Is Competition Healthy Or Unhealthy – Ultimate Guide (2024)

If you’re wondering: “is competition healthy or unhealthy”, you’re in the right place.

The answer is: it can be both.

In this guide, we’ll look at the key distinctions between healthy competition and unhealthy competition, so you can get a clear understanding of the difference. 

I’m explaining this idea to my personal clients a lot in my role as a life coach. So, I’m excited to lay it out for you here too. 

Let’s dive right into it.

Is Competition Healthy Or Unhealthy
Image by André Santana AndreMS from Pixabay

How Is Competition Healthy?

Before anything, you need to understand: competition exists in this world. 

If you’re not up to standard in this life, you lose the opportunity to get married and start a family. After all, there is undeniable competition to tie down the best romantic partners. 

It’s no different in your career. You’re competing with others for the best jobs in your field. If you run your own company, you’re fighting with other businesses for customers or clients. That’s also undeniable. 

This is a positive thing, because competition forces growth. With growth, everybody wins.

Let’s say you’re behind the competition in whatever field – and you’re not getting what you want. You have to either improve your product – or give up altogether.

If you choose to improve: 

  • you become better;
  • everyone who interacts with you gets a better experience;
  • the whole market becomes better, because others have to compete with you.

Everybody wins!

Without competition, you’re not forced to grow to get what you want. So, there’s no pressure to improve. Most likely, in this situation, you continue to deliver the same sub-standard product and everybody loses.

Competition evokes new concepts, new ideas and new ways to make life better for the human race. This takes a lot of brainpower and a lot of stress, which you wouldn’t use without competitors to push you. It’s human nature to only push ourselves as much as we need. 

This is why there are active movements to prevent monopolies or dictatorships from gaining too much power. Because, in this scenario, they’d have no motivation to support others or treat them well.  

What Are Some Examples Of Healthy Competition?

For those who can’t quite make sense of this definition, here are some examples of healthy competition. 

Healthy Competition In Dating

Let’s say, throughout school, no-one wanted to go to the Christmas disco with you. Intelligently, you took this as a sign you needed to improve yourself. So, you began losing weight, learning to become more confident and overcoming whatever else you felt was holding you back.

The final outcome? You bring more value to people, you feel more positive about yourself and every person you meet feels better around you. Everybody wins! 

Healthy Competition In Sports

Running a four-minute mile was once deemed impossible, until Roger Bannister did it in 1954. The second person to achieve this feat did so a month later, and a further 15 people managed it in the following three years. Roger Bannister raised the bar and mankind followed his lead.

Novak Djokovic wouldn’t be anywhere near as good at tennis, if Nadal and Federer weren’t  dominating the men’s game during his early years as a pro. They forced him to level up. He forced them to level up also. As a result, when these three were competing, the men’s game became more entertaining than it had ever been. Everybody wins!  

Healthy Competition In Business

Would Apple be so aggressive in making better phones every year, if it wasn’t competing with Android phones? 

Would air travel have become so cheap, if there weren’t several airlines competing for the same passengers? 

No company would have a reason to offer a more desirable product or service if it didn’t have competitors. There would be no point. 

Healthy Competition In The Workplace 

Most businesses offer promotions and pay rises to the best employees only. This creates healthy competition to be the best employee. They now have a reason to work harder, and become better at their job.

Everybody wins! The employees are winning because they gain extra skills, the customers are winning because they get a more positive experience, the boss wins because the company is more likely to succeed.  

Is Competition Healthy In Today’s World?

Currently, there’s a movement aiming to protect children from being involved in a competitive environment. In some schools, every child is given a medal on sports day. There is talk of eliminating the grading system in schools and college too.  

The idea is that it’ll reduce stress levels and feelings of inadequacy in children. 

The problem is: these children will also grow up with no motivation to better themselves physically or academically. 

Then, what happens when these children are released into a competitive adult society? 

Most likely, whatever field they try to succeed in, they’ll be some years behind those who are used to competition in that (or any) field. Even more likely, they will struggle to adapt to any form of competitive environment, because they’ve been raised to believe they deserve success  whether they earned it or not.

Millennials and Generation Z have been labelled as ‘snowflake’ generations in the past, partly because of efforts to push this attitude on them. 

Whatever you want to call them, it’s clear that society doesn’t benefit from new generations being raised in non-competitive environments.   

