Let me ask you a question. When you play a game, when you embark on a project, when you go to work, when you get up in the morning, when you sit down to write, when you make a presentation, when you have to do anything,
Are you playing to win or to avoid losing?
If you’re wondering what the difference is, when you play to win you’re focused on it. When you play to win, you back yourself to achieve, you back yourself to perform, you back yourself to get shit done.
When you’re playing to avoid losing, on the other hand, well, you’re not really playing. You’re simply trying to avoid making mistakes. Your focus is on the negative outcome. As a result, you’re always on guard for fear of failure or embarrassment.
Psychologists call this the difference between a performance approach and a performance avoidance mindset. Study after study has concluded that those with a performance approach mindset have a much easier time immersing themselves in the game and entering a flow-like state.
I’ve experienced both multiple times.
When I didn’t really want to be at work – when I had to fly through the night or with a Captain I didn’t get along with, I fretted. Not only did this spoil the game, it affected my performance. Even if I did make it through unscathed, the feeling wasn’t one of confidence but relief.
The truth was, on those occasions, I wasn’t in it to win it. I was merely trying to avoid failure for fear of being found out.
Conversely, when I did show up to work with a willing attitude. When I backed myself to do well in a sim or pull off a landing in tricky conditions, it was rarely as bad a day at the office. Not only would I perform better and gain more confidence as a result, if I did make a mistake I was able to look at it objectively.
Instead of viewing them as confirmation that I wasn’t capable, I was able to take the lessons onboard. That same attitude then gave me the impetuous to get back on the horse and have another go.
The question is, how do we adopt such an attitude consistently? How do we take a performance approach to work and life every time we show up to play?
One technique that’s used by many top athletes is visualisation. Psychology Today notes that mental practices “enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow.”
The idea is you mentally rehearse the performance in your head ahead of time. Not only that, you visualise the future after you’ve achieved your goal. You picture it in vivid detail. Imagine the scene – the time and place -the people you’re with – how it feels. The more detailed the meditation, the better. It helps to combine it with a positive affirmation.
But before you do that, there’s an important question you should ask yourself. Especially if you find yourself repeatedly playing to avoid losing. That’s why you’re playing the game that you are, because the reason you’re playing – your why – has got to be bigger than winning.
Success alone isn’t enough. Winning isn’t enough. Why do you want more followers on Twitter, or Instagram, or WordPress? Why do you want to become a published author? Why do you want to get that promotion? Why do you want to be a captain, or a lawyer, or a doctor?
What is the reason for playing the game that you are?
It’s worth stating that no child plays to win. A child plays because it wants to play. That’s because playing is an expression of joy. Playing is an expression of freedom. Playing, in its purest form, is an expression of love.
The reason for playing at anything is for the love of that thing.
You play to play. Similarly, you write to write. You don’t write to become a published author or get thousands of followers. You don’t write to win. You write because you love the craft. You fly aeroplanes because getting airborne gives you a rush that few other things can.
One of the problems we have in today’s results-obsessed culture is that we forget those reasons for playing in the first place. That desire to win, to be successful, to say we have achieved this, that or what-the-fuck ever (by the way, no-one else cares except you) takes over. We end up thinking that winning is the point.
This blinds us.
If you’re not careful, ambition has a way of sucking the life out of everything in its wake. It has a way of sucking the fun out of play. Which misses the whole point.
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” That’s the point right there. To keep your spirit, to keep your love for the game going. So that no matter how many times you get knocked down, you get back up, over and over again.
If you play enough times in this life, you will win. The most important thing is to make sure that you’re playing the game you want to play when you do.
Otherwise, you really have lost.
You can find AP2’s personal blog here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com
You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com
Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot