The art of losing to win

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We all love winning!

Yes, we all have experienced the joy and delightful taste of victory. And I bet we all would love to win every time we compete. Unfortunately, winning is a result that comes from different variables, and not all of them are within our range of control. 

Winning gives us the sensation of relief after hard training for days, accompanied by the euphoria and satisfaction of proving that we are good at something. 

The problem with constantly winning, however, is that we never have to face our own shades. The hardest part of life is learning how to roll with the punches when you think you can’t go on. Those with the ability to look deep into themselves and find ways to address their failures without falling apart are the ones who ultimately succeed.

We cannot deny how glorious it is to win, but like everything in life, there is also another face of the coin that we should also embrace as strongly as we do when we win…when we lose.

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We all hate losing!

I know, it is really frustrating and even annoying when we lose, but for better or worse, the art of losing has plenty of gifts hidden below that awful disguise. 

Maybe, the evil concept of losing was born from our early days on the earth when our survival depended on whether we won or we lost. 

Imagine if your life depended on winning… Terrible right? Maybe even exciting for some others.

Fortunately, you don’t have to run away from an enormous predator now. You don’t have to demonstrate that you are better than anyone…if you don’t want to.

In most cases, the sensation of losing teaches us to leave the past behind and keep moving. This sensation comes from the competition – a driver that can be a healthy motivator but isn’t always necessary. 

Yes, what I mean here is that competition is naturally in our genes, but we could slow down the pace by not taking everything seriously in our lives as if it were our last chance to succeed at something. 

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Natural Competitors 

As we mentioned before, we all possess a measure of natural competitiveness simply by instinct, and if we take a look at history, we can see how men and women have competed from the beginning as a way of showing off power, status, wellness, vanity and more. 

For instance, on average, men tend to feel more attracted to compete for power than women, and women feel more attracted to compete for beauty. 

These facts can be easily witnessed in our current days and account for an Instagram feed of men driving Maseratis and preaching their get-rich-quick schemes, and beautiful women showing off their makeup techniques.  And no, we are not against it, but certainly, it is quite a truth.

We also can see how men are still fighting for territories in other countries, declaring wars, and overlooking children and disabled people’s health and safety.

Believe it or not, our history is full of evidence to say positively that we are always wanting to be the winners, and this same reason is maybe the main fact for our longing to resist and avoid failure. 

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The other face of competition 

Yes, it is clear we have this competitive spirit running through our blood, but there is another face as well. 

Maybe our wild instinct drives us to compete and survive, or in other cases, to show off we are better than others. But not everything is about competition. 

There is another quality instinct that keeps us safe and sound from dangers and risks as well, it is called cooperation and it also has helped us to survive.

Cooperation is born from our ability to think and be empathic with other individuals. 

In the exercise of sharing and interchanging, we find rewarding sensations and emotional fulfillment. 

In fact, the sensation of cooperation provides us with a high dose of healthy neurotransmitters that benefit our bodies and minds. 

When our brain feels that we have contributed to someone to achieve a goal like helping an older man to cross the street, or brainstorming in class, it rewards us with nice sensations that are similar to winning, but in this case, we are not necessarily competing, in fact, we are doing the opposite.

Here is a short video clip, to understand more about how we’ve learned to share and cooperate and help one another. 

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Embracing the failure 

We all know failure is not the end of the world, but it is not easy to embrace. Without clear thinking, fear of failure and failure itself can undermine our leadership styles, performance, and even our happiness. 

Here are three tips for embracing fear and failure and getting value from them

1. Use fear to your advantage 

Fear is a powerful feeling; it can be a huge asset or get you stuck.  Use it as an alert system: it signals where you need to focus, loose ends that need to tie up, or weaknesses in your plan or product. Once you’ve got the signal, focus on it  and let go of the awkward sensation. This week, try listening to fear as a source of inspiration, then write down your ideas and your plan to address whatever triggered it. 

2.  Let the class discover another way of success

Teams that fear failure and its consequences lower their performance over time and tend to lack innovation.  This happens because they work and are rewarded for predictable outcomes and not for reaching beyond certainty toward success — how do you react when they fall short? To empower your team to achieve beyond expectations, create a regular vocabulary and define new outcomes and stretch objectives week over week. A recognition system that celebrates the achievement of committed goals and the stretch even when the goal is not achieved will inspire your team to go beyond predictable to impressive results.

