How many times have you heard the phrase, “You’re too competitive” during your life? If you’re like me, more times than you can count. Modern society treats someone with a competitive drive like a pariah.
Why work so hard?
What are you trying to prove?
It’s not like you’re going pro.
If you were young and dumb like me, you probably believed them that being very competitive was a bad thing. I’m here to tell you that being competitive is a virtue that everyone needs. If you’re not competing in some shape or form, you’re probably a loser. Harsh words for a harsh world, my friend. Competition boosts testosterone, pushes you to achieve, and also provides an incentive to do your best.
What kind of competitions are there? For the sake of brevity, we’ll boil it down to 2 types: intrinsic and extrinsic competition.
This is basically competing against yourself:
At the gym trying to set a new PR?
Trying to drop down to single digit body fat levels?
Working on writing more today than you did yesterday?
These are all intrinsic forms of competition where the only person you’re up against is yourself.
One problem with intrinsic competition is that it is harder to heighten it to the levels of extrinsic competition. When you are staring across from someone or know your opponent is out there training harder than you, it drives you even more to succeed. If you are just competing against yourself all the time, the fire inside begins to wane.
As you might have guessed, this type of competition is where you are competing against an outside force. Every sport (at least that I can think of) is extrinsic competitions. If you and your buddy make a wager who can finish their pint first, you are participating in an extrinsic competition.
Extrinsic competition, for most, has a more profound impact on motivation and testosterone. You have a focal point for your aggression. You know that if you slip up or slack off your opponent will capitalize on it.
Which is better?
It’s hard to say. Extrinsic is likely a stronger driver for success in most instances, but it’s taxing to constantly be competing against others. It makes you edgy and unable to appreciate the gains you’ve made. Intrinsic, on the other hand, allows you to enjoy the journey you’ve made, but lacks the proverbial (and sometimes literal) “punch”.
In the end, a healthy blend of both is optimal. Most likely you will go through seasons where most of your competition shifts from intrinsic to extrinsic. It is natural and you should enjoy the changes. A yin and yang relationship, if you will.
I, myself, am actually going through such a change of seasons. For a few years, most of my competition has been against myself. Now it is starting to shift to extrinsic. I have joined a flag football league (I never said the competition had to be serious) and am planning to compete in an amateur MMA fight a little over a year from now. The thought of facing off against someone has revived my inner warrior and I am always counting down the next time I get to train.
Too many people shrink from competition. You must learn to embrace it. It is the natural order of our world and those who compete are the ones who thrive.
“Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base.” -George S. Patton