Healthy Competition with Yourself



Competition is good: it leads us to raise the bar and set higher standards for ourself that impel us to improve. This can be a great boon to one’s success, and is the driving philosophy behind Capitalism. The problem is that this competition can seep into our personal relationships, lead us to challenge our partner at times when support is needed, create demands that can sap the vitality of a relationship when people start keeping score, and even end up draining energy from our own well-being. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love to compete, and this has been a big part of my consciousness since I was a kid. I’ve participated in competitive sports since I was 5 years old, I’ve been on highly competitive teams and competed intensely in individual sports. Competing based on individual performance has taught me the value of self-discipline and hard work. More than anything it has taught me how to cultivate a healthy relationship with myself. 

For example, a few years ago I had been so wrapped up in advancing my career that I not only fudged on my exercise routine, but I got to the point where I was neglecting my health. I paid a heavy price for adopting bad habits that took their toll on my body, my relationships, and my soul. My competitive nature got the best of me, and because I had set unreasonably high criterion in defining success for myself,as well as focused so much on achieving this unreasonable result, I lost track of what was truly important to me because of how wrapped up I became in the result. I allowed this competition with myself to bleed into all aspects of my life. At that time I did not feel successful despite how much I was achieving.

It may seem obvious or overly simplistic, but how you define success will determine how successful you really feel. What success is boils down to a personal decision. If you buy into the social conditioning we are exposed to on a daily basis and let external standards for success dictate your own criterion for success, you are putting yourself at great risk of feeling like a failure. One obvious example can be found in images of female beauty portrayed in the media. There are studies upon studies nowadays that demonstrate that women compare themselves to this external standard of beauty. Because women feel like they cannot match up to these airbrushed versions of beauty being sold to us they do not think of themselves as beautiful. With that standard, who could? Many men base their self-esteem on whether one woman accepted their advance or not. In the examples above, for women, some men will find you attractive, and some may not. For men, some women will accept your approach and some may not. What other people do or feel is unpredictable, and not under our control. Basing how you feel about yourself on something outside of you will lead to a fluctuating sense of self-worth at best, and more likely be prone to drain you emotionally and deplete your self-esteem. Some days people may respond positively to you, other days they may not. Most of the time this has nothing to do with what you’re doing, how you are, or who you are. Even if it is, is this the kind of person you want to be around anyway? I doubt it. If you’re happy with yourself and acting in line with your personal integrity, then it really doesn’t matter what other people think. If you’re not happy with how you acting or living your life now, that is another story. My point is that to overcome this element of social conditioning you need to get in touch with your internal barometer for success with whatever you are vying for in your life, and stop competing with yourself based on other people’s standards of success. 

Take the time to really sit down and sort out what it is you want in your life, what your goals are despite what other people want of you or think about what you are doing. Break down the smaller steps toward reaching your bigger goal. Forget about the results. People are going to like you or they’re not going to like you. If your starting a new business venture, the money is going to show up or it’s not going to show up; you get the result or you don’t get the result. You have little to no control over these variables. You cannot control the result. You cannot control what other people think or feel, how they react to you, or whether they buy your service or product or not. You can only control what you do on the journey toward whatever the result is going to be.

Regardless of what the result is, I always remember the wise words of a friend: you may not always get what you want, you always get what you are. Who you are will not change, whatever the result you will always have to reckon with what is in front of you at all times... yourself. 


You are reading Dan Bolton’s blog on

Email Dan Bolton, LMHC at: