My wife grew up in the Alpena area on a working beef farm and throughout her youth was actively involved in organizations like FFA (Future Farmers of America) and 4-H. I on the other hand had never stepped foot on a working farm until I went to her parents’house for the first time. I tell you this because we were having a conversation the other day and something she said struck a chord with me.
Competition is too often viewed as a dirty word in our society. We live in a time of “everybody gets a ribbon” because we don’t want anybody to feel left out, defeated or disappointed. The subject of competition in fitness came up and she began telling me about how she used to use competition to develop winning beef steers.
“When I raised one steer in a pen at a time he would only get so big. The goal of raising beef steers was to have a fast and healthy rate of gain so by fair time your animal had ultimate muscle mass and overall weight. That’s why I usually raised 2 steers in a pen at the same time even though I could only take one to the fair. When I had two together in a pen they would naturally compete for food, causing one to become the dominant victor and grow much bigger than the other steer that would just be average. The animal that won out the competition for dominance gained weight faster and had better muscling; and this would be the one I would take to the fair.”
I loved her story and took two powerful lessons from it;
First; Competition = motivation. Motivation=results
We have all felt the rush of achievement at some point in our lives. Those memorable moments where we stood toe to toe and came out the other end victorious. We rose to meet a challenge and performed to heights we never thought we were capable of. Competition creates an environment of focus, drive and determination, an environment where we do not take short cuts and easy options because we know our competitor will not. We fight to move forward and look for ways to constantly improve and when we see results of our hard work come to fruition we stand with pride in the sight of our accomplishments. The catch is if we never allow competition or put ourselves in a competitive environment, this never happens.
Second the winner is not always the winner.
If you are not familiar with the county fair here is the quick and dirty; kid raises steer, steer goes to fair, steer is sold in auction, steer goes to butcher, steer takes up new residence in buyers freezer.
Quite a prize for the “winning” steer, right? It seems in losing the head to head competition the other steer was still awarded a victory in his failure. We have all heard the idea that it is easier to climb to the top than to say on top. During the climb we are focused, driven and hungry for success. Once on top it is more difficult to keep that level of focus and determination at its peak. Not to mention the lessons gained in our setback and failures keep us sharp and growing. With the right mind set we can see failures as opportunities for learning and growth; these are much harder to come by when you are always winning.
What can we take away from this? My longest client has been with me for 7 years, that is a long time to keep someone engaged and about a year ago I was failing. I could see she was not looking forward to training sessions as much, she was canceling more often and her results were stagnant. I was pulling out every little trick I know and could not shake her out of the “funk” she was in. Then one fateful day she asked, “Can my friend Jane train with us?” In that one simple question, in the simple act of her working out with a friend everything changed. She was more engaged, pushed harder and challenged herself in every workout. She once again became excited about training, began progressing again and has risen to a whole different place in her fitness journey. It just took a little competitive juice to kick start the action she needed.
So what is the moral of the story? Competition is good because there is a winner and a looser. The winner is driven to new heights that they could have not reached without the combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation provided by going head to head with someone else. The looser is gifted the opportunity for growth and development, they receive the valuable and instant feedback failure provides so that they can improve and be better equipped to handle the situation or challenge next time. The foundation to reaping the benefits of competition is our mindset when it comes to failure. Don’t allow the fear of failure to take you out of the competition before it even begins. Look for opportunities to fail forward by always looking for the lessons and feedback that exist in failure.