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A Bigger Prize

How We Can Do Better Than the Competition

By Margaret Heffernan
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  • Contains 7 key ideas
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A Bigger Prize by Margaret Heffernan

A Bigger Prize (2014) explains how competition is holding us back. These blinks demonstrate how our competitive schools, economy and society – believed to produce higher grades, lower prices and better results – are actually stifling collaboration and preventing us from realizing our full potential.

Key idea 1 of 7

If we turn life into a competition, we’re bound to lose.

What does it take to become a star athlete?

Obviously, a lot of hard work and talent. But in the late nineteenth century, the psychologist Norbert Triplett discovered that competition also helps. For instance, cyclists will ride faster in a competition than in practice.

However, life isn’t a bicycle race. If we think about everything in terms of winning or losing, most of us are bound to end up disappointed. After all, whenever people compete for top positions, only a handful can emerge victorious.

At the London Olympic Games, a mere 8.8 percent of all competitors left with a medal. Similarly, only a small fraction of society is a member of the economic elite. In other words, most competitors end up losing, regardless of how hard they try.

So, if we define the purpose of life as competition, most of us will fail and end up miserable.

But that’s not the only downside to competition. It’s also detrimental to our health and can be a major source of stress. If we always feel the need to be the absolute best and can’t rely on others because we see them as competition, our only option is to do everything by ourselves. It’s easy to see how this can lead to overwork and losing sleep.

Simply believing that life is a competition and that everyone is against us will cause our stress levels to spike. And all of this sets us up to burn out.

Furthermore, highly competitive people often take unnecessary risks. For example, to make their weight class, some wrestlers do high-intensity workouts while wearing rubber suits. This induces profuse sweating and can lead to death from heat stroke.

And finally, competition can discourage people from doing things that are good for them. If we believe that an activity, like sports, is only about winning and we feel that we can’t win, we’ll simply avoid it altogether, even though it might have other benefits.

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