How many times have we heard this?
A study came out this week that examined how slight deception in competitive situations makes athletes work harder and faster than what they had previously claimed as their best effort. When racing against a digital image of their fastest effort (which was then sped up slightly), the cyclists actually beat their former best times because of the competition factor. They were trying to win against their former times, when in fact, their former times were sped up in order to see if the competition actually improved the cyclist's efforts.
The same, less scientific, approach can be observed when friends are competing against each other. There have been many times that I saw 2 gym training buddies constantly one-upping the other in the weight and reps they were working on. Shattered their previous maxes. I've had a former classmate from grad school hop in the lane next to me when I was swimming laps. You bet I realized that I could go faster and longer with her (the external pressure/competition) there.
So I guess competing with others can be a good thing in some training instances. The annoying part is when we launch competition against everyone, and in multiple areas: appearance, money, career, love, etc. You can't push yourself to be naturally better by trying to rise above or beat someone else. Compete on making yourself the best you can, and eventually you'll win.
Do you find that competition helps you perform better?