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Competition: A Few Positive And Not So Positive Aspects of Competition for Motivational Purposes

Over the course of thirty years, I have competed in hundreds of road races, duathlons and triathlons, including dozens of national world championship events. The competition at most of these events is intense. Usually, only three people in each five-year male and female age group win prizes (gold, silver and bronze, just like in the Olympics). The rest, hopefully, have a good time, don't get hurt and away feeling good about the experience. But, it is well-known that not everyone goes away happy, in fact, the vast majority of people do not even enter competitions, for many different reasons. One might be bad experiences with the whole idea of competing. How do you feel about competition? Do you have enough of it in your life, or way too much? Do you welcome or avoid it? Do you think competition is overemphasized in our schools and work settings? What about our national focus on spectator sports - do you sometimes think these competitions are taken too seriously?

Runners - competition

The proper place of competition in the context of a healthy life is a much-debated topic in mental health circles; as far as I can tell, there is little consensus. As a lifelong athlete, I enjoy competition but I recognize there's a price to pay, that competition has a dark side. Decades ago, I started thinking about these kinds of questions, perhaps a bit more than my fellow athletes who all seem committed to the unbounded joys and benefits of competition. Then I came across the tale of "The Dodo and the Caucus Race" in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland." In the third chapter of Alice, all the characters, after getting thoroughly soaked, have a discussion about the best way to dry off. The dodo says, "The best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus race." He then lays out a circular track and lines everyone up at random starting places. There was no`One, two, three, and away!' but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half and hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out, 'The race is over!' The participants were puzzled and asked, 'But who has won?' This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it stood for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, 'Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.'

That's how it is today with kids races. Scheduled just before the start or shortly after the completion of triathlons and road races wherein adults compete - without expectation of any medals or prizes save for a few top finishers, all finishers get medals at the kiddie races. Maybe we should organize adult races more along these lines. I say that, but I don't mean it, believe it or think it's a good idea, nor would I want anything to do with a race wherein all must have prizes. On the other hand, I say, let's have Caucus races in schools, workplaces and throughout society. There can always be optional chances for those of us who enjoy harmless competitions to play our games and, on occasions, to feel swift and strong, and sometimes brave and smart, at least for the moment, though we really know better. But there is much to be said for the approach demonstrated by Lewis Carroll's wise dodo: No judgments of superiority or inferiority among participants; no winners or losers and cooperation with ends attained and prizes for all.

Trophies - competition

So, I am of two minds: prizes for all, but not in selected events where awards go only to the swift and fortunate. Some achievements (examples might include playing the piano, competing in triathlons and hitting home runs) are done better by some than others and deserve acknowledgment and reward. However, on matters pertaining to the intrinsic and ultimate worth of a human life, or the ability to live in accord with known precepts for REAL wellness, the judge of the caucus race appears to be the wisest of men.

And yet, there are many complications associated with competition that can be acknowledged. Many familiar with my racing career ask how I deal with the downside, including but not limited to anxieties common to competition. I've been asked about how to deal with defeat, about worries of making mistakes or not being good enough or getting hurt and so on.

The fact is that there truly is little room at the top. Does competition really fit with REAL wellness? How about that focus on happiness, reason and quality of life? Also, what about the others involved in the competitions? If I win, does that not by definition mean others lose? If I have more of something (e.g., trophies, medals, ribbons and the adoration of the crowds, for instance!), is there not less of such for everyone else? Is that fair, or nice or a situation we want to encourage? Isn't competition a zero sum game? How can it be healthy to focus on beating everyone?

The critics do make good points. It would be nice to live in an ideal world where everyone gets the same of everything and all are equal. But, we are not all alike, and what floats one boat will sink another.

The questions posed and others like them are competition issues with which most of us have had to deal. We are all shaped by competitions of varied kinds over the years. In the first part of life if not continuing as adults, we often did not get to choose the competitions in which we found ourselves. The competitions were thrust upon us! Think of the early years of school, and competitions for grades, honors and so on. Our attitudes toward those competitions have surely shaped some aspects of our personalities and values. It should not surprise us when people react to competition differently one from another. How clear are you about your own attitudes toward competition?

At this point, we might define what exactly we view as competition? The dictionary (Webster's 9th) offer this definition: "The active demand by two or more organisms for some environmental resource in short supply." It could be a yellow jersey, an oval office in Washington, the vote of a Congressperson, finding an affordable home in a desirable area, winning Pulitzer Prizes for best Ezine essays - whatever. For me, competitions most often take the form of athletic pursuits, as in weekend age group rivalries. If the question is phrased in this manner - "Is competition a good thing for you, Don,?" the answer is easy: Yes, very much so.

