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Do you love winning and hate losing? Does the idea of setting a new record excite you or inspire you? Admit it, you’re competitive. And I am too. You don’t always need to stand atop a podium to feel fulfilled, but you do prefer there be a podium to aim for in the first place. To quote RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Alyssa Edwards: “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to is.”
Recent research published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies indicates that competitive streaks are likely ingrained within us. When research participants were asked to brainstorm ideas, the group that was told the exercise was a game outperformed the control group both in number and quality of ideas produced. Additionally, a study from the University of Missouri found that social competition was the main reason for increased cranial capacity in Neanderthals. Perceived competition and the desire for survival actually made our brains bigger.
I recently took Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment, and lo and behold, competition emerged as one of my top five strengths. Entrepreneurs who have this strength like to have timelines, deadlines and day-to-day performance targets both for themselves and their team but can also get in their head when things don’t go their way. Instead of looking at a competitive spirit as an unattractive quality, come to appreciate it as an important asset in being an entrepreneur.
That being said, sore loser tantrums are never a good look. So here are three ways to tap into your natural competitive energy without setting yourself up for failure.
Leave jealousy at the door
Comparing yourself to others may motivate you to take action, but those feelings can easily slide into jealousy when someone else gets the gold medal — or just boasts about their latest achievement or vacation.
For many, jealousy has become exacerbated by our day-to-day social media experiences; seeing the perfectly curated lives of influencers and even our peers can make us feel unworthy or less than. Studies have confirmed that excessive social media use can erode your sense of self-control and amplify feelings of jealousy.
Keep in mind that you control your inputs, but not necessarily your outcomes. Embrace the fuel that setting goals gives you, but also acknowledge how external factors may emerge that force you to reassess your progress. If nothing else, this year has reminded nearly every entrepreneur of the importance of being nimble and responsive.
Gamify your hustle
If contests and matchups make you jump out of bed in the morning, capture that lightning in a bottle and use it to fuel your passions. Short-term challenges and writing down your goals motivate you, so instead of trying to diminish your competitive side, embrace it.
What might gamification look like for you? Consider one or more of the following best practices:
Race the clock. Set a goal to complete a task as quickly and effectively as possible. Time yourself so you know the clock is ticking — use your phone, a kitchen timer or a free online stopwatch.
Make a pact with a friend. A study on exercise motivation published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that when participants had a virtual accountability buddy, their exercise time doubled. Use this same accountability energy to your advantage in various business pursuits.
Break revenue records. What’s the highest-revenue month you’ve ever notched? Identify the bar, then brainstorm creative ways to meet it and beat it. If you’re competitive, you’ll probably get an itch to do this today.
Make yourself your toughest opponent
In a SWOT analysis, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to a business or market are plotted equally to determine internal and external influences on performance.
Opportunities and threats are good to be aware of. But strengths and weaknesses can hold greater power, because the locus of control is within the organization. There’s a reason SWOT analyses are so popular in business: They identify what can and cannot be controlled and can give you insights on where to channel your competitive energy.
And even within SWOT, while the quadrants of strength and weakness are equal in size, your strengths are more malleable to improvement and are often where you should focus your energy first.
In response to market trends and internal talent, Netflix restructured its product and positioning from DVD rental services to online streaming. As of this writing, it has 167 million subscribers. Blockbuster, in contrast, never hopped on the streaming wagon, and subsequently its last surviving location was recently converted into an Airbnb experience. Opportunities and threats are good to anticipate, but growing your areas of strength will be what propels you and your business forward.
Yes, having a competitive personality can be unsavory at times. But that doesn’t mean you should dull the stars in your eyes. Learn how to channel your competitiveness into constructive action steps and you’ll quickly find yourself motivated and inspired to make your next move.