How Losing Can Ultimately Help You Win

No one wins 100% of the time. Losing is never fun or enjoyable, but if you examine yourself with the right mindset, you can profit from it.


No one likes losing. After all, one of the main reasons we compete is to win.

Being defeated affects our self-esteem. It triggers feelings of sadness, regret, anger and anxiety. But for competition to exist, someone has to lose. Suffering setbacks helps us appreciate the thrill of victory. (Watch Why Losing is Okay.)

Wilt Chamberlain once said, "We generally make too much of winning. Let's face it, someone always has to win; that is the nature of competition. But the mere fact of winning doesn't make you great."

It's true winning doesn't automatically mean you're the best. And a loss doesn't mean you're an awful player. Sometimes a victory comes down to a lucky shot.

You can benefit from a loss in productive and healthy ways. Instead of dwelling on it, focus on self-improvement, constructive criticism and objectivity. By using a loss to fuel your drive and determination, you can begin to look forward to your next chance at winning. (See Find Inspiration When Confronting Challenges.)

According to Ian Robertson, author of The Winner Effect, a link exists between the rewards of winning and our hormones. He writes, "Dopamine is a key element in motivation, in getting clear in our minds what we want and setting out to get it. Winning changes how we feel and think by racking up testosterone and the dopamine-sensitive brain systems responsible for an action-oriented approach." (115)

This means that the "high" we feel from winning is a byproduct of a hormonal chain reaction. It helps improve our mood and, some would argue, the overall quality of our lives.

Now I don't agree with everything Lance Armstrong stands for. However, in his book, Every Second Countshe (ironically) succeeds in summarizing the psychological differences between winning and losing. Here's a quote:

"When you win, you don't examine it very much, except to congratulate yourself. But winning only measures how hard you've worked and how physically talented you are; it doesn't particularly define you beyond those characteristics. Losing, on the other hand, really does say something about who you are. Among other things it measures are: do you blame others, or do you own the loss? Do you analyze your failure, or just complain about bad luck? If you're willing to examine failure, and to look not just at your outward physical performance, but your internal workings, too, losing can be valuable." (231)

It's not easy to embrace a loss. There's no way to make it fun or enjoyable. But if you take a step back to examine yourself and your performance, you can profit from it. Ask yourself:

  • What can you do better?
  • Are there drills that can help you improve?
  • What does your coach say about your strengths and weaknesses? How can you get better in his or her eyes?
  • Is there something you can do to inspire your teammates?

Try taking Muhammad Ali's advice: "I never thought about losing, but now that it's happened, the only thing is to do it right. That's my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life."

To train like your favorite professional athletes, you need to learn to lose like them as well. As the saying goes, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

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