Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Sport and Competition

Reversing the Psychology of Competition

Killing the comparison game in your head with one simple trick.

“Whatever you hold in your mind will occur in your life. If you continue to believe as you have always believed, you will continue to act as you have always acted. If you want different results in your life or your work, change your mind.” ~Unknown

I love mind games.

Better yet, I love discovering anxiety hacks to help my stressed out, sleep deprived, nervous clients get on the right side of calm. Cutting to the psychological chase is a prime concern since ‘anxiety whisperers’ are in high demand.

Did you know there’s 46 million+ prescriptions for the anti-anxiety medication Xanax written yearly in the United States, alone?

Talk about depressing...

I’d bet my license to practice psychotherapy, plus the decade and a half inside the therapy room that a large portion of that statistic comes as a result of playing the comparison game. You could say it’s in our DNA.

“According to social comparison theory, individuals are propelled by a basic drive—the “unidirectional drive upward”—to improve their performance and simultaneously minimize or preempt discrepancies between their and other persons’ level of performance.”

Searching outside the Freudian circle for solutions to quell our competitive spirit, I came across this gem-filled article from entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk, One Simple Trick to Annoy the Hell Out of Your Competition:

"I have literally no idea what my competition is up to right now....I truly believe that the BIGGEST mistake companies and entrepreneurs can make is looking around to see who else is in the running for number one. Who cares?"

Like a kid in a Freudian candy store, Gary’s advice about ignoring the competition got me thinking about the business of life. Could we apply the same principle to redefine social comparison? What if we took our competitors out of the competition?

Caring less about who’s making more money, who’s raising better-behaved children, and who’s relationship is healthier means less daily stress and more calm. Not keeping up with the Joneses means you'll avoid the following four psychological dynamics:

1. Living in the past (which leads to depression). “If only I spent energy doing this instead of that, I’d be more successful like so-and-so.” Recreating, reliving, and rewriting the past means you’re not "here."

2. Living in the future (which contributes to anxiety). Basing your next move on the future actions of your competition: “What if they design a more efficient product?” You’re making assumptions about what may happen in a time that you have no control over.

3. Self-sabotage. Comparing the wonderful life and effortless business acumen of others may trigger memories of not achieving what you set out to do, prompting you to quit. “I’ll never be as successful as them, so why even try?” An unconscious “benefit” of setting yourself up for failure ensures that you don’t have to do the work required to change. In the relationship realm this means repeating the same unhealthy mistakes and settling for a partner who disrespects you.

4. Projecting contempt. When the Green-Eyed Monster emerges, you may be tempted to cut down your competitors to make yourself feel better. “Did you see who he’s dating now? I feel so smuch better about myself -- she’s fat!”

If changing your habit of comparing yourself to others seems hard, that’s understandable. Criticizing the competition may serve as a motivating factor to up your game. Change also means you have to look inside and find new ways to channel your emotional energy. Take it from the New York Times Bestselling Author and founder of Vaynermedia :

"You know what I spend my time on instead? My people and my team, where we’re going, what the next big thing we’re going to CRUSH is."

Getting inside your head is your competitor’s goal. To succeed in business and in life, you’ve got to know how to play the mind game. Focus your time and energy on creating value: Solve a problem, make someone’s day, raise decent human beings (not stressed out, overachieving teens), and forget about everyone else. Sure, winning can be fun, but so is one-upping yourself. Can you be a better person today than you were yesterday?

"I spend time on making myself unbelievable at everything I do."

And that is one psychological gem I’ll gladly share in the therapy room, any day.


Linda Esposito, LCSW is the founder of Team Happy at Get the latest mental wellness and positive psychology updates by clicking here.

Follow Linda on Facebook.

Follow Linda on Twitter.

More from Linda Esposito LCSW
More from Psychology Today