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August 28, 2023

Why do we compete?

Roy Ben

Why do we compete?

Competition is baked into our DNA — as important to humans as eating and breathing. We compete from the moment we get conceived and we never really stop.

Image: Greg Streech.

With early humans competing for resources and survival, competition makes up an integral part of human history. From hunting and gathering to modern-day sports and business, competition has played a significant role in shaping human behavior, psychology, and culture.

I’ll spare you the history lesson; we all have a rough idea of competition’s innate importance for humans and our survival as a species. We competed and fought for everything — territory, resources, mates, food, etc. This competition for survival played a significant role in shaping human psychology, behavior, and culture.

Nowadays, competition is perhaps the last vestibule of meritocracy. In its purest form, it represents people playing within a defined set of rules in order to test one’s personal ability against their peers in the hopes of knowing, “who is the best?”

You can see it in kids — take a class of young kids and give them the opportunity to compete against one another in a fun game. Not only do they thrive in those conditions, but they also take very it seriously. They desperately want to win, even if they knowingly have to cheat.

Winning overrides the means by which they achieve the win. It can be the smallest thing, like who can run and touch the wall first, or who can stand on one leg the longest. Anything framed in a competitive way will get them amped up thanks to their brain’s wiring to try and win.

Image: Greg Streech.

The power of competition

Image: Greg Streech.

However, competing isn’t reserved exclusively for sports, you can literally compete in anything and everything from math to spelling bees and everything else humans find interest in. That’s how innate competition is for us — we create it for anything, even baking shows, which I always thought of as a relaxing endeavor rather than an episode of “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Competition brings people together. Sure, it creates rivalries that can get out of hand, but it can also elevate the opposition to become better.

When done right, competition can bring people from across the globe together, like with the Olympics or the World Cup. We gather with hope to catch a glimpse of the world’s best athletes doing what they do best. The athletes, if they’re lucky, they will see competition at the highest level and leave that place inspired and better for it.

Physical activity releases endorphins, natural mood boosters that can reduce anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions. Competing in physical activities also has known positive effects on mental health — an effective way to reduce stress, improve mood, and boost self-confidence.

Image: Greg Streech.

Let yourself have fun!

Let’s not forget that sometimes testing yourself against your peers is simply fun.

It doesn’t always have to have all these added benefits, it just so happens that competition does. But sometimes we can just do things purely for the fun of them.

Let’s focus on Muay Thai for a second. If you just practice on a bag or with a partner that holds pads for you without sparring, are you reaching your full potential? Well, that depends on whatever your own personal goals are. If you’re just looking to get in better shape then that is 100 percent fine.

However, you may want to go further. You can work on sharpening your tools all day long in practice, but if you don’t test yourself against a moving target that also happens to hit back, how will you ever know if your skills translate into the real world?

You can’t.

Image: Greg Streech.

Testing your abilities

Image: Greg Streech.

You need to test yourself, you want to test yourself, yet often times a little voice inside your head (perhaps a bit afraid) holds you back. In the academy, you can tune that little voice out and allow yourself to explore the limits of your potential — it’s arguably the best place to do so.

You can never fail if you compete and give it your all; all you can do is learn. While winning might be the primary objective of competition, some would argue that learning, improving, and taking a chance is a very, very close second, and maybe even more important in the grand scheme of things.

Competition is the engine that drives us all to get out of bed.

So don’t fight it, don’t shy away. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. Go out there, test yourself, challenge yourself, and improve not only yourself but the people around you — your team, and your community. As the saying goes — “ A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Image: Greg Streech.



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