Are You Playing to Win...or Not to Lose?

by Jack Canfield

If you have a habit of not finishing what you start, you may have attributed your lack of results to disorganization or a lack of focus. For some individuals, however, this habit is signs of an underlying psychological pattern of playing not to lose.

Stuart Emery, author of Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal and Success Built to Last, noted that where most people tackle situations with a goal of winning, others approach life with a goal of avoiding losing. Somewhere in life, they decided that they were incapable of winning and have lowered their expectations to merely not coming in last.

The groundwork for this pattern is often laid in childhood. For example, if a father raves over his young daughter’s drawing, she may have next colored on the wall, not recognizing that the wall is not an appropriate place to express artwork. After repeated incidents of getting in trouble in such a way, she may have drawn the conclusion that she couldn’t win. She didn’t like the pain of not winning, so she unconsciously adopted the strategy of trying not to lose in the future.

Not finishing what you start is one of many habits you fall back on when playing to not lose. The reason this has worked for you in the past is that if something is incomplete, it cannot be judged as not good enough. You can just say that it’s not “finished.”

Other ways we ‘play not to lose” include:

  •     Playing the Judge.  By being the judge, you never have to be the participant. By pointing out how imperfectly others are dancing, for instance, you get to avoid dancing yourself, which could open the door to you failing at the task.
  •     Being perfect. With this approach, you attempt to not lose by doing everything as perfectly as you can… or at least by presenting a front that you are “perfect.” You never really relax or let your guard down. Instead, you overdo everything instead.
  •     Becoming a “problem.” If you take on the role of the identified problem, others will need to stop and take care of you. This is a form of sabotage. Because others are directing their time and energy into helping you and are less likely to win themselves.

If you recognize that you’ve been playing not to lose, it’s time to shift the behavior.

Embrace Feedback

Your decision to stop playing to win was most likely unconscious. You received feedback that you interpreted as being a condemnation of your abilities and who you are.

An important step in shifting this pattern will be recognizing feedback for what it is: Information that tells you whether you are on course or off course.

When you get negative feedback – such as lack of results, little or no money, criticism, poor evaluation, inner conflict, and unhappiness – it’s a sign that you are moving away from your intended goal.  Evaluate what you’re doing and make a course correction.

When you receive positive feedback, such as praise, happiness, money and results, you’ll know that you are back on course.

Sharpen Your Focus

Another thing you can do, particularly if you’ve developed a habit of not completing what you start, is to train yourself to sharpen your focus.

In the Achievers Focusing System, Les Hewitt, author of The Power of Focus, teaches his clients to focus their attention only on what they want to accomplish in the next three months. They select one goal in each area of their lives during that period.

Then, each week, they identify the three most important things that must be accomplished during that 7-day period to move them closer to their goals. A weekly check-in with your accountability partner helps to keep you accountable for achieving these tasks.

To download a free copy of the Achievers Focusing System 3-month planner, click here. (For your convenience, we’ve also posted a filled-in version of the form so that you can see what type of information should be entered in each field.)

Chunk It Down

The final word of advice: As you begin to build a new habit of completing what you start, you may feel overwhelmed and lost about what to do next when you look at your list of goals. The best approach is to chunk down your goals into small, manageable steps.

Interview people who have already accomplished what you want to do and ask them to share all of the steps they took. If you can find a book or manual that guides you through the process, even better. Another approach is to imagine that it’s the future and you’ve already accomplished your goal. Start at the end and look backward. Notice what you had to do to get to where you are.

Capture all of these steps in a list or mind map. Then convert all of your to-do items into daily action items that can be plugged into your calendar. Start with the first item on your list, and when it’s finished, cross it off and tackle the next item. Before you know it, you’ll be completing projects and well on your way to playing to win.

Playing not to lose may protect you from the potential pain of negative feedback. But the cost is steep. Every time you fail to live up to the commitments you make to yourself and others, you undermine your self-confidence. Use the steps outlined in this article to identify why you’ve settled for simply not losing and to take the corrective action you need to complete what you start.

 Jack Canfield, America's #1 Success Coach, is founder of the billion-dollar book brand Chicken Soup for the Soul®and a leading authority on Peak Performance and Life Success. If you're ready to jump-start your life, make more money, and have more fun and joy in all that you do, get FREE success tips from Jack Canfield now at: .

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