Winning Games, Losing Lives


If you only focus on winning, you will probably lose more often than win. We have become a culture preoccupied with "winning." The goal of every Olympic athlete is to win a medal. The goal of every politician running for office is to win an election. Businesses and corporations seem to be focused only on "beating the competition" for sales or market share. Winning the top grades has become the focus of formal education.

If we don’t win, or become "number one" in any endeavor, we are considered "losers." Nobody remembers who comes in second. It seems there are only two positions a person can have in the world of competition: number one, or "loser." The difference between winning a spot on an Olympic team and watching the games on television can be .08 seconds. That is not a large difference between winning and losing.

When "winning" is defined as beating another person or team in some form of competition in order to show superiority, and when "a-win-at-all-costs" becomes the perspective of a culture, the results are violence, deceit, war, failure, ill-health and destruction. Focusing exclusively on winning is unrealistic, as well as psychologically damaging. The cost in destroyed human relationships becomes too high.

We, as humans, seem to have been competing to win since the dawn of human history. Charles Darwin attributes the evolution of a species to the "survival of the fittest" in a competitive situation. Other animals apparently also compete to "win" mating rights and pass along their genes to further the evolution of their kind. True? Not necessarily.

Recently, scientists have suggested that we have evolved through what is called "symbiotic cooperation." Survival of the fittest has now been replaced in the minds of anthropologists with the idea of "survival of the most cooperative." Even single-cell bacteria, as well as rutting elk, are now regarded as intelligent enough to make cooperative agreements with not only their adversaries, but also with their prospective partners in propagating. We cannot make effective agreements if one or the other refuses to cooperate. No two competitors ever have the opportunity to compete with one another unless they cooperate, at least to the extent of agreeing to abide by the rules governing the game.

Are we humans evolved enough in intelligence to make deals with our adversaries in order to grow, flourish, play by the rules, and continue to evolve? Perhaps we need to become educated in what sports psychologist Dr. Shane Murphy calls "cooperative competition," which is a blend of both collaboration and rivalry, individual and team achievement.

Murphy writes in his book, The Achievement Zone: Eight Skills For Winning All the Time – from the Playing Field to the Boardroom, that there are "three competitive styles," each one focusing on one aspect of winning. One style is focused on a goal for the sake of one’s ego. Anyone with this style wants to win at any cost, even if it destroys everything else. The failure-focused style is characterized by those individuals who set goals so high that when they fail to attain them, they can conveniently label the goal humanly impossible to reach. And the third style focuses on the action. These competitors concentrate their mental and physical energies not on winning, but on achieving their own personal/skill goals.

We know that the best, and most successful competitors in any area of endeavor, are those who focus back within themselves, avoid comparisons to any other person, forget against whom they are competing, and remain focused on being the most skilled they can be, for their own sake. For these competitors, it is more important to concentrate on personal performance of a skill or the "process" of the competition.

To realize our individual potential, we need to focus on personal and interpersonal development, rather than on "just winning." We need to make our own potential our only opponent, not another person or team. Are you focused on winning, or are you focused on living up to your potential? How you answer that question will determine whether you will be a long-term winner or a regular "loser."

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