The Real Reason why we are Chronically Competitive
Patience has never been a virtue of mine nor the ability to lose gracefully.
Ask anyone in my family or any of my friends, and I guarantee you that each and every one of them will have a story to tell about how competitive I am.
They all know Lydia likes to win.
No one, however, can attest to this more than my husband. He loves to recount his favorite story about the time I played a game with my kids called “Ground Sticks.” They created this game after an old cartoon they used to watch.
Every evening, they would chant, “Ground sticks, ground sticks, ground sticks, go!” and begin pretending to fight and wrestle like samurais. They used to ask us to play with them all the time, and most times, I would sit back and watch my husband have fun with them.
On one specific night, though, after they pleaded with me to join them, I agreed.
“Game on,” I thought in my head, and I began chanting loudly with them, the excitement building with each “ground sticks.”
And when we all yelled, “Go!” man, I went.
I swung my arms in samurai fashion! I pretended to throw punches and wrestled them like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. I even picked my four-year-old son up and flipped him upside down in a playful fashion, then laid him on the ground with a robust Haya!
My husband loves to embellish the story with false gory details about bloodshed and tears as I stood proudly claiming my victory. Reminiscing about this story always brings great laughter to our family, and although there was no bloodshed or tears, I must admit, I was happy to declare myself the winner that night!
Not only was I competitive at games, but I was also competitive in school and work. I faced anything head-on that could remotely be considered a challenge. In nursing school, I would grade my tests before turning them in to ensure I had an idea of my potential grade.
Hand me a report at work that needed to show we are in 85 percent compliance with our metrics, and I would get you 92 percent. I would even race my GPS. If the calculation said I would arrive by 11:18 a.m., you could bet I was going to make it there with five minutes to spare. Everything in my life was a challenge, and I rose to them all with a great need for a win.
My competitive nature resulted in one of the last big purchases I ever made, which was a Peloton bike, back in 2018. I had never even taken a spin class before, but their commercials lured me in with promises of instructor shout-outs and leaderboards I could readily climb.
My Peloton was one of the greatest investments I ever made in myself. It increased my cardiac health, helped my depression, and offered me a new community of supportive people. And yet, it exacerbated an already unhealthy competitive side that existed within me.
The Power Zone program and its leader, Matt Wilpers, introduced me to the meaning of the FTP (fitness threshold performance) test and vocabularies like “output” and “wattage.” As a participant in the challenges, every couple of months, I would retake the FTP test to determine where my fitness level was and see my progress. It was by taking this test that a rider could establish their individualized power zones. The idea was that when everyone in the class was in their Zone 3 range, they were all working at the same difficulty level.
I fell in love with this philosophy and constantly worked harder for FTP improvement. Wilpers inspired me to want to do more and more with my athletic ability. He inspired me. The Peloton and the work I was doing on it increased my confidence, so much so that in 2019, I signed up to compete in my first triathlon.
Then, in 2020, I committed to riding for 100 days straight and accomplished a half-century (50 miles), a metric century (62.5 miles), and a full century (100 miles) within those 100 days. The capstone was that on my 100th day, I completed my first and what would be my last century ride.
Despite everything I had accomplished on my bike and the confidence I was feeling, for some reason, I still felt unfulfilled, and after 100 days of consecutive riding, I was burned out and miserable.
After I took a long break over the holiday season, I tried to return to my bike, but much to my disappointment, I no longer felt inspired. Instead, I felt resentful and uninterested.
You see, when the enjoyment I once felt when riding my bike was replaced with concern over my numbers, hitting a new PR (personal record), or whose stats would generate more likes, I should have known I had a bigger problem.
My husband always used to tell me our rides were not a competition, and I would laugh and say, “Yes, they are. Everything is.” He would laugh and tell me I was nuts in a playful way.
My competitiveness, I suppose, was always endearing to my husband, until it finally wasn’t.
I’m sure he was happy when our riding season ended that fall because each and every ride ended in a comparison of segments, climbs, outputs. I was always trying to prove I was better, and for what?
I thought about the end of our season all winter long, but it wasn’t until this spring that I reversed my outlook on being competitive. I had never realized how much of a detriment it had become to my life.
Ultimately, I decided to do away with all my statistic calculating devices and gave my husband my Garmin. I stopped trying for new PRs (personal records) so I could focus on what was really important—the health of my mind, body, and soul. I also deleted my Strava app so I would resist the urge to compare myself to others.
And, finally, I traded my Power Zone classes for Peloton’s yoga and meditation programs.
As I began to slow down and focus on the truly important pieces of me that needed attention, my desire for winning dissipated. Reflecting deeply on the factors that pushed me to need the next win revealed that this need stemmed from my desire to prove myself over and over again.
But guess what? Winning was never enough.
With every win or victory, I was still left standing alone and ungratified. When constantly feeling empty despite my successes forced me to acknowledge that sad existence, I began to wonder how many of us with unresolved childhood trauma are overly competitive.
Are there many others like me, constantly in search of validation through major victories?
I read an article about a month ago by Seline Shenoy about being hypercompetitive. In it, she outlines steps one could take to change this unhealthy behaviorism. After instructing her readers to identify where their insecurities originate from, she discusses practicing gratitude and encourages the reader to accept that each person’s path is unique and individualized, sort of like a Power Zone class for the mindful!
Finally, Shenoy encourages the reader to set individual goals and standards. As a competitive person attempting recovery, her instructions made me uneasy. I questioned whether I should strive for more goals? Do I dare set standards to which I need to compare myself again? I almost put the article down until her beautiful words caught my eye:
“Our aim should be to focus all our attention and energy on our own endeavors so that we can make the most of our journey on Earth.”
Our own endeavors! Our journey!
Her words spoke to me that day, and with her statement fresh in my mind, I climbed onto my bike and felt like a kid again. Experiencing the pure enjoyment derived from riding free of gadgets put a smile on my face that stretched from ear to ear.
Instead of watching numbers constantly changing on my Garmin, I focused on the lush green scenery, the sounds of the birds, and the hum of the wind in my ears. Returning to the original joy, I found riding my bike as a kid has rejuvenated and gratified me as a mid-life woman.
The other night while I rode and the sun was beginning to set, I had my music lightly playing and I thought to myself, I could just get lost in this. Riding my bike has become like meditation to me—pedaling in synchrony, riding in a straight, consistent line, breathing in the fresh air, and being present in my surroundings.
Ah! it is like heaven.
I downgraded my fancy road bike for a new bike that provides comfort, not speed. I wanted to sit up straight, have a pain-free bum, and feel the wind in my face.
Give me resistance now! To hell with the tuck! Even the occasional bug in the mouth doesn’t bother me on these rides.
The liberation I’ve experienced since I let go of my competitive side has been amazing. I feel as if a sense of calm has washed over me.
Now that I have finally relinquished my control over statistics and output numbers for inner personal satisfaction, I’ve opened my eyes and discovered my PRs are no longer personal records, but they rather have evolved into personal reflections. Growth like that means more to me than any top spot on the leaderboard.
And no matter what, I know, my mentor, Matt Wilpers, would be proud of me for listening to my body and what it needs to be truly healthy.