Playing To Win… And What Is Stopping Us From Doing It
Updated: Oct 7, 2021
Many of the small business owners I speak to are very familiar with a habit of starting a project, but then not finishing it. The common excuses I hear are something like being too busy, not being able to focus or simply a lack of clarity on how to proceed.
But what if there is another dynamic at play that might not be so obvious on first sight?
There are people who start a new project with every intention to complete it and to do a great job at it. They see the project as the next challenge that they want to “win”. There are other people, however, who are not necessarily driven by the desire to “win.” To them It is more important not to “lose,” or being the worst at something. For example, if a sales team has an internal contest, some people are playing to win, be the best, where other people just hope not to come in last
Sometimes the root for such a behavior can go as far back as early childhood, where somewhere in life, a person decided that they were incapable of winning. This could have been caused by a teacher who was not supportive and used language, like “You will never be good at this.” Or, maybe in our childhood we worked really hard for a project, poured our heart and soul into it, but the parents didn’t recognize the effort, or even worse, criticized the effort. And from that point on out we just decided that it isn’t worthwhile trying to do something extraordinary and lowered our expectations to merely not wanting to fail or come in last.
One symptom of not wanting to “lose” is that we don’t finish projects we start. The reason for that is very simply that if a project is incomplete, it cannot be judged as not good enough. You can just say that it’s not “finished.”
Other ways we may ‘play not to lose” include:
Being a critic. By being a critic, you don’t have to be the participant. By pointing out how imperfectly others are playing soccer, for instance (because I love soccer), you get to avoid playing soccer yourself, which could open the door to you failing at the game.
Trying to be perfect. With this approach, you attempt to not lose by doing everything as perfectly as you can… or at least by presenting a fake facade that you are “perfect.” In this case you never really relax or let your guard down, and live in a self-made prison.
Being “difficult.” If you purposefully are being difficult and create problems, others will need to stop and “deal” with you or the chaos you have created. Others are directing their time and energy into helping you and are less likely to win themselves.
If we recognize that we’ve been engaging in these types of dynamics, it’s time to shift our behavior.
How To Make A Change
The decision to play it safe, most likely, was an unconscious decision. At some point in our life criticism that we received let us to make negative conclusions about who we are, and what we are capable of.
To get out of this trap, which really only exists in our mind, we need to develop a different relationship with criticism and feedback. Criticism and feedback do not say anything about who we are, they are merely giving us a clue whether we are on the right track or not.
When we receive negative feedback for our actions, for example a poor evaluation, lack of revenue or profit for our business, it’s simply a sign that we have gotten off target are not moving toward our goal. All we need to do is assess the current situation and what we are doing and make a course correction. It is important for us to understand that feedback doesn’t say anything about who we are as a person.
On the other hand, when we receive positive feedback, such as a promotion, increased profits, and a sense of satisfaction, we’ll know that we are back on course.
“Playing it safe” may protect us from the potential pain of negative criticism. But is it worth the price? In the end we will not feel fulfilled, knowing that we held back and didn’t give our best, just because we didn’t want to face criticism.
Sometimes (actually most of the time) success can’t be forced by just trying to make things more efficient. We also have to look at fundamental conclusions we have made about ourselves and how those conclusions (beliefs) impact how we are executing the things we do.
To your success,