When Is Competition Unhealthy?

To put it simply, competition becomes unhealthy when everybody doesn’t win.

A key example is when someone tries to succeed by sabotaging their competitors, rather than by improving their product.

In such a case: 

  • you don’t become better;
  • the people who interact with you (or your competitors) don’t get a better experience;
  • the market becomes worse.

One might choose this approach if they feel too inadequate to offer a better product than their competitors. If their sense of identity is based on winning at all costs, they might also try this. It also occurs when one has a scarcity mindset – and believes it’s impossible for two competitors to succeed in the same field. 

Needless to say, feelings of inadequacy, fear and scarcity are incredibly unhealthy. Every single person will lose when you make competitive decisions based on these emotions.  

You might also choose to not compete at all due to this attitude. It could be argued that everybody is still losing in this case, even your competitors, due to the reduction of healthy competition in your market.

Examples Of Unhealthy Competition

Hopefully you don’t see yourself in any of these examples…

Unhealthy Competition In Dating

Let’s say a negative-minded man decides to compare himself to his friends or other men landing dates in his community, and concludes that it’s impossible to compete. His sense of inferiority knows no bounds. He can only see themselves losing.   

This is the type of guy most likely to engage in dishonest and manipulative tactics to get a date, or to give up on dating altogether.

Unhealthy Competition In Sports

In April 2021, Twelve European football teams announced plans to play in their own elite ‘European Super League’, from which they couldn’t be relegated.

This outcome would have guaranteed they were the 12 highest-earning football teams in Europe every year, regardless of their form or ability. 

It also would have financially hurt all other European football teams, by reducing the popularity of the competitions the 12 teams were abandoning.

The negative reaction, including a number of fan protests, stopped the ‘European Super League’ from happening for now. However, the motivation to break away still appears to remain within these teams.

Unhealthy Competition In Business

Cryptocurrency and green technology were both invented to make the world a better place. Yet, moves are being made to limit the impact of both.   

These moves are mostly being pushed by businesses that would suffer as a result of these improved products becoming mainstream. 

By limiting them – instead of trying to improve their own products – the whole planet suffers.

Unhealthy Competition In The Workplace

In the legendary comedy film ‘Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgandy’, Ron and his colleague Veronica both try to sabotage one another in their efforts to be regarded as the lead anchor and #1 newsreader in the city.

In doing so, they make their daily news broadcasts hilariously unprofessional.

If they’d have focused on improving themselves, their broadcast would have been consistently immaculate, and they’d both have been recognised for making it so. 

What Are The Effects Of Unhealthy Competition?

Hopefully, from the examples above, you see that everybody loses when someone engages in unhealthy competition. It leads to everything becoming slightly worse.

Even if you get the better of your competitors, you still don’t grow as a person, and your mind is still plagued with fear, inadequacy and scarcity. 

How Can We Avoid Unhealthy Competition? 

The answer is to understand and teach others that it’s possible (and desirable) to succeed against our competition by improving ourselves. 

When we do this, it feels so much better than cheating our way to victory.

Even when we’re still behind our competitors, the challenge should feel great because we can see ourselves levelling up, learning new skills and getting closer to what we want. This is the journey of life! If we got everything immediately without earning it, we wouldn’t appreciate it nearly as much. 

Perhaps more importantly, we must understand and teach others that we’re already ‘good enough’, whether we’re winning against our competitors or not. This path towards true self-esteem can be a challenge to walk, but it’s worth it… 

Those who need to ‘win’ to feel worthy are more likely to engage in unhealthy competition, and less likely to enjoy the journey of winning. These people will never be content, even when they win, because the journey of getting to the top and staying there never ends.  

They’ll never feel complete from all the material things that come from winning either. 

True personal fulfilment comes from being on a difficult journey and succeeding. It comes from enjoying the journey as well as the outcome. It comes from making the world a better place. This is only possible with healthy competition.

If everyone truly understood this, unhealthy competition would cease to exist.  

Any Questions Or Comments About The Difference Between Healthy And Unhealthy Competition?

I hope this guide illustrated the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition well enough for you. 

More importantly, I hope you now have the ability to see the benefits that healthy competition brings to everyone. 

If you have any questions regarding the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition, feel free to leave a comment below. 

I love reading your comments – and of course I’ll do my best to write a comment to you in reply.

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About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.