The reason competition is such a positive experience for me is that I try to usually succeed in making competitive events a no lose proposition. More important, with a little bit of mental rehearsal and physical practice, you can do the same. Here's how. If I win, I'm happy. Naturally. If not, however, I can win anyway, but in different ways. It's all how you choose to think of competition and the winning/losing part. If I can put this desire to creatively interpret winning into my brain and emotions, it works well. This thinking guarantees a winning experience of one kind or another. The trick to enjoying competition is to have more than one way to win. For instance, if I am not the first across the line, which has occurred more often than I like this year (though second is not so bad if the times are fast enough), I make a point not to mope or get down and out about it. More often than not, Lance Armstrong finishes in the middle of the peloton (the pack of riders), and everyone knows that Babe Ruth struck out more often than he hit homers. There are other gains from participating in the game, such as the thrill of the race, the camaraderie and the excitement of it all. I focus on the fact that I have worked hard (athletes always push beyond the pale in a race in a manner not possible in training) and thus gain added fitness. If I have done my best, and I almost always give nothing less, there is no basis for despair or disappointment at not being first.

Related article:  The Potential of Change

An inspirational 27-minute film about fitness and competition called "Coping With Life on the Run" was produced and narrated by the late running guru George Sheehan in 1977. It was a big hit - I loved it and found much that was inspirational, including the soundtrack. The film depicts runners of all ages and physical abilities excelling in competitions in their own fashion, and getting emotionally high on a feeling of having performed in outstanding ways. One scene shows a man in a wheelchair coming through the finish line, doing wheelies. Another participant in the run is on a bridge during the race, alone, because the rest of the competitors have long since crossed the finish line. As he nears the camera, it is apparent that he is running with one leg and a prosthetic limb. To this athlete, the competition has great meaning. His goal is to finish, which he does in the throes of triumphant exhilaration. Most of the other competitors, particularly in the middle and back of the pack, seem to experience similar thrills, exuberance and connectedness. While they don't win in a formal way, they prevail in terms of personal goals and individual pleasures. This is exemplary of what competition offers, at its best. It motivates people to excel. It promotes self-esteem! It gives meaning. I can almost hear Robert Green Ingersoll describing the passengers on a metaphorical train of life, all doomed, having a grand time, despite knowing the common fate that awaits them all - "I tell you, we have got a good deal of pluck."

I could go on about the benefits of competition but I think you get the idea. The fears associated with it, the bad feelings it arouses in some, are more related to the way they respond to it before, during and/or especially after the fact - and those outcomes are subject to change, if such is desired.

Competition is not always a good thing for everyone. Some should reform their attitudes about it or just avoid it. Competition is best if not viewed as a big deal with permanent winners and losers. A healthy perspective is simply to be part of something special, a step up on a stage worthy of your time and a venue suited to your talent. Make winning inevitable by the way you choose to view the process. Make it a game broad enough to enable you to win your division. When people ask what division I'm in, I say, "The master male category for people over six feet three inches and 170 pounds who are right-handed with blue eyes, produce a wellness report, host a wellness website, live in Florida and have a strange sense of humor." If you get yourself in the right division, you can win, too - and then you will LOVE competition. As Ashleigh Brilliant observed in one of his marvelous 17-word epigram Potshots, "To be the best, be the only one in your group."

Related article:  9 Attitudes of Successful Business Owners

Sheehan wrote that the purist form of competition comes from attempting to be the best you can be. Competition is the road to excellence..."Each one of us must be a hero. We are here to lead a heroic life...the heroic act, the courageous act, is its own reward." (Personal Best, Rodale, Emmaus, PA. 1989, pp. 7 and 8.) All the best. Be well.


Author:  Donald Ardell is publisher of the ARDELL WELLNESS REPORT - an electronic newsletter devoted to weekly commentaries on current issues that affect personal and social well-being from a quality of life perspective. The emphasis is on REAL wellness. REAL stands for the key issues embraced and advanced in Don's philosophy, namely, Reason, Exuberance, Athleticism and Liberty. Sample copy of latest edition by request. If you like it, you can sign up - the price is right - free. awr.realwellness@gmail.com



Change By Choice


One of the most effective ways in dealing with stress is to change by choice. You see, if you don't change by choice, sooner or later, you'll have no choice,but to change. What do we mean by this? Our own conscious mind is constantly giving us feedback. It's like a barometer. How we're tracking in our life.