3.  Failure is the beginning not the end 

Failure is inevitable, and can make us feel terribly uncomfortable! But each failure opens new doors and presents new information. Instead of getting stuck on the failure itself, focus your attention on the data that came with it and the new door opened. Consider this: what did you learn – could you be where you are now without them?  You’ve probably learned more from failure than any other source of wisdom. Rather than feeling dread and discomfort, embrace failure’s value as a teacher, get curious and be open to where it leads you next. 

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Losing is just an illusion 

We have been talking about losing in the sense of competition, but what about losing someone, losing a property, losing something we really love deeply?

I know many people are completely devoted to obtaining a result, to finishing college, to getting a better job,  to winning over a girl, to marrying a man, to buying a house, a car, etc.

In that sense, I want you to know that if you are part of these hard-working people, I really admire your efforts, your commitment, and your dreams. 

It is a triumph when we finally are able to get those things we have been longing for a long time. This brings social acknowledgment and higher status, and who does not like that?

Well, I don’t mean to be the bad guy in this story, but everything has an end, and actually, there are things that don’t even start, no matter how much we try, and the faster we accept that fact, the easier life becomes. 

But let’s dive deeper into losing someone or something because that may be even happening to you or someone close to you now, or it could happen in the future, and hopefully, this article could be a light in your path. 

Losing is just an illusion of the mind. This bitter feeling of attachment for something or someone that no longer serves you leaves you in a never-ending cycle of sadness and imprisons you into a vicious state of victim mentality. Although it seems chaotic at first, losing has a purpose to set you up for an evolutionary path. If it shakes you, it aims to change you for the better. So, you must be with your eyes and arms wide open.

There is no way we can escape from losing something or someone important in our lives, it is somehow a sad and necessary fact, and I know it is very similar to winning competitions, we wish we never lost anything or anyone important to us. 

In my personal experience, losing people has hurt much more than losing money or material properties, but both could hurt the same for some people and it is ok.

In my life, losing beloved people has contributed to my personal growth and has helped to become a better person. When my dad passed, for instance, I definitely was not ready for that, but as time went by I gave it a huge meaning, it taught me that life happens only once and there is no way we can rewind it. Even when I passed a tough stage overcoming that fact, at the end of the tunnel I found pure love. I realized nothing matters more than the love we are able to share with others and the feeling that lingers into them about our person. 

Similar to this event, I am positive you are also able to learn from loss, error, and failure. It takes bravery and strength, but each human possesses those gifts inside. You only have to give it time sometimes. 

Here is when embracing the loss plays an essential role to overcome the battle.

When pondering over what you have lost, remind yourself that there will always be other things manifesting in your life just to compensate for the emptiness generated. They can come to you in the form of a new friendship, an opportunity to travel, a brand-new job, a chance to live in another place, a skill or knowledge you can learn, or anything else. These random examples can help you visualize that your reality is surrounded by things that fit your life equation.

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How to win even when we lose?

Common courtesy calls for a handshake (or fist pump in COVID times) between players (winners and losers) after a contest. It’s a simple gesture that brings a lot of meaning. It is an exercise in defusing any persistent animosity. It makes it possible for both parties to move on with dignity.

To refuse to acknowledge the triumph of the winner is to fall into a grudge. And nothing good, for either side, ever comes out of a lingering grudge.

But the moment of concession is also an opportunity at redemption for those who did not win. It allows them to be a role model of humility and admiration. It proves them humbler than their loss might suggest. Conceding is actually demonstrating that you are not defined by losing. You are bigger than that.

“A tree is best measured when it is down, and so it is with people,” said the poet Carl Sandburg.

A man who had his share of wins born out of deep losses.

For example, to lose a martial fight — a very public defeat that can be personally devastating — raises the spirits enormously. The act of concession there is both necessary for a peaceful transition of power and an opportunity for the loser to show everyone that he or she is sagacious enough to put honor and discipline above all else.

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It’s ok to encourage kids and young people to fail more 

There is this need of protecting our children and teenagers from danger and keeping them safe. Yes, we usually try to guide them through shortcuts. Paradoxically, the more we try to protect them, the more injury we cause. I heard a very useful piece of advice in the past “Fail, fail as much as you can and fail fast” and I think it is one of the most powerful pieces of advice I have embraced in my life.

If you are able to accept that you will lose plenty of times in life, like a video game where you have multiple chances to win, then possibilities become infinite. 

