Motivation down? Take on a rival

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If your motivation or enthusiasm is on the wane, sometimes a rival is just what you need -- even if your "competition" is completely one-sided and imaginary.

Healthy competition is motivating. It helps spark creativity and innovation, raises performance, provides greater focus, and helps individuals and teams accomplish their goals.

In sports, competition is a given. That's just as true in business, but without a scoreboard that spirit of competition is easier to lose sight of.

So how can you reap the benefits of competition? Take on a real rival, or if you like, make one up.

Maybe your rival is a company across town or an online retailer who has impacted your in-store sales. Or you could pick a "rival" you don't actually compete with but decide to take on. For example, a friend runs a retail store and his goal is to generate more foot traffic than the coffee shop next door. An imaginary competition, but to him one that creates a tangible target.

If you don't already have one, pick a rival and work hard to beat them. Here are some ways you and your small business will benefit:

You can establish meaningful benchmarks. Setting internal improvement targets is relatively easy, but to make a real change in your business, try to do better than the best. What does your enemy do well? Define, quantify, and set targets accordingly. Maybe your competition has 98% on-time shipping. Maybe the salesperson down the hall brings in $40k in sales per month. You can't compete unless you first determine what your competition does well.

You can copy a proven playbook. Coaches in all sports actively steal ideas, strategies, and plays from other coaches. Innovation is important, but why reinvent some wheels when those wheels already work incredibly well for someone else? Determine how your enemy achieves great results. Look for processes, competencies, concepts, or strategies you can incorporate into your business or profession.

You can differentiate in meaningful ways. Benchmarking and adopting proven strategies and skills is important, but if that's all you do the best result you will achieve is a draw. You want to win, and to win you must stand out. What are your key strengths? How can you leverage those strengths to deliver what is most important to your customers or your boss? The more you know about your enemy the easier it is to differentiate in a way that truly matters.

You gain greater focus. We all risk falling prey to a "same (stuff), different day" mentality -- but not when we're out to win. When we compete, focus and drive are as natural as breathing. If your enthusiasm dips, just picture your enemy moving ahead and you'll quickly shift back in gear. After all, while some people don't care about winning, nobody likes to lose.

You'll have more fun at work. You will. Trust me.

Just remember your goal is to win on merit. Beat your rival fair and square through higher productivity, better quality, or greater market share. Always take the high road; otherwise even when you win you still lose.

And keep in mind the concept of winning is often relative, especially when the competition is one-sided and visible only to you. Your rival may never know you were competing. And that's okay -- if finding and beating a rival helps you improve company results, there is no loser.

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.