3 ways competition can mess with your head. And a few tricks to help.

Soon Min Blog, On growth 33 Comments

If you’re involved in a business with no competition, congratulations. With the pace of change and availability of information, it’s easier and easier for other players to get in on the action. The speed and nature of these competitors are sometimes comical, with the more brazen of them becoming outright copycats.

In a couple of my ventures, the past year has seen the rise of more aggressive competitors. As I encountered them, I wished that I could just shrug them off. The more they appeared, and the more aggressive they became, the higher the amount of anxiety I felt. As I struggled to manage these feelings, I’m slowly realising just how much of it isn’t about managing the competition, but rather just managing myself. Here are a few ways it has affected me before, and some tips to overcome it.

The sprinter hijack

This happens when you’re chugging along fine and suddenly catch wind of a competitor’s actions. Your mind might go from zero to 100 in a split second, and inversely every big of action you’re taking seems inadequate or snail paced. The unnecessary anxiety can cause you to lose focus and obsess over nothing. It’s akin to having your head hijacked.

To help regain control, the first thing is to pause and remind myself of my ‘long game’ and that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Depending on the amount of anxiety I feel, this might not be enough. The other trick that I find useful as a next step is to open up an Evernote document and pen down what it is I’m feeling, and my action steps. Having things spelled out seems to boost that feeling of ‘control’ (or the illusion of it at least).

Tunnel vision

Another interesting effect of that anxiety is that it produces a certain tunnel vision. What happens here is that my attention zeroes in on that competitor and specific actions that he’s doing. The added focus in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it can get toxic if it combines with a belief that since the competition is doing something (versus my seeming inadequacy or inaction), it’s better than me!

I’ve seen this play out in my earlier ad agency days, when a client would panic when a competitor launches a new initiative. Now I understand that feeling first hand, and the risk it poses when we jump to conclusions that the actions they take ‘matter’ and that I should either follow suit, or strongly consider those actions in my next steps.

Breaking out of this involves getting some perspective. Change the scale by stretching your time horizon further out. Are their actions short or long term? How would you judge their actions in those 2 timeframes? The next is to get an objective perspective. Get facts that either prove or disprove their actions as being successful, as opposed to relying on a hunch.

The hammer of doubt

The final effect I run into, which is probably the most insidious, is the amount of self doubt that’s triggered. It starts as a small sense of despair, that the competition is pulling ahead or doing something better than me. That quickly becomes a negative self judgement that makes me question whatever I’m doing.   

Self doubt can be a healthy thing when it stops at being a trigger for you to work harder to improve things. The trick is to not let it get out of hand and stop you from taking action. The counter to this is to go back to that Evernote action steps, and remind yourself of the commitment to those action steps. Unless you’ve objectively assessed your action steps, you simply have to clench your fist, hang tight and continue to take one step ahead at a time.

Dealing with the anxiety of competition is something I’m still learning. As time passes, I’m hoping that the saying it true, that it gets easier with time. How have you learned to deal with yourself in the face of competition? 

Soon Min3 ways competition can mess with your head. And a few tricks to help.