I love to win. If I ever lose a game of Madden, I’ll play you again and again until I find a way to win. Pickup basketball? I’m not the best (I’m barely 6′ tall), but I’ll play for hours until I wear you down.
For most of my life, I only focused on “me vs you” competition. In middle & high school, I was a smaller athlete. I quarterbacked at a whopping 5’11, 145lbs (soaking wet) and couldn’t add size at all. I even had a nutritionist creating meal plans of 8 meals per day, but zero luck in putting on desired mass. I was stuck skinny as a rail, but part of my enjoyed it because gave me the opportunity to take on more athletically talented opponents and prove that I would outwork and outsmart them to win.
There’s a part of me that always had that mindset – in sports, in my working career, and even when I found CrossFit. I was ok going into a “dark hole” mentally if it meant I had a better chance to win. No one was keeping score in those daily workouts but me, but in my head, everyone was.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to realize how much I’d missed the mark when it comes to evaluating competition. It’s so easy today to spend time and energy obsessing over what everyone else is doing. We scroll social media and feel convicted that we aren’t training on a scheduled rest day because we see someone else online posting video from their finished workout. We battle anxiety because “so in so” just posted a picture of a big achievement. We compare ourselves and all of our struggles to that one picture, and most times, we feel so much less than we actually are.
We exhaust ourselves trying to run other people’s races, constantly looking at their lanes instead of focusing on our own.
You see, when I take a “it’s always me vs you” mindset, I waste all of my energy focusing on (dare I say, obsessing over) what’s out of my control – which is you. I don’t control you – I have no influence on the abilities you’re born with, the contacts you’ve created, or the work you choose to do. I only control me. And you only control you.
Our time is limited.
Our energy, even more so. Yet, when we constantly focus on competing with other people, we spend what little we have of these two resources on things that, well honestly, energy and focus can’t impact. Have we ever impacted someone we follow on social media by simply obsessing about their posts or progress all day? Of course not, and doing so only drains us. Just imagine if we used that same focus and energy on the things we’re working toward and the goals we’ve set?
Think of it like this.
A sprinter in track hears the gun fire and takes off toward the finish line in a 200m race. Now, this specific runner is worried about who she is running against, so halfway in, she begins to look to her left and right, trying to gauge where a) her biggest rival is, and b) who is gaining on her. This turning of her focus, turns her head, and ultimately, slows her body down. While trying to see what her competition is doing, the racer loses steam and is immediately passed by the other races despite having the ability to win the race.
So why did she lose? Simple physics. A runner cannot hit top speed when they are looking anywhere but dead ahead at the finish line. The moment you turn to your left or right, you slow down. Your body cannot physically run at maximum output when it’s not aligned – and all pressing forward. This specific runner lost speed and failed to maximize her potential because she lost focus on running her own race.
The same applies to each of us outside of sports as well.
Constantly looking to our left and right (or in most of our cases, scrolling our social media feeds) drains us of our focus and causes us to lose “steam” in our own race. The moment we take our eyes and energy off of pursuing our own goals and onto someone else’s highlight reel or journey, we lose steam because we’re not focusing on our actual competition: ourselves.
“The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.” – Steve Young
That’s right. Of all the competitors we *think* we have in life, our biggest, possibly only true, competition is with the person in the mirror. Focusing on our own lane – performing at our maximum potential – requires us to only focus on being better than we were yesterday. It’s not about what someone else is posting, saying, or doing – it’s about asking ourselves “What can I do today better than I did yesterday?” then go and do it.
That sounds hard. Well, it is. It’s much easier to scroll Instagram and spend the entire day anxious about what one single person posted. It’s much easier to let every day be “just another day” instead of seeing where you slipped yesterday and making sure you don’t slip that same way again today. It’s much easier to not pursue daily improvement – which is why most people are content doing just that. But not Competitors, and surely not you. You want more, so you’re willing to try this “competing against myself” every day.
So how can you start learning to compete against yourself?
There are countless articles encouraging you to compete against yourself, but like you, I’ve stumbled through many of them looking for how I could train myself to compete against myself. I spent a few years struggling to get my mindset shifted from “me vs. you” to the real battle of “me vs. me” and competing every day against my previous best. Here are four actionable steps you can start today toward being better than yesterday.
1. Day One (at a time)
By taking things one day at a time. Once we begin to understand it’s a daily journey, we can start focusing on a single day at a time. We won’t win every day – it’s impossible to come out on the right side every single day. But we sure as hell can compete every day. So on the days we fall short, figure out what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again the same way tomorrow. And on the days we win? Make note of what went right and try to build on it the next day.
2. Track Your Progress
Every day. Every successful person either journals or keeps track with their progress every day. Top athletes have a training journal that tracks their daily workouts, weights used, and times recorded. They are able to adjust up/down based on the results from a set program or specific lift personal best. Without the journal, they’d spend their time guessing what numbers to use for specific lifts and either waste time going too light therefore being not pushed hard enough during training – or the opposite, and going too heavy to where they cannot complete the workout or reach the desired output.
