Why We Are Fanatical about Winning and Ten Reasons It’s Unhealthy

Ron McIntyre
6 min readApr 29, 2024

The drive to win and succeed is deeply ingrained in many cultures and societies worldwide. This competitive spirit fosters innovation, resilience, and personal growth. However, an excessive preoccupation with winning, which is the main focus of this essay, can also have unhealthy consequences, significantly impacting individuals’ mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.

The extreme emphasis on winning in the United States can be traced back to several historical, cultural, and societal factors that have shaped the American psyche and its competitive spirit. Understanding these influences requires examining the nation’s founding principles, economic system, sports culture, and the American Dream narrative.

  1. Basic Founding Principles: The United States was founded on principles of liberty, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals encouraged a society where personal achievement and success were highly valued. The emphasis on individual rights and freedoms created a fertile ground for competition, as citizens were encouraged to strive for personal excellence and achievement, often at the cost of someone else in society, such as enslaved people and tenant farmers.
  2. Legendary Frontier Spirit: The “frontier spirit” concept significantly shaped American attitudes toward competition and success. The expansion westward and the challenges faced in settling new territories fostered a mindset of resilience, self-reliance, and the need to overcome obstacles, translating into a broader cultural emphasis on winning and success.
  3. Capitalistic Economic System: The United States economy is inherently competitive, emphasizing innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. Success in business and the economy has often been equated with winning, reinforcing the idea that to be successful, one must outperform others. We can see that in all levels of business, which feeds the current income equality we are witnessing worldwide.
  4. Sports Culture: The United States has a strong sports culture that celebrates competition, achievement, and winning. Americans are exposed to competitive sports from a young age, where winning is often acclaimed as the highest achievement. This sports culture reinforces the value placed on winning from a societal standpoint. We need to examine professional sports contracts in any sport, and we will find incredible examples of how this is ingrained from childhood.
  5. The American Dream: The American Dream ultimately says that anyone, regardless of background, can achieve success through hard work and determination, further emphasizing the importance of winning and success. This narrative suggests that success is attainable for those who strive the hardest, reinforcing that winning directly results from effort and ambition. However, we must also look at the rise of get-rich scams, influencer roles, and online platforms for current examples. Every online sales pitch has at its core the Horatio Alger mystique and all those who follow it.
  6. Education and Socialization: From an early age, Americans are socialized into a competitive environment, where academic achievement, sports, and other extracurricular activities are highly rewarded. This early exposure to competition instills the value of winning and being the best from a young age.
  7. Media and Popular Culture: The media and pop culture in the United States glorify success and winning, whether in business, sports, or entertainment. Success stories of individuals overcoming odds to achieve greatness are popular in books, movies, and legends, perpetuating the emphasis on winning.
  8. Military Influence: The United States military history and its role as a global superpower have also contributed to the national ethos of winning and being number one. Military victories and the desire to maintain national security and superiority have influenced the broader cultural emphasis on winning, even though we have forgotten about the failures and losses that occurred along the way, both in military and civilian populations.

These factors, among others, have contributed to the extreme emphasis on winning in the United States. While this focus on achievement and success has driven innovation and economic growth, it has also led to the challenges and unhealthy consequences associated with an excessive preoccupation with winning.

Here are my ten reasons why being passionate about winning can be unhealthy:

  1. Hyper Stress and Anxiety: Constantly striving to win will lead to stress and anxiety, as individuals begin to fear failure or not meeting their own or others’ expectations. There continues to be a drive for perfection, which is unattainable.
  2. Unrealistic Expectations: Depending on our mindset, setting the bar too high often leads to disappointment and failure when goals are not met, even if progress has been made. We have trouble forgiving ourselves and learning from our mistakes.
  3. Neglect of Personal Health: The obsession with winning can lead individuals to neglect their physical and mental health, prioritizing success over well-being. This happens even when dealing with professional athletes who are at their prime but willing to push the envelope in the case of concussions, pulled muscles, or even age just to be seen as successful.
  4. Strained Relationships: A passionate focus on winning can strain relationships with friends, family, and colleagues due to neglect or because the competitive mindset spills over into personal interactions. Competitiveness can drive wedges between families, associates, and even entire towns when the stakes are perceived as being vital for the good of an individual or community. This happens when winning is seen as requiring extreme effort and costs that are more than just money or pride.
  5. Fear of Failure: Extremely focusing on winning can instill a paralyzing fear of failure, which may deter individuals from taking risks or trying new things. I have always tried to give people room to make mistakes so they can learn from them. Failures are by far the best teachers. We can anticipate many of the hazards in a project or process, but we can NEVER eliminate all of them. That’s why we plan.
  6. Loss of Enjoyment: When the emphasis is solely on the outcome rather than the process, activities may lose their joy and become sources of stress instead of pleasure. Over the years, I have found this to be true as I dove into areas I was passionate about; at some point, the passion wore off, and my interest waned. You can put this to a lack of commitment, but we do this to ourselves due to the increased competition or lack of growth from a niche we developed.
  7. Ethical Compromises: The drive to win at all costs can lead individuals to make unethical decisions, compromising their values and integrity. Have seen this too many times in corporate America. I have not taken promotions because I would not compromise my ethics, values, or vision. After all, that cost was too high. When I look back, I don’t ever regret those decisions.
  8. Burnout: Constantly pushing oneself to win leads to burnout, demonstrated by physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of ineffectiveness. I have done this to myself several times, but I have learned from my mistakes.
  9. Narrow Focus: An obsession with winning can lead to a narrow focus, where other essential aspects of life, such as personal growth, learning, and relationships, are undervalued or ignored.
  10. Decreased Creativity and Innovation: Extremely focusing on winning can stifle creativity and innovation, as the fear of failure and a strict focus on results can deter experimentation and learn from mistakes. It seems backward, but our minds begin to look for solid ground or comfort zones when that fear creeps in and can make us ineffective.

Finding a balance between striving for success and recognizing the value of the journey, learning experiences, personal health, and relationships is crucial. Cultivating a mindset that values growth, learning, and resilience over winning alone can lead to more sustainable and fulfilling success.

We must learn to use mindsets as tools and not use them to demonstrate who we are or make them the source of our identity. When we have multiple mindsets, we can adapt, flow, and adjust on the fly while still maintaining our sanity.



Ron McIntyre

Ron McIntyre is a Leadership Anthropologist, Author, and Consultant, who, in semi-retirement, is looking to help people who really want to make a difference.