Let’s face it. Many of us just don’t feel comfortable calling ourselves competitive. Traumatic memories of school PE lessons are common – when sharing tales of sporting woes with female friends and colleagues, it’s surprising how many sympathise. But what exactly is behind our inability – or unwillingness – to be competitive? Fear of failure? Or could our biology lack the competitive gene? Whether you’re stuck in a fitness rut, not seeing the benefits you want or finding it hard to get motivated, adding a competitive edge is a guaranteed fix.
1. Competitive spirit is key for equality
Turns out there really are evolutionary reasons to explain why women are often less competitive than men, says psychologist Linda Blair (www.lindablair.co.uk), author of The Key To Calm (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99). ‘It’s in our nature to co-operate, not compete. Women needed other women to help raise children while men went out to hunt. We have to overcome this prehistoric instinct if we want to be more competitive. The other factor is that, whether in the boardroom or in sports, it’s often perceived as a masculine trait.’ Smash that PB for the ladies.
2. Competition helps make you assertive, not aggressive
‘People sometimes think competition means aggression,’ says sports psychologist Stuart Biddle (www.aspirationco.com/biographies/stuart-biddle), professor of physical activity and health at Loughborough University. ‘But aggression is the intent to do harm, which is different from assertion and the intent to do well.’ Time to lose the guilt!
3. Competition can help you to compartmentalise
Who struggles to keep last night’s row from seeping into your day? Time to take a lesson from the pro-athletes. ‘Think of the boxers who shake hands after a fight or the rugby teams who go for a pint – psychologists call this “bracketed morality”,’ Professor Biddle says. ‘Top athletes are able to compartmentalise their lives, so they can be assertive and competitive during play, and focused in training, yet relaxed the rest of the time.
4. Compete with yourself and you’re less likely to obsess about others
‘Getting fitter is all about wanting to better yourself,’ says personal trainer Stuart Amory (www.inkilterfitness.co.uk). ‘Whether you want to be faster, stronger or slimmer, you’re aiming for results. And that requires competition – just not necessarily with other people. The only person you really have to beat is who you were yesterday.’ Blair agrees: ‘Nurturing competitiveness against yourself leads to higher self-confidence than wanting to be better than someone else.’ Which, we can all agree, is a total waste of time.
5. Competitive spirit helps you triumph over self-doubt
Your most important opponent is your inner critic – you know, that voice that says you’ll never make tonight’s dance class or you’re too slow for running club. ‘Harness your competitive side by setting goals,’ says Amory. ‘Think about what you want to achieve and why, write it down, and make a plan. Set mini goals along the way: I will walk for 30 minutes every day this week; I’ll do five press-ups tonight, then add one more each day until I get to 25. When you achieve them, celebrate, but swiftly think of your next challenge. Goals should not only excite you, but scare you a little, too.’