STOP PLAYING NOT TO LOSE. START PLAYING TO WIN.
Being a sports fan, I have heard this phrase spoken during so many games that I was able to start predicting when the announcer was going to say it. Although I understood the basic concept when I was younger, it wasn’t until later on in life that this began to take on more meaning.
As I look back on some of the game-changing moments of my life, I am able to recall two things quite clearly:
- When I played not to lose I usually lost, and
- When I played to win I usually won.
So, the question remains; why would I continue to play not to lose? Why would I continue to remain in my comfort zones and seek safety? Why would I continue to play not to lose?
DO YOU PLAY TO WIN – OR TO NOT LOSE?
Heidi Grant, Ph.D. is Senior Scientist at the Neuroleadership Institute along with E. Tory Higgins a professor of psychology and management and the director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University wrote an interesting article called “Do You Play to Win—or to Not Lose?” Below is an excerpt from the article.
“Motivational focus affects how we approach life’s challenges and demands. Promotion-focused people see their goals as creating a path to gain or advancement and concentrate on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them. They are eager and they play to win. You’ll recognize promotion-focused people as those who are comfortable taking chances, who like to work quickly, who dream big and think creatively. Unfortunately, all that chance taking, speedy working, and positive thinking makes these individuals more prone to error, less likely to think things through, and usually unprepared with a plan B if things go wrong. That’s a price they are willing to pay, because, for the promotion-focused, the worst thing is a chance not taken, a reward unearned, a failure to advance.
The promotion-focused are engaged by inspirational role models, the prevention-focused by cautionary tales.
Prevention-focused people, in contrast, see their goals as responsibilities, and they concentrate on staying safe. They worry about what might go wrong if they don’t work hard enough or aren’t careful enough. They are vigilant and play to not lose, to hang on to what they have, to maintain the status quo. They are often more risk-averse, but their work is also more thorough, accurate, and carefully considered. To succeed, they work slowly and meticulously. They aren’t usually the most creative thinkers, but they may have excellent analytical and problem-solving skills. While the promotion-minded generate lots of ideas, good and bad, it often takes someone prevention-minded to tell the difference between the two.”
“LIFE IS LIKE A GAME OF CARDS.
THE HAND YOU ARE DEALT IS DETERMINISM;
THE WAY YOU PLAY IT IS FREE WILL.”
– Jawaharlal Nehru –
WHAT’S ACTUALLY GOING ON WHEN WE PLAY NOT TO LOSE?
At the beginning of my “career”, I wasn’t really motivated to save for the future or lay the groundwork for a “successful life.” Not sure I even knew what that looked like.
However, times change. We change. And we shift into the nesting phase of our lives; credit cards, student loans, mortgages, joint accounts, children, and retirement savings plans. We invest in our lives. Emotionally, mentally, spiritually and financially. We create a life that we find comfortable. We cultivate it and become protective of it. The lens in which we view the world shifts and we begin to see threats to our security, our way of life (our investment) and we start to play it safe.
I think we all have moments in our lives when we come to certain realizations. It might be over coffee, grocery shopping or out for a walk with the dog; it dawns on us that our decisions carry much more weight than they once did. The gravity of this epiphany took me by a bit by surprise. And to be honest I was overwhelmed and a bit panicked. I started making choices to avoid negative outcomes. I would think “How could this decision negatively impact me?” or “Will this choice disrupt the status quo?” Okay, I wasn’t that articulate or that self-actualized, but I did know there had been a mental shift. Fear ruled my decision-making process. Concentrating on staying safe. Being vigilant not to lose.
Throughout my life so many of my personal and professional decisions ended in disappointment, heartache, and failure. The common thread was fear. Fear of losing what I had. I didn’t want to lose what I had worked so hard for. Even if what I was trying to hold on to was unhealthy and actually needed to change. Too often we protect what we know, even if it is contributing to our unhappiness. We avoid it because it is the unknown and if we are being honest we’re scared.
I remember my first marriage. Things weren’t going so well for my wife and me as newlyweds. We had had a bit of a turbulent relationship and we had tried to make things work, but it just wasn’t. I turned into Mr. Fixit. Trying to do everything I could to navigate through the troubled waters. I would be accommodating. I would want to make things perfect. Try to keep our marriage from falling apart. Counseling. Time apart. You name it. In the end, we divorced. As I look back at that time in my life I think about how hard I was fighting internally to not let our relationship go. How hard I was holding on. But what I was trying desperately to keep wasn’t working. But, my fear of other people’s opinions, not wanting to be a statistic or “give up,” continued to plague me. Once I let go. Once I said enough to myself. Once I accepted this change in my life, I started to move forward. I began to embrace my new life. The new chapter that was yet to be written. I stopped living in fear of the unknown and began to welcome my new life and it has turned out pretty well. My ex-wife has since remarried and has a family, and I am so very happy for her.
