How to achieve your goals by learning to lose
Winning is for losers? We say it is. We think (in fact, we know…) that in order to win, you must first learn to lose. We’ll explain why, and how to become a loser in order to be a winner and achieve your goals in a series of short articles.
In this first article in the series, we’ll present you with the reason why winning is for losers, and how to apply the lessons this holds for truly winning.
Let’s start with how it began…
Learning to be a loser
The first time the six-year-old boy (one of the authors) attended the martial arts school, the teacher asked him, ‘Are you a loser?’
Of course he answered: ‘No, sir’.
‘What a pity,’ was the surprising reply. ‘You do know winning is for losers, don’t you?’
Growing up, the boy came to the dojo every day. Every day the teacher asked him with interest: ‘Have you been angry about losing yet today?’ In this way he touched what kept the boy from being able to win.
Much, much later the boy, by now a grown man, understood why ‘winning is for losers’.
And now we want to tell you, too. Because once you know why winning is for losers, you’ll have become a true winner.
Winning is an effect of losing
Let’s look at losing from a logical angle. No one can win all the time. In fact winning is an effect of losing. The oft-quoted American philosopher Elbert Hubbart even wrote that ‘there is no failure except in no longer trying.’ Losing is required to improve your failing. Only by failing repeatedly, and failing better every time, can you ever hope to win.
Learn to fail better
Samuel Becket, the great stage writer, famously said to an actor who lost faith during a repetition, ‘Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.’
The message seems to be: just be of strong will and fail better, that will make you improve. However, in order to ‘fail better’, (that is: being able to face losing, because it will enable you to win), you need something more than just ‘strong will.’ We all know that the human condition is shaped by the necessity to prevent loss – and failure is clearly a form of loss. What is it you need to be able to ‘fail better’ in spite of this?
To fail better you need the inner capacity to deal with the emotions of possible loss. You need to be able to deal with uncertainty.
Uncertainty allows for the possibility you won’t succeed, or to put it in even harsher terms: you presumably might fail. This possibility generates emotions that most people find hard to handle. These are the emotions of loss that upset your inner peace and eat away at your self-confidence.
The effect, very understandably, is doubt. These doubts hamper your effectiveness. After a while these doubts about yourself and your abilities might even preclude the possibility to find out what causes your losing. And that means you won’t ‘fail better’ – you’ll just fail.
Our doubts are traitors
The doubts may become so strong you will start to sabotage yourself. Rather than trying to ‘fail better’ you’ll be trying to prevent losing. Instead of going all out, you’ll be acting cautiously. You’ll adapt to a lower standard that is easily within reach.
Shakespeare pointed out the effects of self-doubts when he wrote:
‘Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.’
By not attempting something because we are afraid to fail, we block the possibility for ourselves to know what specifically causes failure. This means we don’t find out what we specifically need to improve to become a winner.
Go ahead and make one genuine attempt
So what to do instead? Well, face your doubts. And do it anyway. Make one genuine attempt at something.
What if you ‘lose’? Don’t look at the possible failure. Look instead at a means to improve your attempt, so you’ll so you’ll ‘fail better’. That’s the winner’s mentality.
A winner is a beginner. The only way to truly begin is to not continue with what has failed, but to adapt to feedback based on the true attempt. The attempt to ‘the good we oft might win’.
In the next article in this series, we’ll show you how to learn to ‘fail better’ and make a true attempt by experiencing how failure teaches success.
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 William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 1, scene 4