Are You Playing To Win or To Avoid Losing?

Let me ask you a question. When you play a game, when you embark on a project, when you go to work, when you get up in the morning, when you sit down to write, when you make a presentation, when you have to do anything,

Are you playing to win or to avoid losing?

If you’re wondering what the difference is, when you play to win you’re focused on it. When you play to win, you back yourself to achieve, you back yourself to perform, you back yourself to get shit done

When you’re playing to avoid losing, on the other hand, well, you’re not really playing. You’re simply trying to avoid making mistakes. Your focus is on the negative outcome. As a result, you’re always on guard for fear of failure or embarrassment.

Psychologists call this the difference between a performance approach and a performance avoidance mindsetStudy after study has concluded that those with a performance approach mindset have a much easier time immersing themselves in the game and entering a flow-like state.

I’ve experienced both multiple times. 

When I didn’t really want to be at work – when I had to fly through the night or with a Captain I didn’t get along with, I fretted. Not only did this spoil the game, it affected my performance. Even if I did make it through unscathed, the feeling wasn’t one of confidence but relief.

The truth was, on those occasions, I wasn’t in it to win it. I was merely trying to avoid failure for fear of being found out.

Conversely, when I did show up to work with a willing attitude. When I backed myself to do well in a sim or pull off a landing in tricky conditions, it was rarely as bad a day at the office. Not only would I perform better and gain more confidence as a result, if I did make a mistake I was able to look at it objectively.

Instead of viewing them as confirmation that I wasn’t capable, I was able to take the lessons onboard. That same attitude then gave me the impetuous to get back on the horse and have another go.

The question is, how do we adopt such an attitude consistently? How do we take a performance approach to work and life every time we show up to play?

For Adopting a Winning Mindset

One technique that’s used by many top athletes is visualisation. Psychology Today notes that mental practices “enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow.”

The idea is you mentally rehearse the performance ahead of time. Not only that, you visualise the future after you’ve achieved your goal. You picture it in vivid detail. Imagine the scene – the time and place, the people you’re with, how it feels, etc. The more detailed the meditation, the better. It helps to combine it with a positive affirmation. 

But before you do that, there’s an important question you should ask yourself. Especially if you find yourself repeatedly playing to avoid losing. That’s why you’re playing the game that you are, because the reason you’re playing – your why – has got to be bigger than winning.

Success alone isn’t enough. Winning isn’t enough. Why do you want more followers on Twitter, or Instagram, or WordPress? Why do you want to become a published author? Why do you want to get that promotion? Why do you want to be a captain, or a lawyer, or a doctor? 

What is the reason for playing the game that you are? 

It’s worth stating that no child plays to win. A child plays because it wants to play. That’s because playing is an expression of joy. Playing is an expression of freedom. Playing, in its purest form, is an expression of love. 

The reason for playing at anything is for the love of that thing. 

You play to play. Similarly, you write to write. You don’t write to become a published author or get thousands of followers. You don’t write to win. You write because you love the craft. You fly aeroplanes because getting airborne gives you a rush that few other things can.

One of the problems we have in today’s results-obsessed culture is that we forget those reasons for playing in the first place. That desire to win, to be successful, to say we have achieved this, that or what-the-fuck ever (by the way, no-one else cares except you) takes over. We end up thinking that winning is the point. 

This blinds us. 

If you’re not careful, ambition has a way of sucking the life out of everything in its wake. It has a way of sucking the fun out of play too. Which misses the point completely. 

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” That’s the point right there. To keep your spirit, to keep your love for the game going no matter how many times you get knocked down. So you get back up, over and over again. 

If you play enough times in this life, you will win eventually. The most important thing is to make sure that you’re playing the game you want to play when you do. 

Otherwise, you really have lost.

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

22 thoughts on “Are You Playing To Win or To Avoid Losing?

  • AP2, how would you classify being out to “do the very best you can”? I don’t see it as the same as being out to “win”, but maybe you’d put it in that bucket. It seems that having the mindset to either win or avoid losing is approaching the world in an unnecessarily competitive way. But I may be pointlessly overthinking! 😏

    Like

    • I see your point. Don’t worry about pointless overthinking. That’s what we like to do here! I guess being competitive works for some but not others. To clarify, when I say winning – I don’t necessarily mean in order to beat someone, only to go out and better the person you were yesterday/be the best you can be. However it’s the word ‘playing’ that I really wanted to emphasise. I believe that if you feel like you’re playing a game – that you have a playful attitude towards work and life – that you really are “winning.” I believe this is much more important than whether or not you actually win or lose, although I do believe that attitude makes the former more likely. Thank you for lending your thoughts Jane. Really appreciate it. I hope you’re doing well 🙂🙏

      Liked by 1 person

      • I appreciate you expanding upon the original post because I am of the mindset to do something because I like to do it or at the very least to do it because I’m trying to do my very best or to better myself!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Simply playing to win isn’t a big enough reason for playing in my eyes. Your purpose has to be bigger than simply succeeding. Honestly, I think that’s how we avoid this trap of playing to avoid losing. Thank you Tamara. Doing things to improve the self and/or for the love of that thing are great reasons for playing. Wishing you well 🙏

        Liked by 1 person

  • We learn to show up by practice and consistency. It’s starting out the day thinking that you’re just going to do the best job possible no matter what you’re doing. Playing yo win doesn’t mean actually winning…it means being present…it means trying…it means no excuses or blame…it means picking yourself back up. Resilience.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Excellent post AP2 and nodding in agreement as I read!! I’ve always been into visualising my goals and working hard towards that “picture in my head”; a positive mindset helped for completing 2 marathons. Thank you for this “winning” post ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  • You’re in the driver seat with this post. And we all can be there too. We just have to make it so that whatever we do, wherever we go WE ARE THERE!
    Not about winning or not losing but about being in that moment. And then no matter the wording it is a winning day. Thanks for the lovely post. You rock.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Another great post. I think that’s why I’ve stopped counting reps when exercising lately too, so that I can just do things without the expectations of winning, losing, or basically just keeping track. I’ve competed in a few martial arts tournaments before, and this article has given me pause to think about why I do what I do. Time to do things just for their sake!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Stuart! Doing something just because you love it is enough! I feel I sometimes forget that. Like there always has to be a purpose beyond enjoyment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post/it made you think. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment 🙂🙏

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s