Mon | Oct 22, 2018

Winners or Losers? Reality or mind games?

Published:Sunday | August 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM

In life, there is more competition than we appreciate. We are not alone in our striving, and we all want to maximise the results of our efforts. We are engaged in a competitive race to maximise outcomes.

How many of us go about our daily activities hoping that we will not be as good as others in the same pursuit? Deep inside, we want to WIN .... that is our firmly held objective!

We accept that there can be more than one winner. However, at some point, there are going to be people who are not going to run as fast, get lower grades, not get as many votes, not get married to the most eligible bachelor, not achieve their sales quota etc.

When confronted with not winning, our socialisation sometimes prompts us to feel like 'losers'. We are tempted to get trapped into being self-critical and even wonder if we are worthy.

In such instances, we throw out "everybody is a winner" statements. If I am running for office and win an unprecedented number of votes but my opponent gets one more, I am a loser. Yet, I will be encouraged with: "You lost the election but you are not a loser". I wonder if we should not equally prepare people for the reality that there are going to be "losers"? Competing with the fastest man even if you are fast, you will lose.

The key mental shift is recognising that 'having lost' is not the same as 'being a loser'. It helps us to cope with the fact that we can't all win or be the best. The term 'loser', has the suggestion of an ongoing state. You might not have married the most eligible bachelor, but you are happily married to a man who is a wonderful husband and father. How could you be considered a 'loser'?

I did not win the sales competition, but I exceeded my quota. How am I a 'loser'?

However, there is a danger with "everybody is a winner" in that, it might invite complacency. Only a minute fraction of the world's population get to perform at the Olympics. "Everybody on the Olympic team is a winner!" That is true. At the same time, is there a risk that some may take that as mission accomplished?

This is a controversial issue and I am not even clear on my stance. I would love to get your views.

When people shake their heads at Asafa not running the individual 100m, I respond by praising his longevity and pointing to the fact that, at his stage, he will be getting yet another Olympic Gold medal (4x100 relay).

But suppose in the Asafa camp, he and his team saw anything less than an individual medal as a failure. Could he have bettered his trials performance?

Does anyone doubt that a Bolt bronze medal in Rio would be a cause for national mourning?

So far, I have reinforced the fact that we cannot all win, and we should prepare ourselves to deal with losing.

Also, we made the distinction that having lost is different from being a loser. One speaks to a specific event or situation, while the others suggests a mindset of failure. We also highlighted the risk of complacency linked to a failure to confront losing. So how do we deal with losing?

What strategy can we use to avoid falling into the 'loser trap'? If winning is a habit, what about losing?


Step 1: Learn


It is critical that we examine situations in which we achieved less than we needed to, and identify the causes of our underachievement. Knowing why helps to identify solutions.


Step 2: Believe


We have to cultivate the mindset that while we did not make it to the top this time or even thus far, we can succeed.


Step 3: Execute


Motivated by Step 2, spare no effort or resource to implement the solutions identified in Step 1. Work hard - always believing.

If you are in a leadership role, I need your opinion here:

• Trevor E. S. Smith is a behaviour modification coach email: