One of the reasons I love studying applied game theory is that it helps me to explore various competitive behaviors and examine how to use them to improve the quality of my life but also the lives of others.
Most people define competition as an act that is motivated by the desire to win. In its least productive form, all competition is seen in adversarial terms. Of course it goes much deeper than this. If we taught healthy competition to children the world would be a better place.
Here is a Q & A session I did in a master class I taught called “Make Choices, Not Excuses”. I offer this class monthly in Stamford NY. The next program is Sunday August 30 1-4 PM
STUDENT: Is it really necessary to compete? Wouldn’t a person who thinks in visionary terms transcend this need?
LEWIS: Possibly. Many experts believe that humans are hard-wired to compete – that it is something we are genetically inclined to do.
STUDENT: Why is this so?
LEWIS: Once we are earning more and possess more than we need to survive, all wealth becomes comparative. Even so, we exert great energy into competing with others and getting lost in a frenzy of consumerism. It is not an exaggeration to state that when faced with more than one choice, all living creatures act the way in which they perceive and/or believe to be in their best interest. If Darwin’s concepts of natural selection are correct, then we are inclined to make status and influence-based choices as a means to reproductive success. There may be something in us that says, “Having above-average status, income, influence, and power will increase the odds that we will attract a more desirable mate and help our children and those in our primary group (tribe) to have a comparative advantage in relation to peers.” Once we earn more and possess more than we need to survive, all wealth becomes comparative.
STUDENT: So we are competitive as an expression of our self interest?
LEWIS: Yes. So much so that at times these status-driven choices may appear to be illogical, irrational, nonsensical and just plain wrong to others. Nevertheless, the choice will be made based on self-interest. Often this choice may relate to the fact that humans have hierarchal tendencies. Thus, what may seem like an irrational choice may be totally rational when seen through the eyes of a person seeking power and influence. Much of NLP and Tony Robbins work integrates these ideas.
STUDENT: Is everyone in the world competitive?
LEWIS: I would say “yes” but not equally so, and certainly not for the same reason. When you are on the path to self actualization you tend to feel less tension between your fundamental needs and your short-term wants, thereby reducing the number of things you would feel the need to compete for. If you do not know who you are, then your wants and needs are often at war and it is therefore natural to measure your success by comparing yourself to others. So let us not act too quickly in condemning competition. It all depends on who, what, why and where concerning the competitive behavior.
STUDENT: What is the positive side to competition?
LEWIS: A healthy, balanced, competitive perspective allows a person to assess their relative ability to survive compared to others.
STUDENT: How many suits or cars does anyone really need? Most of the time life is not a zero sum game. If there is only one slice of pie and ten people want it, the smartest of the bunch will simply go out and buy or bake another pie and sell it to the other nine people. Competition seems pointless in a prosperous, expanding culture – especially in a culture where a person could theoretically master your Nineteen resources (NSR). What is the point other than what you say might be natural law?
LEWIS: In times of plenty, your point is a valid one. And I agree that most of the time life is not a zero sum game (see A Conversation on Zero Sum Games). However, in times of great scarcity, a moderate amount of competitive thinking can be quite valuable. By noting how our peers or superiors are faring in the natural economic cycles of abundance and scarcity, we can assess the minimum amount required for our own survival. In abundant times, competition also helps us to define how much of a surplus is really necessary to store in reserve for the future.
STUDENT: Can you speak further about scarcity, competition and the concept of natural law?
LEWIS: In times of abundance, surpluses are irrelevant. In times of scarcity, it is hard to know what is enough. Each of us sees the world differently. Our perceptions control the calculations we make to determine “enough.” They may seem quite reasonable, sensible, and rational, but they are also reinforced emotively, and with a different intention than what might seem logical. Understanding this, it makes greater sense to see that it may actually be more natural for us to compete than to live a life free of competition. Some researchers believe that we may be genetically pre-disposed to a type of group behavior where it is essential to track the wealth of others and then compare it to our own level of wealth. Such a practice might serve as a far-reaching means of assuring self survival in the face of unknown future shifts and changes in the group dynamic, particularly in relationship to hierarchical behavior patterns (see A Conversation on Hierarchal Behavior).
