Wow…the Winter Olympics are gone but the idea of how many good lessons we could learn from them keeps gravitating in my head. The most important is the idea of persistence and trying again vs the typical win or loose model, not only when pursuing an Olympic medal but in life. Stop for a second and think if you are one of those people for whom the word looser tends to come often into your mind? Or do you constantly deal with a feeling of winning or loosing in life even when things are small and maybe not so important? If so, this article is for you. First of all, it is important to understand that even though when growing up, and everyday in our adult lives, we get bombarded with messages about winning or loosing, that is not what life is all about. In addition, life does not work in black and white terms. But even so, for many people the idea of winning or loosing runs their lives. Why is that?

Let’s start with the basic principles. During the primary school years children do a lot of learning about right and wrong. Part of this learning happens while playing games. Adults make up rules and children learn about winning and losing. For others, the concepts of winning or loosing were constantly reinforced in their families of origin. Some have even been called directly “winner” or “looser” depending on their performance in sports, school, dating, business… so no wonder we continue to think that way. The problem is more serious for people with low self esteem for whom winning becomes even more important because their worth depends on the outcome of their actions. These are the people who can’t let go of a topic during dinner table discussions, or want to be right all the time. Do you know anybody like that? For others, winning carries a weight or a responsibility that they don’t perceive they can handle and therefore, unconsciously constantly sabotage their opportunities for success without realizing it.

The difference is that some people learn early in life to enjoy the ride (task individuals) while others are only outcome oriented (ego individuals). The second part is that for some failures and falls are perceived as lessons and opportunities for growth while for others it is the end (typical catastrophizing of black & white thinking patterns). On which side are you? The main advantage is that task oriented individuals will remain motivated even in times of adversity, for example when they are losing, as they perceive success in terms of trying hard and attempting to improve such as the majority of the athletes that we saw during the Olympics. My gosh…four years of intense training and sacrifice to fall down the hill after a few minutes, sometimes, even seconds. But guess what? They stood up and came back to try again, stronger and more determined, four or eight years later. It doesn’t mean they don’t hurt, cry, and feel down for a while. But they recover and try again. They know they are good athletes but they need to do better. Ego oriented individuals tend to think they aren’t good enough when their performance needs improvement or are criticized. They take it personally, as if their performance becomes part of who they are in essence as individuals.
I say there are two key aspects to this issue:

1) How to remain motivated
2) How do you define success? In terms of growth and development or solely in terms of achievement? What do you tell yourself at the end of an event? How do you evaluate your performance?

Learning to lose is a hard lesson and takes much longer than learning to win! But I believe we need to learn both because life is many times a combination. Here are some tips to help you during your journey:

1 Start by listening to your internal self. At the end of an event or a performance that didn’t go so well, what is that weird feeling telling you? That it is ok, and next time will be better, that you did your best and that is what matters the most? Or, that you are a looser and therefore, see…what is the point of even trying? Once you identify that voice you will be able to make miracles.

2 Practice loosing. Remember that life is a combination of things, good and bad, happiness and sadness, winning and loosing so remind yourself that even though today you are on one end, your position might switch to the other because nothing is permanent.
3 Remember you always win (learn) something from an experience, even if it's a losing experience; it might not be what you expected but you always gain something. Look hard for what you “won” and make the best of it. It might become handy later in life, believe it or not.
4 Try to refocus your attention. If this time you didn’t get want you wanted it must be because life has something different in store for you, it is not your time, or you need to do/learn some things first. This is one of the most difficult things to do but if you try to go and follow the current of the river instead of fighting against it, you will find some treasures you didn’t even think of.
5 Keep in mind that you win by loosing. In the achievement of success there are usually various moments of failure. If you look around, more often than not people that succeed are the people that persevere even when losing. You almost never get it right the first time, no matter how hard you try. Did you get the car pedals or ski right the first time you tried? I don’t think so.
As the idiom says, "It is more better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Remember that.

"If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks, and that means you're not going anywhere. The key is to make mistakes faster than the competition, so you have more changes to learn and win." John W. Holt, Jr

Author's Bio: 

Isabel Kirk is a bilingual mental health counselor psychotherapist offering individual and group services in the Washington DC metropolitan area and distance counseling (online and phone).