Deconstructing Conflict, Part 1: Competition

Competition is one of the most exciting aspects of living in America and modern, western society. Our government, entertainment, and athletics all revolve around competition. Unfortunately, not all competition is good, and sometimes it is destructive. Let’s figure how to do better. 

What is competition?

Merriam-Webster defines competition as the “active demand by two or more organisms or kinds of organisms for some environmental resource in short supply.” Wait what? How about “the effort of two or more parties acting independently to secure the business of a third-party by offering the most favorable terms.” That’s a little better. The word, competition, originates in the late 17th century, evolving from competere – to strive for, which led to competitio – rivalry. The origins of words always intrigue me as a former Linguist.

So what is competition? Well, competition is a multi-party clash that results in one gaining an advantage. So, how does that apply to us? People? We are not teams; we are not always in settings where formal competition is occurring. There are two ways to think about competition: internally – that devil on your shoulder telling you to eat more cake or externally – getting a raise at work before your rival office mate does. Let us look at the difference.

Internal v. External Competition

Often, we fail to discuss internal competition because we do not frame our internal struggles as internal competitions. If you Google, “internal competition” (with or without quotations), the first ten articles are about internal office competitions, which are actually external competitions. Another way to think about internal competition is to call it “self competition.” For now, I will refer to self competition as internal competition, meaning competition internalized, focusing on choices that one person makes. So, I want you to imagine an angel and devil on your shoulders. The angel represents logic, reason, and rationale. The devil represents impulse, want, and urge. Our devil enables us to make decisions that our angel would refuse to make. 

The Devil on your Shoulder

Little red devil. I am sure that your devil looks different from my devil. That’s okay. Acknowledging that we have devils and taking responsibility for our devil is the key to overcoming internal competition. I’ll preface the earlier statement by stating that not all internal competition is bad. Sometimes, it is important to struggle over a decision because the struggle (the journey) leads to a reward, not the final decision. When we struggle, we learn. Here are a few examples of internal competition and what our devils say to us.

  • I don’t want to exercise; I don’t have enough time.
  • Wow! That dessert looks amazing, let’s get that.
  • Work tired me out today; I could go for a Frappuccino.
  • I know I should eat more vegetables, but I don’t like vegetables – they taste like grass!
  • This show is SO good; I think I’m going to watch the entire season now.
  • I’ve only had like 3 drinks; I can drive home.
  • I hate the dentist; I’m sure my tooth will feel better tomorrow.
  • I really don’t have time to cook; Taco Bell just came out with a new chaluparrito!


All of that is devil talk. The devil is speaking to you, saying “muahahahaha, I own you.” All of the above are excuses. It’s time to reframe how we think about these urges, impulses, and desires. I don’t think that anyone wants the devil to win, no one wants to let our urges win, but it happens all the time. You must take back control over your decisions. Here’s how to reframe each of these urges. 

  • I am choosing not to exercise because I don’t think exercise is important.
  • I have a fear of mission out, so I believe that eating this desert outweighs the negatives.
  • Frappuccinos taste great, I would rather have an excuse to buy one than to figure out why I’m so tired throughout the day. 
  • Vegetables taste gross, and I am not willing to explore how to make them taste better. 
  • I am alone, and I don’t want to think about being alone, so watching a show will distract me.
  • Drinking three drinks and driving doesn’t seem dangerous to me, even if I know that I’m over the legal limit to drive. 
  • The dentist is expensive, scary, and never has good news, so I would rather avoid going to one all together.
  • Cooking takes time and planning, and I would rather eat something fast, cheap, and convenient than to invest in the financial and health benefits of cooking.

Reframing is all about taking responsibility. For this exercise, I reframed each phrase to show that you always are making a choice. We make many choices everyday, and the only person who is responsible for those choices is us. I can blame all day, but it is only when I realize that I am the only decision-maker in my life that I can break through and fight past my internal competition. Once we have a grasp on controlling our internal competition, we can start managing external competition.

Competitive Conditioning

Society conditions us to compete from a young age. For some of us, our parents conditioned us to compete at birth due to having siblings or other family members in our household who want the same resources. Many of us compete for resources, attention, and prestige. No matter the situation, our society thrives because of competition. This is not necessarily bad. For all its flaws, the United States is great, in part, because of competition created by capitalism. As we grow and intellectually mature, we can take responsibility for how we compete.

  • Beating a team so badly to cause psychological issues.
  • Physically injuring someone during a competition.
  • Making extra money, which you don’t need, at the cost of someone who does need it.
  • Selling something to someone knowing that person can’t afford it.
  • Buying something you can’t afford because others have it.
  • Sabotaging someone to defeat them.

These are simple examples of external competition, and how competition can negatively impact a person or group of people. Not all competition is bad, and we can eventually decide how to ethically compete. We can think about how our competition impacts others. Taking responsibility for our thinking is one way of reframing external competition that might have a positive impact on everyone around us.

Competing without remorse

I just went into this WHOLE diatribe on how to compete ethically and why we need to think about how our decisions impact others. But, you might think, “I have to compete so I can support myself, my family, and my lifestyle.” Exactly. There are times to compete without remorse. We just have to know when. Reframing is about becoming conscious, becoming aware.

On our journey to self-authorship, we come to many realizations that will force us to question our way of being and knowing. Hopefully, this post leads to more awareness about internal and external competition. When we understand why we compete and how we impact others, we can make better decisions and take responsibility for those decisions. That’s all that really matters.

Next Week: Part 2, Trust

Next week, we dive into the second piece of the three-piece conflict puzzle: trust. Trust is one of the most challenging concepts in our society. Our teachers tell us to not trust anyone. Some of us trust everyone. We must find balance. Come back next time to dive deep into trust, and the role trust plays in conflict.

I will work with you to help you overcome any issues you have resolving conflicts in your life. Start reframing today.