STUDENT: What other Conversation in Lewis Harrison’s Applied Game Theory might help me to understand the concept of competition more effectively, and even make me a better competitor?
LEWIS: See A Conversation on Assessments. Concerning survival, the ability to recognize patterns has been invaluable as a tool in the cognitive arsenal of human beings, especially in relation to competition. Strong assessment skills can help you to recognize these patterns.
STUDENT: Being competitive seems like a highly stressful way to live life. It is as if something bad might happen to us at any time.
LEWIS: Interestingly, competition is not always an unpleasant affair. The ability to laugh at yourself and others helps you to function under stress and under the pressure that competition can bring. From an evolutionary perspective, the pleasure that comes with laughter has encouraged the development of pattern recognition and other unique perceptual and intellectual abilities in human. However, competing with others is a potentially problematic situation. On the darker side, this type of competitive thinking makes us pay excessive amount of attention to the superficial possessions, wealth and status of others as a reflection of our own wealth, success, talents and accomplishments, rather than paying attention to our real needs.
STUDENT: Can you go into greater depth concerning the ability to recognize patterns and creating a sense of psychological security?
LEWIS: Let’s say that you can afford to buy a new boat, take a vacation to Europe, or install a home entertainment system just as your neighbor can. Being able to afford the same things may give you a sense of psychological security that comes with knowing you can compete with them economically, whether or not you need to do so at the present time. Now, were financial stress to arise, you would have the sense/knowledge that you are equally capable to handle it as your neighbor. If you have an understanding of the concept of conservation and balance, this will be a realistic perspective concerning your sense of security.
STUDENT: What if you do not have an understanding of the concept of conservation and balance?
LEWIS: Ultimately for such a person altruism is irrational and competition is the highest ideal. Keep in mind that what is presently your surplus could easily become a deficit should uncontrolled external factors such as war, a banking collapse, a stock market melt-down, a mortgage crisis, severe inflation or a recession arise (see A Conversation on The Four Primary Types of Obstacles). If you do not plan for unexpected occurrences, then you may expect the worst to happen.
STUDENT: Can you speak about competition in relation to hierarchal behavior and status?
LEWIS: In order to live the best life possible, we must accept the notion that everything we do can be judged against others. At times it serves our best interests to make these judgments. How we compete as members of a larger society influences our survival, success and failure. Paying attention to those in your group or in the larger society that are in an equal or slightly higher position than us in the hierarchy (what is commonly called the pecking order) is an affirmation of the wisdom of choices we have already made in relation to our short-term and long term survival.
STUDENT: Is there a way to combine a spiritual approach to living while remaining competitive?
LEWIS: Yes. If we don’t completely immerse ourselves in a journey to inner wisdom, a journey defined by meditation, introspection and altruism, then the need to constantly compete and compare will imprison us. It is true that we all live in relationships of one kind where we are destined to judge and be judged in relation to others. Even so, “every man for himself”, though an effective strategy in the short term, is a highly ineffective practice for living well over an extended period of time. Ultimately, you end up living in a predatory environment that alternates between a zero sum game and economic anarchy. This attitude towards people and life is a dark place to reside.
Fortunately, any one person’s judgment does not define our happiness, fears, failures, successes, access to love and ability to survive. These arise from our intention, clarity of thought, emotional balance and our ability to interact effectively with individuals and groups of individuals as competing and supportive members of a larger society.
Lewis Harrison’s next “Make Choices, Not Excuses” Seminar will be held in Stamford, NY on Sunday, August 30 from 1-4 PM. Call for details at
Lewis Harrison is an author, motivational speaker, mentor and coach. You can reach him at LewisCoaches@gmail.com
He offers stress management programs throughout the United States and his corporate chair massage company, eventschairmassage.com provides seated and chair massage to meeting planners and meeting professionals in New York City, New Jersey Las Veges, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Florida and other major meeting and conventions venues.
His book “Spiritual, Not Religious: Sacred Tools for Modern Time” addresses important issues on human potential and personal development