Sunday, January 11, 2015

How Envy Can Make You A Better Runner For This New Year

My wife said that I haven't written anything for this blog for 2 weeks and said I 'd better get started since I've been in "holiday mood" since Christmas. So here's the first post for this year.

Picture by dingler1109 from Flickr
New year, new resolutions right? How many of you wanna become better and faster runners? Have a read on how envy (traditionally considered one of the 7 deadly sins), well the right envy anyway, can help you race faster.

Now, envy is usually regarded as directed towards someone else's superior status or accomplishment.

According to the authors (who studied runners who took part in the Cologne marathon), envy has many different words in other languages (which is unlike English). These differences account for that fact that you can be "benign envious" - meaning you desire to match someone else's success. It can also mean "malicious envy" - meaning you hope the other person's success ends.

With "benign envy", the researchers suggest that runners may try to level themselves up to be as successful as the person they envied by increasing personal effort to change behaviour aimed at obtaining a desired target. They also focus their attention toward means to achieve it.

In running terms, this means specific goal setting e.g. I wanna run as fast as XYZ did in her last half marathon and doing the necessary training to meet that goal.

With "malicious envy", runners are pushed to exceed their friend's running time as it becomes a mark they judge themselves by. This is not ideal as this is independent of their own situation, leading to low perceived control over future outcomes.

The researchers found that "malicious envy" runners were not strong goal setters compared to "benign envy" runners. The latter viewed others' results resulting from subjective factors such as running more mileage to achieve a certain result and not due to talent alone.

The authors suggest that their study complements previous studies where runners tend to perform better when fellow runners that regularly finish near them were in the same race. This suggests we use familiar rivals as a motivation and benchmark to push ourselves.

Also of note is that while we spend time training our bodies, our minds too play a key role to determine success on race day.


Lange J and Crusius J. (2015). Dispositional Envy Revisited: Unraveling The Motivational Dynamics Of Benign And Malicious Envy. Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin. 41(2) : 284-294.

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