I’ve kept a small work journal since I started CED. I would make notes at conferences, track quarterly tasks, or use it to brainstorm big ideas for the company. I spent time earlier this year reading back through my journal and it’s encouraging to see where you’ve come from. The things that I remember stressing me no longer do, and the struggles I had in year 2, are much smaller than the struggles I have in year 6. At the time they didn’t feel that way, but looking back, they were stepping stones on my personal and professional growth journey.
These days I’ve found my highest level of productivity by keeping a daily journal for my goals, mindset, and daily action items. I’ve tried a number of different planners/journals, but found that I enjoy using Best Self Co’s Self Journal for tracking my goals, progress, & lessons each day. Best Self’s journal creates space for quarterly planning, big picture thinking, as well as daily tracking for:
- What I’m grateful for today (daily practice of being thankful)
- What are my BIG picture goals I’m working toward (so they’re always in focus)
- What are 3 action items I must complete today (prioritize the day before the day starts)
- Lessons learned (for daily review, where did I fall short and where did I win?)
- Hourly Schedule (for creating the day I want to run, and not letting the day run me)
I can look back six months ago, review what lessons I learned then, and how well I stuck to my plan. The best part of this journal? It’s created for 13-week sprints, so that you’re being highly productive focused on 1-2 big picture tasks every 13-weeks.
3. Put On Your Blinders
If you’re honest with yourself, how much time are you truly spending on social media? What if you cut that number in half this week? It may feel like the end of the world, but what if you challenged yourself to spend half as much time on social media, and instead of just casually scrolling feeds throughout the day, block a specific time(s) during the day to review your feed.
Putting our blinders on involves learning to block out all outside noise and distraction that detracts from what matters most in our lives – family, friends, and the pursuit of our goals. Many of us get the most distracted by what’s online and on our devices, so what if we cut down the time on it by intentionally putting blinders on and cutting down the time we spend on social media?
This (challenging opportunity) will cut down on the opportunities for comparison with others online, but it will also increase your time to focus on your own path. Instead of searching Instagram for what everyone else is doing/saying/experiencing, we’ll spend that time pouring into what we want to accomplish. It’s amazing what you can do with an extra 30-45 minutes per day of laser-focused attention. What would you do with an extra 5+ hours every week to help you get closer to your big goal?
Inc.com details a list of six (6) apps you can use to help you cut down on social media usage on our phones. Put your blinders on, your phone down, and your focus toward what matters most: your own journey.
4. Do Your Best, Every Day
In the book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz shares his guide to relieving one’s self from self-limiting beliefs and instead gain “personal freedom.” His fourth agreement, Do Your Best, is a challenge to compete every day by giving your best efforts, no matter the situation. Ruiz states that “to do your best means to:
Don Miguel Ruiz defines this Fourth Agreement as:
- Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret
- Your best is going to change from moment to moment (it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick)
That second piece is most crucial.
Our best efforts will vary from day to day. Just like when we go to the gym, there are days I walk in and can lift a certain weight easily. I feel strong. But that same weight on another day may feel 100lbs heavier. Same weight. Same lift. Same me. But my best effort is a struggle on one day versus another.
Yet, this is the distinguishing piece between Competitors and everyone else. When most would feel the heavier weight, have this feeling of “not feeling it,” they quit. They choose to instead do something else or half-ass their efforts. They see it as an opportunity to slack off instead of the opportunity to lean into the discomfort.
Competitors are a different breed though. In those moments of not “feeling it,”Competitors still put in the work. When the weight surprisingly feels heavier than last time, a Competitor will still give their best effort to complete the workout as their Coach has instructed. And on the mornings they don’t feel like doing anything, Competitors get out of bed and finish what they’ve committed to do, what gets them closer to their goals, and what those relying on them, need them to do.
Competing against ourselves is at the core, about giving our best effort, every day, when we feel like it and when we don’t. It’s how we build upon previous days wins/losses, and grow to be better than we were yesterday. Even a crawl forward beats standing still.
James Altucher talks about “the 1% rule” and this idea of giving 1% better effort every day toward creating a new habit you want or progressing toward a goal. Did you know that if you gave just 1% better effort every day, thanks to compounding effect, that 1% would double within 72 days. Altucher argues that it’s not giant leaps forward that improve our lives, but small steps (1%) made every single day to build upon the previous.
In other words, competing every day against yourself to do a little bit better than you did yesterday.
Take another look in the mirror.
Does that reflection look a little different? Do you see the eyes of your only competition staring back at you? And if you’re like me, do you start to smile, accepting the challenge of being better than yesterday? I thought so, which is why you are a Competitor.
- Understand that your only competition is with who you were before
- Take the competition One Day at a time
- Track your progress
- Block out social media & outside noise – they don’t matter
- Give your best efforts – end on empty
You are your own competition, and the good news, is that you have everything required to win. Be better than yesterday by competing every day.