Life is competitive. People are competitive. University students, especially, are competitive. Competition is a social and biological tool we use to understand who we are and what we’re good at. And that’s healthy! However, when healthy competition becomes constant comparison, it can quickly become toxic.
So how can you ensure you’re using competition as a productive thing rather than letting constant comparison become damaging? We spoke with Adam Currell from Uni Newcastle’s Student Wellbeing Team to get his advice on how to remain focused on your goals and self-development, rather than competing with others.
Tip 1: Understand that competition is a part of life and it’s ok!
“It’s important to remember that yes, we are all in competition with each other on some level and that that plays out across the entirety of society,” Adam explains.
However, when this competition turns into equating your self-worth or self-esteem to how you think you “measure up” with someone else, it can begin to impact your mental wellbeing.
“There’s a subtle difference between healthy competition and detrimental – or even pathological – thinking and comparing. Healthy competition can keep someone on track and focused on a goal, but if you’re telling yourself ‘I’m not getting better marks or I don’t have a better job than my peers so I’m useless in every aspect of life,’ that’s obviously unhealthy” he says.
While competition is an inevitable part of life, remember that you’re more than just a university student competing against your peers. You are also somebody’s child. Perhaps somebody’s sibling, friend, cousin, maybe somebody’s partner. These things are more important than where you rank yourself amongst strangers.
Tip 2: Change your self-talk around competing
It’s important to pay attention to how you think about competition. Listen to your thoughts when comparing yourself to others. If you find yourself obsessively associating a ‘loss’ with lowered self-esteem, Adam’s advice is to “begin acknowledging that this is an unhealthy competition mode and try to take yourself out of that position”.
He says shifting your thinking to view competition as something that pushes you to try your best and improve, rather than something which determines your inherent value, will help you move away from being overly competitive.
Your self-worth and self-esteem should not be reliant on the success or failure of anyone else, and competition should be seen merely as a chance to apply yourself rigorously and do your best.
Tip 3: Set goals for you
A key way to stop unhealthy comparisons with others is to focus on setting self-oriented goals with measurable outcomes not determined by anyone else. Adam suggests creating a physical visualisation or list of “all your goals for life on it and not just goals for university”.
He says that while of course there are university assignments to be done, “there are so many other things that you’re doing that aren’t university and don’t involve your marks and whether you’re coming first or not. There are things to do with hobbies, friends and family that we forget are also important.”
Tip 4: Reach out for support
While changing your thought patterns and setting goals are effective ways to minimise the distress associated with comparing yourself to others, sometimes it can be hard to make these changes alone. If you’re feeling like this may be the case, reach out to friends, family, or the many free support services available to Uni Newcastle students.
Another great one to check out is TalkCampus, a new peer-to-peer service that offers students a safe and engaging platform to support mental health and wellbeing. The free app offers immediate, 24/hr access to multilingual support. Check out this video for more information.
As always, if you require urgent mental health care you should contact 000 or the NSW Mental Health Line at 1800 011 511.