Many students think that competing and striving to outperform other people is an effective strategy to increase motivation and productivity. When you see others performing well, it can provide a healthy sense of peer pressure and incentive to get to work and make progress on your dissertation. Yet, all too often I see students competing in an unhealthy way constantly comparing themselves to their peers, feeling good when they outperform their peers (or at least have comparable performance) and feeling bad when their peers outperform them. Competing with others can keep you stuck in the mode of proving yourself and believing that you must be more intelligent or competent than your peers to be deemed an intelligent, competent student. Competition reinforces the message that you need to be better than someone else. Why would you need to be better than someone else? Because deep down you feel inadequate or worry whether you have enough intelligence and competence to earn a PhD. Competition also reinforces the belief that intelligence is fixed and finite. Whereas if you have an incremental mindset, you do not need to waste your time competing or comparing yourself because you know you can learn and grow more and more competent. Ultimately, competing with others can diminish your productivity as you waste you energy worrying about whether you measure up to other people’s performance. So I encourage you to redirect your energy toward yourself, your own goals, and what it will take for you to meet those goals. If you can focus more on yourself, you can regain the energy lost to worrying about other people’s performance and how it compares to your own.

This article was written by Alison Miller, PhD, owner of The Dissertation Coach, a business dedicated to helping doctoral and master’s students successfully earn their graduate degrees.

Copyright August 2007 by Alison Miller, Ph.D., The Dissertation Coach