Not learning to tolerate failure leaves kids vulnerable. It leads to black holes when the inevitable failure does occur, whether it happens in preschool or college. And perhaps even more important, it might make kids give up trying on new things.

That’s why Michael Jordan, one of the world’s greatest athletes, has spent years teaching the importance of losing. Jordan has spoken broadly about how discipline and resilience in the face of challenges on and off the court are what have made him a winner.

Unfortunately, as the world puts more pressure on kids to be winners, and parents feel compelled to comply with this in every way possible, we’re seeing more and more kids who become restless over even the smallest misstep.

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A short story about losing to win 

I’ll be honest—I never envisioned teaching kids how to lose to be such a vital part of my parenting journey.

Of course, losing is inevitable throughout the course of a lifetime. We all lose at some point. But to think of it as a pillar of parenting right alongside “be a good human” and “love to learn”? It didn’t even cross my mind until my husband brought it up one day when my oldest son was just about 2 years old.

He and my husband were playing basketball in the basement one evening before dinner – I didn’t know what was going on, but by the rising sounds of my toddler’s frustration, I could tell they were nearly finished, and it was not going well (for the kid). That’s right, he lost the game. My husband did not let his 2-year-old win.

What came next was a tantrum of epic proportions. There was kicking and screaming and throwing of things. There was crying and pouting and refusing to come upstairs. And I stood in the kitchen, overhearing it all, and silently fumed. Why did my husband have to do this right now? Losing is a part of life, I get it, but he’s 2. The rest of our night routine is going to be ruined; could he have picked a worse time for this lesson?

I stood there fuming as my husband came up the stairs alone; when he saw the disapproval on my face he said, “I know you’re not happy about this. But he’s going to lose a lot in his life. He needs to learn how to lose. And it’s never too early to start.”

In his eyes, I saw the years of his career experience as a football coach—the endless hard work, the constant losing, the grating process of picking yourself up each time. Our son’s life was going to be filled with many losses just by nature of his dad’s job, regardless of the losses of his own life. I knew my husband was right. He would need to learn how to lose—how to get back up with grace, how to learn, how to move forward. So, we started working on it that very day.

It hasn’t been an easy process. There have been many tantrums (him) and tears (him and me), a lot of thrown balls and bats, and a few pushed-0ver basketball hoops, but we’ve made good progress. Four years later, my now 6-year-old is a pretty good sport. He doesn’t love to lose (who does?), but he can manage a loss, he can reflect and focus on effort, and he often lets his younger brother win just to see the joy on his face.

Of course, he’s a work-in-progress (we all are), but staying committed to the process of teaching our kids how to lose has been tremendously fruitful. We want them to remember that things don’t always go your way, even when you’ve done it the right way, even when you’ve earned it. It’s not an easy lesson at 5 or 35—it doesn’t always make sense. But loss brings perspective. We learn from it what we could never learn from winning.”

Keep on reading here

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Empathy for conclusions 

Yes, we have reached the end of this weekly delivery, and I would love to stress how important it is to become empathetic at the time of teaching people to embrace loss and failure for the very first time in life and move forward.

Empathy is also a skill and the world is lacking a lot of it lately. 

We can see empathy as a mechanism that allows people to understand and relate to others. Empathy is a necessary ingredient to intimacy, trust, and belonging.

It is also the feeling that makes it difficult to turn a blind eye to the suffering and pain of others. In simple words, it is what makes us human indeed.

Before you can connect with what someone else is feeling, you have to recognize what that feeling is. Listening is crucial—and not always easy.

The lack of empathy may cause you serious trouble along the road, it alienates you from people who care for you, who love you, and who want to be part of your process and evolution. 

Keep empathy close to you, make it a great friend of yours, because it will allow you to make incredible friends who will be willing to help you even in the worst moments, for example, moments of loss, failure, and anxiety. 

This secret not-so-secret skill is the one in charge of facilitating any process, winning and losing must be accompanied by empathy to make it worth it. 

Even more important, when you practice empathy you will be the hand that helps others to feel comfortable with loss and failure, you could be encouraging them to keep moving, and not to give up on their dreams and goals.

I guarantee you that empathy is well received in any place, in every team and family. 

When learning empathy toward others, practice empathy and patience toward yourself. The fact is, you will at some point, fail. Be patient with yourself and kind. Learn, revise and try again. Without the softness of empathy, that next step is close to impossible. 

So what do you think? Do you think you are already embracing the art of losing to win already? Share your thoughts with us

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