how we’re doing and how much progress we’re actually making toward our goals,” he says.
Comparison can backfire in other ways. “If you have knee pain, and you just push through it because you’re caught up in competition, that’s a problem,” he explains. “The competitive urge can keep you from listening to your body.”
So how can you benefit from your athletic passion? “You have to determine what you truly want out of your workout,” he says. “You’ve got to define what that is, not let somebody else’s performance define it for you.”
McCabe recommends writing down goals before going to the gym, and then tracking precise data in a fitness journal. This will keep you focused on your progress, not how it compares with someone else’s.
This originally appeared as “I was a star athlete in high school, and I’m still hypercompetitive. How do I was up?” in the April 2018 print issue of Experience Life.