We need to look at this both in our personal life and we can look at it in business life to make things more effective and give us more options. When you change early, you have many options available and the job is easier. While we tend to resist change, let's face it, change is the only constant. Night changes into day, day into night. We change our clothes every day. We change the food we eat.

pivotal change

These are things that are easy to do, but when it comes to more serious things in our life, we tend to stick to our old ways because it takes more effort to make those changes. Let's look at it more in our personal life to begin with. What if you're put on a few kilograms, if you'd take note of this, your own conscious mind is giving you a signal, manifesting as a physical sense in your body that what you're doing isn't working.

It's easier to reign in when it's just a few kilograms, but if you ignore it, and the weight becomes more of a problem, it becomes a harder task, doesn't it? Also, other health problems may come into play. Then you not only have to make changes with how you're dealing with food, but now you have to change how you're going to deal with these other health problems. This compound becomes more difficult. Your options become restricted.

What do you do about if you know you need to lose weight? Instead of changing to the next fad diet that comes along, you need to change the relationship you have with food, because you know the last 20 diets didn't work, so why would you expect something different? If you have aches and pains in your body and you have a belief that it's just your age or it's just a part of your life and you adhere to this, and maybe it's even reinforced by other people telling you the same thing. The same limiting beliefs.

What if you were to change the way you think about. What if you will do things to become more flexible? Develop a more flexible body, and usually a flexible body and a flexible mind go hand and hand. Just as the same as a rigid body and a rigid mind go hand in hand and we get stuck in our ways.

As things get worse, become more complicated, our options become fewer. To the point where you have no more options. You either change or you pass a tipping point where nothing else can be done. By developing a flexible body and a flexible mind, this allows you to bend more before you're going to break. Work easier, cope with stress more effectively.

If you're suffering with stress, if you don't do the necessary things to deal with stress, then as the systems become overloaded, it could turn into anxiety if you don't deal with this effectively and pull it back to normal states of stress.

The final stage, when the resources run out more and more, this can lead into depression. This is when all resources have run out and the unconscious mind says, "I have nothing else available to you."

Let's look at this in the business world. There are always disruptors. We're seeing it in the transport industry at the moment, and the resistance to women in the boardroom, from those trying to adhere to the old ways, "We have always run the system, and we won't change. If they don't change, they'll have no more options and soon they'll be out of business.

To give you an example from a book of Forbes which is going back a few years now but it's still quite relevant. In 1987, Forbes celebrated their 70th anniversary and they put out a list of the top 500 companies. By the year 2000, just 13 years later, more than half of those companies were out of business. These were the companies that refused to change. They rested on their laurels and thought, "We've been successful. We don't need to change."

Any company that thinks "We've always done it that way, we're not going to change because this is a way it is and we've been running the industry are in for a rude shock. Well, the disruptors have always been there. Go way back to Gutenberg. The invention of the printing press. Look how amazing the invention of the printing press was, what a great disruptor it was at the time, but how it empowered people so much.

Nowadays, we have modern day disruptors. In the transport industry, and in the accommodation industry. Those that try to hold on those old ways, those who resist change, eventually get squeezed out because their options become fewer and fewer. Instead of resisting, play the same game, learn what the new rules are. When you take action early, this eliminates the stress because the bigger the problem gets, the more stress is involved. Then you've got to start putting more things into play to the point where you either change by choice or have no choice but to change.

Many people have the attitude that "If only the world would change, my life would be better".

You see, when you change, you alter the dynamics, so people, circumstances and events have no choice but to change. This empowers you to influence things for the better.

Over the next few years, 40% of jobs are just going to disappear. What are you going to do to stay ahead of the game? You need to be constantly looking, how can I improve things, how can I tweak this, what changes do I need to make NOW


1. Do nothing, hold on to your limiting beliefs, and think you have no control over things.

2. Wait for the inevitable, to the point where you really do have no option but to change.

3. Change early, when you first get the sign, empower yourself, and take control of your life.


Start looking at things in your life. Take notice of what your unconscious mind is telling you. These things that are manifesting in your life. Learn to read your barometer, know what to leave and what to change. Change early, change by choice or know that you eventually have no choice but to change.

Which choice are you going to choose?

Copyright 2016

Ray Goslin is the founder of Allstressmanagement.com Specialising in stress and pain management systems which allows you to Change by Choice with the "Lifestyle By Design Project" For more information go to https://allstressmanagement.com