Competing with Self

In ‘competing’, the direction is not bad. In fact, it can be a great drive which challenges us to bring out the best we have and pushes us to progress and excel


Philosophically speaking, each of us is unique and logically not in competition with anyone. This realisation gives us a healthy outlook to the world with greater respect and no enemies.

The perspective

We’re constantly told that we are in a competitive world, where we are supposed to be in competition with someone or something all the time. We are so conditioned to believe this that we are blind to perspectives and possibilities beyond this conditioning. We don’t realise how very limiting it is, if not patently untrue.

In ‘competing’, the direction is not bad. In fact, it can be a great drive which challenges us to bring out the best we have and pushes us to progress and excel. It is the perspective – who do we see as ‘competition’, that can act either as a constraint or an advantage!

Being competitive is an advantage

In an organisational context, competition provides a benchmark to measure against – there is something visible and specific to chase, poses challenges and puts pressure to perform better, raises standards of operation, pulls in efficiencies and brings out the best in one, prompting us all the time to seek and scale higher peaks.

All of this is supposed to benefit each of the players and the society at large. What is true for organisations is also true for individuals.

The flipside

Taken to the extreme, it’s a rat race as they say – each attempting to outdo the other and in some cases, even ‘undo‘ others. It’s a kind of a war, whether we like it or not. It’s a blacker side of ‘competing’ where anything is considered ‘done‘ as long as it gets us ahead – be it in the job market or pacing ahead of a fellow motorist (at mutual risk) in a busy traffic. We don’t realise how the focal point shifts from the self (winning) to the ‘other person‘ ( defeating him/her). The goal degenerates to equate with the person (opponent) and the passion turns (against) personal. That is where negativity starts, where the opponent becomes an enemy and ‘eliminating‘ seems synonymous with ‘defeating‘.

This ‘negative’ pursuit takes its toll on our energy, mind and importantly, ethics! Beyond the possibility of degenerating into a hateful, destructive mindset, there are other important disadvantages of ‘competing with someone’.

When we peg our success to someone/something pre-existing, it can at best be relative, and hence, misleading. If in an academic group, we are number 2 to a topper with 60 per cent score ….what would we consider a success — surpassing 60 per cent or holding distinction with 85-90 per cent? Taken to the extreme, if we are conditioned to surpass someone, we will be utterly directionless when we become number 1!

Such outlook can constrain our thinking. Fighting for the same pie and grabbing a piece instead /ahead of someone else (an outlook of insecurity) blinds us to the possibility that we can actually make the pie bigger (an outlook of abundance) so that each one has plenty. It’s challenging the assumption that those competing have to be on the opposite side of a table.

Competing with self – an alternative perspective

Wouldn’t the world be more progressive if we hold all advantages of being competitive, sans the ‘blacker side’ of competition?

As I said earlier, it is not the ‘purpose’, which is bad, but the ‘perspective’ that needs to change. There is a Sanskrit saying (Subhashit) which says that ‘You’re your best friend and also worst enemy’. In corporate context, it means, the best competitive challenge and worst competitive threat to one is from within.

Competing with self – the advantage

In a competition, the closer we know our ‘opponent‘ the more successful will be our strategy to achieve our competitive goal. Among all people, who would we know most inside-out, than ourself and vice versa?

When we mistake a rival for an enemy, negativity overtakes us, which can be destructive. Competing with the self can only be constructive, since pursuit will be focused on the goal — not the person, and ‘elimination’ is not on agenda.

Surpassing ourselves — where today’s us strives to exceed yesterday’s version, every day — is an unending pursuit in excellence, like in reaching ‘perfection’. Regardless of who succeeds – our previous best or our current best, WE are the winners! Being conscious about the need for continuous self-improvement to get better, everyday – makes us seekers (like Ekalavya in Mahabharat), which is the biggest form of empowerment.

Abraham Lincoln apparently used to stand in front of a mirror, every day and ask: ‘Am I a better person today, than I was yesterday?’

It has two implications

You get outdated everyday

To upgrade, is one’s obligation

From my own experience, I can tell that there is no better challenge and inner drive than to outperform ourselves. ‘Competing with self’, not only pushes us to excel – putting us on a much higher platform when competing with the external world — it also provides an absolute and never- ending benchmark.

Philosophical Outlook

Each of us has our own combination of strengths and idiosyncrasies. God has taken care to see that no two of his human models are identical, physically, psychologically or in combination, which makes each of us as a unique offering. We’re not like tomatoes or potatoes that look alike and trade as a commodity. Philosophically speaking, therefore, each of us forms a unique proposition and none logically is in competition with anyone else.

This realisation opens our minds and gives us a healthy outlook to the world and ourselves, with greater respect and no hatred. There is no enemy!

Choice is ours

There is nothing more compellingly constructive than competing with oneself. It is the most beautiful and progressive concept. From my experience, if we compete with our own self, our competitive spirit will never exhaust! It finally comes down to making an individual choice! We need to decide if we want to be the follower — who is defined and measured vis-à-vis someone else — or the leader, who will set standards for others. Either we believe that we are a commodity or are unique. If a commodity, then compete with all others like us. If, instead, we believe we are unique — compete with the self!

The choice is entirely ours.

Ask an ICF-credentialed coach to help you take the next step forward on your own journey to develop new leadership skills

If you need support on your organisation’s and/or leader’s coaching journey, do contact us at ICF and our team of volunteers in India will be happy to help.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering the role of coaching as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning, and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching. In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.

The author, Yatin Samant is an ICF PCC-credentialed coach with more than 34 years of corporate working career across a diverse set of industries, nationality/geographies and culture in different function areas. He has previously been the P&L head and SBU head/CEO. He retired early to dedicate himself to the cause of leadership development and human leveraging in general, pioneering the ‘Inside-Out’ learning pathway vs the conventional ‘Outside-In’ pathway. He has over 1000 hours of coaching experience and has been on the board of Education Organisation in India as an independent director. He has published two poetry books and over 100 articles in English / Marathi.


  1. Excellent…… The article invokes the perspective to identify individual capabilities and to re-evaluate strengths and weaknesses , prior to comparing with outward resources.
    Very self elevating, healthy insight ?

  2. Very insightful Yatin. This is a paradigm shift and requires a huge mindset transformation. From an org perspective must have a top down support to make this change happen. Multifarious challenges are to be understood n process changes.. for example .. appraisal systems .. met expectations VS exceeded expectations . It will be great to understand how this has been implemented in org context as also in individual context.

  3. Very well written article. Competing with self also enables compassion for others who are ‘seemingly’ behind you because you understand that they are also in competition with self.

Comment on the Article

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

fourteen − 1 =