November 2009 Posts

Book Review: The Competitive Edge – How to Win Every Time You Compete

Published in: MassPsych Vol 52 No 2 Spring/Summer 2008

Reviewed by Michael Levy, Ph.D.

When I first decided to read this book by Dr. Jeffrey Brown (Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), I assumed that it was specifically geared to athletes to enable them to overcome blocks, and to help them compete more successfully and effectively. However, after reading The Competitive Edge, I discovered that this is not the only focus of the book. Rather, it is about dealing with competition in general, on or off the field, and living life with integrity. With so much competition in the business world and in all we do, the book is quite relevant to everyone, and while the book can be helpful to athletes and those who participate in sports, it is much broader in its scope.

Dr. Brown makes the point early on that competition, wanting to win, and dealing with not winning exists everywhere. Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this is in the sports arena. However, success and facing failure exists in all realms, whether this is getting a book or paper published, obtaining a job promotion, winning a business contract, or winning a sports event. While success is important (after all who doesn’t want to win and be successful?), a person’s character and integrity are equally, if not more, important. Dr. Brown makes the point that if people live life with integrity, they will feel like winners every time regardless of the actual and final outcome. And on the flipside, if people win, but in the process compromise their character, it’s doubtful that they will they feel like winners.

To help people develop the competitive edge, Dr. Brown offers seven guiding principles, which he elucidates in much detail in each of seven chapters. These guiding principles include the following: knowing the rules of the game; recognizing the right decision and making it; defining goals that reflect one’s values; rethinking winning; knowing the psychological pitfalls of competition; making friends with failure; and using time to one’s advantage. For each general strategy, Dr. Brown offers a wealth of knowledge, information, and examples that expand upon each principle to enable the reader to both better understand what each principle means and how to incorporate the strategy into their lives. Numerous examples are drawn from athletes involved in competitive sports, but scenarios from the business world are also included. However, regardless of where the examples stem, it is very clear how the strategies that are offered have applicability to everything that people do.

Dr. Brown in some ways redefines what winning is, and suggests that rather than being obsessed with and focused on the outcome, instead he instructs people to focus on the process. It is how “the game” is played that is most important, as opposed to whether one actually wins. Maintaining the competitive edge and feeling like a winner is all about living life with integrity. While this is a principle many of us has learned throughout our lives, Dr. Brown clearly spells this out and helps the reader to more fully appreciate this statement. A number of useful strategies are also offered to help people better deal with situations when the final outcome is not what one wanted. In particular, the chapters that highlight the guiding principles “Rethinking Winning” and “Making Friends with Failure” offer a number of useful strategies people can use to better cope with “failure”. Useful self-talk statements are offered, as well as creative ways to think about failure and what this truly means and as important, what it does not mean. Again, while much of this advice comes from Dr. Brown’s expertise in sports psychology, his suggestions have extreme relevance to situations we all face every day off of the field.

The book is very easy to read and it is one that could be turned back to for booster sessions when needed. Very appropriate for those who compete in sporting events and want to learn how better to cope with the competitiveness and deal with less desirable outcomes, this book would also be very useful for others who deal with competition in their lives. In addition, it could be useful for people who are struggling with perceived failure, who are down on themselves, and who could benefit from reading a self-help book to enable them to come to terms with such issues.

I am a highly competitive person, and while I am not struggling at the moment with the competitive environment we all live in or specifically with failure, the book gave me something to think about and reinforced things I know, but sometimes can forget or fail to consistently remember. Reading the book also reinforced the idea of how important it is to live life with integrity and how this is what truly makes a person a winner.

I do have one caveat: interspersed throughout the book are references to Christianity, numerous proverbs from the Bible, and the idea that living life with integrity and character makes one a good Christian and is what God wants. While persons of this religious faith could find this to be useful, supportive, and reinforcing, the reader who is not from this faith or who is irreligious could get turned off to such references. While one could certainly read and learn from the book and simply look past such ideology, I could see some people glance at the book, read this language, and put it down as it simply does not jive with their spiritual or religious orientation. Thus, if this book was going to be recommended to a client, I would suggest that this is mentioned and discussed up front. If this was not done, for people who are not Christian, they would likely wonder why the book was suggested to them and might think that it was a mistake to recommend the book specifically to them.

In summary, “The Competitive Edge” by Dr. Jeffrey Brown is a user-friendly, easy to read book that can help people to deal better with the competitive environment they live in and the inevitability of not always obtaining the outcomes that are desired. The book emphasizes the key point that living life with integrity is what is most important. Doing this gives people the competitive edge and enables them to feel like winners at all times. As competition is ubiquitous, most anyone can gain something from reading the book. However, the book would be particularly helpful to those who struggle with being in a competitive environment, as well as those who feel like they have failed and need to better cope with this.