• Henrik Hjarsbaek

Compete with yourself

We live in a world that is driven by competition. In the boardrooms, in school, on the internet and on the field, we are constantly competing – but do we have the right focus, when we do?

It is always a positive thing to pursue one’s goals. It can be a source of motivation and personal satisfaction. At the same time, if your focus is not directed at the right aspect it can be destructive to you.

Find the right motivational strategy for you

Even though being hyper-competitive can bring a lot of positive aspects with it, it can also limit you. In other words, it can have both a healthy and unhealthy influence on you as an athlete.

What happens when you do not succeed or are beaten by an opponent, who might just be better than you or simply performed better on that day? Do you become depressed and/or despondent? Do you feel pressured when a new teammate performs excellently? Do you think “I have to show them what I can do?”, or do you respond like a lot of other athletes:

“The other people are really good, but when I succeed in doing the same, it is just okay or based on luck?”

It may seem irrational, but a lot of athletes have a negative inner voice that always paints their performances in a lesser light than it does the performances of others.

It is key that you keep an eagle-eyed focus on the things that matter. If you are constantly competing with the world around you, you will often encounter obstacles in the shape of other people that either are more successful on the field or in their job or in any other aspect that is important to you.

It is undeniable that you will experience times in your life when you will be successful in your actions, but it also a certainty that you will experience defeats, letdowns and obstacles at times. So how do you figure out a motivational and competitive strategy with a healthy focus? That is what we will delve into in the following section.

Winning is not everything

Now, I know that a lot of people will call that particular statement pure “hogwash”. Just imagine the face of the late legend Al Davis, if you uttered that sentence when he was alive. Nevertheless, it is true. When you are competing against others, you will undeniably experience some victories, but if your approach is to win at all costs, you will have achieved the result on the basis of the wrong aspects.

If we take a look at the previously mentioned excellent new teammate, that made you a little insecure. This person has performed at a high level and now you want to show that you are capable of doing the same. You feel highly motivated and it is obvious in your performance. You perform brilliantly on the practice field. Your coaches notice this and end up putting you in the starting line-up. “Yes!”, you think to yourself. You won that competition. But why did you win it?

As an athlete, it is important that you are aware of your own values. What are the important aspects to you? What do you want to represent? Which value-based actions do you want to characterise you? Asking yourself these types of questions will help you get to know yourself as an athlete and become aware of how you want others to perceive you.

If you begin to compete against others, it can quickly become a habit, one that is not always healthy for you or your development as an athlete. No matter how exceptionally talented you might be, you will always encounter others that exceed your abilities in some areas. Comparing oneself to others is a dangerous road to venture on to. If you are constantly comparing yourself to a teammate that is better than you, or friends that have a better job or a fancier apartment or are simply better at their sport than you are at yours, it can end up stealing the joy you get from your sport and take your focus away from the aspects that brings you this joy.

Create your own success

People that compete with themselves often achieve at a higher level than those that just compete against others, because they have understood that winning is more than just competition. It is not always about who crosses the finish line first, but giving your all to achieve YOUR goals. Competition for competition’s sake does not necessarily develop your skills. You are not the best version of yourself if you are constantly comparing yourself with aspects based on the abilities, hopes and dreams of others. You have to base it on aspects that are uniquely your own.

On the other hand, when you compete with yourself, you have a unique opportunity to define what success is means you. It becomes an instrument of self-improvement whether it is learning a new practical skill on the field or a greater mental balance.

The best thing about it though, is the satisfaction that you get when you can actually see your own development, while you do not crave the external acknowledgement, because you are secure in who you are as an athlete and person, and you have complete trust in your abilities. When your main competitor is yourself, and you find value in developing yourself, beating others does not mean as much to you. Instead you will continue to find new ways to challenge yourself.

What about panic, anxiety or stress?

You will probably make the argument that it is not possible to avoid experiencing losses, even when we are just competing with ourselves, and you would be correct. In life, we are bound to experience a myriad of defeats regardless of our approach to life.

However, when we compete with ourselves the difference is that we are less likely to blame others for our shortcomings, and more likely to actually take responsibility for our own actions.

If you are aware of this, it will not be a source of panic, anxiety or stress for you, but an aspect where you can learn from your mistakes, and gain more insight into your own inner workings and the reasons behind your actions. In other words, it provides you with the opportunity to improve and be better prepared the next time you are in a similarly stressful situation.

It can help to remind yourself to:

1) focus on you

a. It is very easy to revert back to old habits, so remember to remind yourself of what is most important to you – your own athletic and personal development.

2) set realistic and achievable goals

a. You need to take risks and dream big, but you also have to be realistic. Create “process-goals”, small attainable goals that will help you achieve in the long-term .

3) find positive sources of motivation

a. Find aspects or people that make you look forward to working with your goals. It could be working with your mental approach in order for you to enhance your performance on the field or maybe find a person that has reached the same goals that you have set, and seek inspiration in her/his story.

4) reward yourself when you have hit a milestone

a. Even though we live in a fast paced world, it is important to slow down, stop and smell the roses from time to time. So remember to appreciate yourself and your work when you have achieved something of importance to you.

Increase your mental strength through mental training

A lot of athletes are not aware of the how’s and why’s behind their actions and thoughts. So ask yourself if you are in control of your actions when you are being challenged.

There’s nothing strange about this, as most of us are emotional beings. That means that we react according to our internal emotional system, which can be both good and bad depending on if we do so in a positive or negative manner.

At the same time, it can be difficult to change your way of thinking strictly on your own. It is very hard and time-consuming to achieve that level of self-awareness on your own as most of us have some sort of blinders on in relation to some of our negative habits and thought patterns.

These are the first steps in our coaching sessions – to increase your mental awareness. When you have become aware of your own patterns of action, you really have the opportunity for exceptional mental growth.

Mental training can move mountains, even for the most talented athlete. Elite athletes and business professionals are constantly under both external and internal pressure to perform. Parents, coaches, friends, media, stockholders, employers and teammates have expectations of your performance. This added external pressure can lead to an increase in internal pressure, performance anxiety, stress or depression. But if you are able to place your focus correctly, you will be able to achieve at a high level without reaching the massive low points that can lead to anxiety attacks or similarly stressful situations or at least minimising their effect on your mental state.

Mental training does not discriminate

At HH Performance our focus is on optimising your performance, especially in pressured situations. Mental training is always a good investment for the athlete that needs and seeks to perform at the highest level. However, you do not have to be a professional to gain from mental training. Often it is a good idea to start as early as possible, before professionalism is even an option. When you begin at an early age, you learn to handle the pressure as it takes place and as it increases while you are progressing in your sport.

Additionally, you avoid the situation where the damage is already done, and you ensure that you are building instead of repairing. That being said, remember it is never too late to start training the mental aspect of you as a person or an athlete. It is never too late to improve yourself as an athlete or as a person.

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