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The Paradox of Winning

The purpose of competition is not to win. It is to reach your highest potential.

In sports and in other areas of life and business, there is an interesting paradox at work: focusing on winning reduces the chances of winning.

Focus on Winning reduces the chances of Winning.

It never became more clear to me, than when I visited the 2012 London Olympics to witness the Dutch women’s field hockey team that I had been working with for two years win a gold medal.

Athletes that came to the Olympics to win gold and were not satisfied with anything less than gold, consistently failed. Henk Grol, the Dutch judo champion is a prime example. He was completely miserable after winning bronze instead of gold because winning the gold medal was his sole purpose for competing. There is nothing wrong  with wanting to win a gold medal, but if it becomes your sole purpose it becomes a self-defeating force.  

There are few things that happen when you focus too much on winning:

  • You forget the process that will lead to winning

  • You forget to be in the moment

  • Fear of losing starts building up which creates stress

  • Self-esteem and self-confidence are compromised

The thing with the winning of a gold medal is that it is not something you take, it is something that is given to you when you perform the best of all competitors at a given moment. So there is a certain amount of chance involved as well.

The question then is, how can I increase my chances on winning? That is by not focusing on winning, but focusing on the higher purpose and value of yourself in the role you have (whether you are an athlete, or a business professional or something else).

The purpose of competition is not winning. The purpose of competition is to give you feedback on your performance, make you better each day and help you reach your highest potential. That is why cheating  does not work, the only person you are cheating is your own self.

Cheating does you no good, quite the opposite in fact. Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson, amongs others, took performance enhancing drugs because they absolutely had to win. They missed the point and paid dearly.

You achieve your highest potential when you ask yourself questions like:

  • Who am I? (as an individual or as a team)

  • Why do I exist, for what purpose?

  • What are my qualities, my skills?

  • What do I want to do with them?

  • What kind of athlete do I want to be, what kind of team?

  • How do we want to work together?

And when you answer these questions as sincerely as possible, you achieve living inside-out. This is what the Dutch team worked on very hard for two years. They were a very talented team, but there were other teams just as talented and working just as hard. But living inside-out gave them an edge and the gold medal was the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

When you focus too much on winning a gold medal, you start living outside-in and this slowly but surely undermines your system, your whole way of being. Until, like Henk Grol and others, you are not able to win at the moment of truth.

Detach yourself from winning, live inside out, and you will win in life. And that is much more important than winning a gold medal.

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