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Want to Get Motivated? Find an Enemy

If your motivation or enthusiasm is on the wane, sometimes an enemy is just what you need -- even if the "competition" is one-sided and imaginary.
Why? Healthy competition provides motivation. Healthy competition sparks creativity and innovation, raises performance, and helps individuals and teams accomplish goals.

In sports, competition is a given; where business or career is concerned, often not. So how can you reap the benefits of competition?

Take on an enemy -- or make one up!

Maybe it's a company across town, or an online retailer that is eating into your in-store sales, or the guy down the hall who could someday be up for the same promotion.

Or you can pick a company or employee you don't actually compete with but still decide to take on. A friend runs a clothing store in a strip mall; his goal is to generate more foot traffic than the Starbucks next door. Imaginary competition? Sure -- but to him it's an inspirational target.

If you don't already have one, pick an enemy and work hard to beat them. Here are some ways you'll benefit:

  1. You will 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.
  2. 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.
  3. You will differentiate -- in a meaningful way. 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.
  4. Greater focus comes naturally. 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.
  5. No matter what, you'll have more fun at work. You will. Trust me.
But also remember your goal is to win on merit. Don't play politician and run a negative campaign. If your competition is another business, beat them fair and square with higher productivity, better quality, greater market share -- whatever form of competition you choose. If your enemy is another employee, work hard to gain skills, land plum assignments, or earn that promotion based on merit. Always take the high road; otherwise even when you win you still lose.

Also keep in mind the concept of winning is often relative, especially when the competition is one-sided and visible only to you. Your enemy may never know you were competing. And that's okay -- if finding and beating an enemy helps you improve company results or your individual performance, there won't be a loser.

But there will be a winner: You.

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Photo courtesy flickr user hectorir, CC 2.0
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