Have you ever watched a football game (or any game for that matter) when one team is winning by a large margin, a blowout, but then the opposing team decides that they have nothing to lose? They throw all caution to the wind and start playing with total abandon. By taking bigger chances and going for broke, the team starts to score quicker, taking bigger risks and getting better rewards. This team is playing to win. The other team, who was winning by such a large margin, changes its focus, trying to play cautiously and protect their lead. This is playing not to lose. By the final quarter, the team that is playing to win has caught up to the other team. What seemed impossible a few quarters earlier becomes a reality: they pull off a come-from-behind win.
How did this happen? Fear of losing can take one’s eye off a desired goal.
Let me give you another example from my own life. When I was just starting out in business I was very aggressive. I was willing to put everything I had on the line to succeed (mind you in those days, it was not much); nevertheless, it was all I had. For each new initiative, I would have to bet the farm on my ideas, and I never hesitated. I was always willing to use my house, my car, my time, anything I had for collateral on my ideas.
As I started to have more success and acquiring a comfortable lifestyle, however, I became less and less willing to risk it. Around 1997, we hit some bumps in the road with one of our major clients, and they decided to put our contract out to bid. I got nervous. If we lost this client, we would be in a vulnerable position. I decided to purchase another business that would potentially replace that income if we lost the major client.
The point to this story is this: I did not want to buy this other company, and I knew it was not a good idea. I was acting out of fear of losing, however, I did it anyway. Instead of focusing on how to win, I was focused on playing not to lose. In the end, that decision turned out to be one of my biggest mistakes. The company I purchased not only lost money for us, but it took three years and many resources away from focusing on what we really wanted.
I am not suggesting that you throw all caution to the wind. But when you approach a decision, it might be worth asking yourself, “Are you playing to win or playing not to lose?” When you’re acting to prevent loss, it takes energy away from acting out of a place of good judgment and moving forward to win.
“The more you seek security, the less of it you have. But the more you seek opportunity,the more likely it is you will achieve the security you desire.”
“Winning is not everything, but wanting to win is.”
– Vince Lombardi
“The goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.”
– Reiner Knizia
“Focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear.”
– Anthony Robbins