4.2. The Ill Effects of Competition

The centrality of competition to our social systems explains a lot of the stress we feel.

This is a competitive society.

We may no longer be competing for survival in nature. But we’ve built competition into our political, economic, and social systems.

Competition is really stressful…especially when it feels like your whole way of life, your financial security, and your social status depends on you winning.

Personally, I’d like to get rid of much of this competition. I think it’s kind of silly that we evolved beyond the stressful, exhausting need to compete in nature…only to turn around and make competition the very centerpiece of our civilization.

But it’s probably not going anywhere for a while. So we’d better learn how to live with it.

The centrality of competition to our social systems explains a lot of the stress we feel.

Because a lot of times, the stuff that irritates us, frustrates us—or even enrages us—just isn’t that bad, in and of itself.

A traffic jam, for example, is really just sitting in a comfy, climate-controlled space with your favorite music playing.

A bad hair day, a stain on your shirt, a technology snafu—those things aren’t really a big deal. They happen to everyone.

Delays, hassles, demands, obligations, distractions? Hey, that’s life.

Often, it’s not the event itself that upsets us. It’s what it might mean.

It’s this mental chain we build between the event and what we feel we need to do to succeed…and the expectations, comparisons, and calculations we make as we try to succeed…and the fear of what will happen, if we don’t do a good job or make people think highly of us.

Is it really so bad if you expect one thing to happen…and another thing happens instead?


It’s only if you were depending on that thing to happen, if you had oriented yourself around it, if this thwarted expectation threatens to upset your whole plan for succeeding or navigating through your day that it seems like a calamity.

Is it really so bad if some people are more successful than you, or look or behave differently than you want them to? Can it really take away from your own ability to be successful and happy?


But if you create one of those mental chains that make you feel inferior, make you feel threatened, make you feel like your own way of life is under attack…then you’re going to see it as a very disturbing thing.

Be aware of how competitive our society is, what a toll it takes on us, and how fearful it makes us.

Be aware of these mental chains we construct.

Be aware of our tendency to turn little things that really aren’t that bad into imposing, life-or-death threats.

Yes, sometimes these little things really do have big consequences. But don’t let yourself just be swept away by that assumption. Because the reality is: most of them don’t.

It’s hard to stay calm in this competitive society we live in. Recognizing how living in it every day distorts our thinking and triggers our fears makes that task a lot easier.


This is the 62nd in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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