Monday, November 22, 2010

Lose Your Competitive Mind to Gain Your Competitive Edge

I recently had someone ask me if I participate in the local climbing competitions at my gym. In telling her no I realized that I have never really thought about why that is. I love watching comps but I’ve never liked being in them. I know if you were to ask me why I would say that I don’t like the intense feelings of anxiety I have during a competition. I have a hard enough time managing my own usual levels of anxiety when I climb and competing always felt masochistic to me. But there must be more to it so I started looking into it.

In a recent online interview, Dan Millman, author of “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” and “Body Mind Mastery” reported the biggest problem with the world today is the competitive mind. According to Millman, the competitive mind is an ego based fear with a core idea of separateness from others and in being separate you strive to overcome others.

Could this be part of why I feel so anxious at climbing comps? Could it be that I start thinking of my fellow climbers as “others to overcome” and it suddenly adds more pressure then I can handle? It’s very possible. I’ve participated in competitive sports growing up and I was usually able to use that competitive anxiety to my advantage; but in climbing the competitive anxiety/energy was too much for me to manage. I often felt that I couldn’t stay in my body during climbing competitions and used up too much energy being in my head with my competitive anxiety. In the other competitive sports I’ve participated in I can’t remember any other anxiety that I needed to manage before the competition. So adding some competitive anxiety to the mix probably didn’t affect me there.

However, I’m sure that competitive anxiety affected me negatively somehow because one of the reasons I was drawn to climbing so much was the non-competitive feel it had. The general feel of climbing to me is more collaborative and social. The climbing community is usually friendly, welcoming and generally helpful. I don’t usually see the competitive side until I go to watch a competition. When I do see overly competitive climbers at the crags or the gym I usually try to steer clear of them and not engage. Now with Dan Millman’s explanation of seeing them as “others to overcome” I realize that my efforts to avoid this energy are probably some type of self-preservation so that I don’t associate climbing with dominating or getting dominated by others.

Striving to overcome others through competition reminds me of another topic I’ve addressed in my blog: control. I wrote that you can only control yourself, your efforts and your reactions but that you can’t control external circumstances. Having a competitive mind is outcome and achievement based thinking and could sabotage your efforts to succeed. Ultimately we can’t control if we win because we can’t control what others are going to do. And we can’t control even if we will succeed, we can only control our effort.

Dan Millman reported that instead of having a competitive mind when we compete or in life otherwise, it is better to have a “collaborative mind.” When approaching climbing from a collaborative mind we see that other’s success is our success. Sometimes we are the student and sometimes we are the teacher. This is definitely something that I did not grasp over ten years ago when I was considering participating in climbing comps. I just wrote them off as something I didn’t want to do. Now after researching the psychology of competition I realize that I avoided it because I didn’t have the skills or the perspective necessary to manage my own competitive mind. Guess I have a new project to work on…competing with a collaborative mind.


  1. I think you are looking at it all wrong. Competitions are not about others to overcome. Most climbers will tell you that they just climb as hard as they can and whatever happens happens. At the same time.. whats wrong with a little can sometimes enable you to do thing you didn't think were possible if you were climbing alone. Its all about your psych.

  2. I agree! I would love to just climb as hard as I can in a comp and let whatever happens happen. But I always got too nervous and ungrounded about the whole thing because I got wrapped up in the outcome instead of the process. But I'm working on it...


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