Fear-based decision-making only perpetuates more fear. By looking for what’s a threat. What might go wrong? How could this situation turn out negatively? We stop looking at possibilities and start seeing potentially bad outcomes. Our energy is put towards not making the wrong decision. We are then just mitigating risk. Moving from one threatening situation to another. Let go of your fear and start changing your life.
“EVERYONE THINKS OF CHANGING THE WORLD,
BUT NO ONE THINKS OF CHANGING HIMSELF.”
– Leo Tolstoy –
WHAT’S HAPPENING WHEN WE PLAY TO WIN?
When I made the shift away from playing not to lose and embrace playing to win I immediate saw a difference in my attitude. I began to see potentially negative situations as challenges and not threatening as I once had. I started looking at the opportunities I was being given. The chance to learn and grow. There is always a positive in every negative. That is just the way it works. Change your mind and it will change your life. When you choose to look at the world in a less threatening way and release the scarcity mentality you will begin to see all the chances you have for greatness. You will begin to live a life of abundance and you will start to attract more and more positivity.
Some of the most difficult times in my life were turned around by changing my mindset. During times of duress and uncertainty, it is so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of negativity. It is almost like an inner thought mob mentality. One in which we begin thinking about some aspect of our life we feel isn’t going as well as we had hoped or wanted. The next thing we know every aspect of our world has been put under a microscope and dissected by all of the “know-it-all” inner critics that convince us that there is no point in even getting out of bed. Sadly, a large number of us can probably relate. I know I can’t be the only one that has found themselves on the wrong end of a conversation with myself, debating what the hell I am doing with my life. “How did I get here and how the hell am I going to get through this?” Interestingly, we do. We figure it out.
Years ago, I was working a manual labor job and I sustained a rather painful back injury. I was unable to work, so I lost my job. I did not receive worker’s compensation (being injured on the job). I had to go on welfare. Let me tell you, after working for a good chunk of my life to be in the humbling position of collecting a welfare cheque I felt I had hit bottom.
I had fully embraced the pity potty. Poor me was in the constant rotation and became one of my favorite tunes. Thoughts like “How could this be happening to me?” “This is unfair?” “What did I ever do to deserve this?” I went through the full spectrum of emotions and blaming everyone for my situation. It wasn’t until I realized no one was coming to solve my problems. That everyone else was busy trying to figure out their lives. I shifted my mindset. When people say “At least you have your health….” Well, I didn’t even have that, but that’s okay. Because until you are no longer breathing you still have an opportunity. You still have a say. You still have a move to make. I got tired of feeling sorry for myself and decided it was time to do something about where I was at. I explored every channel I could to be retained by the government. I lied to get into a computer institute. I learned website and graphic design. I worked my ass off and was able to land a job with an eLearning company, which led to a job at a university, that then led me to an online start-up and finally found me in the middle east working for an airline company.
For each and every step in my journey from a welfare cheque to a career that has afforded me the opportunity to work and travel the world, I was playing to win instead of playing not to lose. Was it easy? No. Were there bumps in the road? Yes. Was it all worth it? Definitely.
I enjoy the scenic route and taking the road less traveled. It has provided me with possibilities and opportunities. I have gained a unique perspective of life. A perspective I treasure.
I would encourage everyone to embrace a new way of thinking, a new perspective to see a different outcome, a different way to play the game.
“LIFE IS LIKE A GAME. YOU CAN PLAY IT SAFE
AND BE GOOD, OR YOU CAN TAKE A CHANCE
AND BE GREAT.”
– Unknown –
As I close out my blog post I would like to continue my tradition of signing off with a song. Enjoy!
Are you in your late 30's or 40's and thinking back on how exactly you wound up in the career you are in today? Chances are if you are like me, you took the safe path. You were told to get a job with benefits, a retirement plan and not rock the boat. Work your way up. Move up the corporate ladder. Just work hard and when you are done, retire.
Yup, you played it safe and now, you are questioning what you are doing and where you are going?
Let me ask you, do you remember when you were excited about life's possibilities? When you believed you could do anything. Do you ever wonder what happened? When did you lose touch with your passion? Have you given up on your hopes and dreams? Or, have they simply gone astray.
Sign up to for the Stop the Pity Party. Restart Your Passion 7 Day Change Challenge and begin to rekindle your passion. Reclaim your beliefs to create the life you have the responsibility to live. A life of fulfillment, possibility, wonder, and passion.