I don’t know about you, but I hate to lose. It doesn’t matter if it’s a competition at the national level, an argument with my significant other, or a recreational game of kickball - losing just does not sit well with me. There are times when that mentality lights a fire under me to win, and then there are times when it leaves me in a world of disappointment. I am slowly, but surely, figuring out that losing is an unavoidable part of life, and there are healthier ways of dealing with that than wallowing in my bruised pride.
First, let’s back up and talk about what ‘losing’ really means, because it can look different in varying contexts, right? It’s not always numbers projected on a scoreboard, although that may be the most glaring for some. For me it might be that I attempted a personal best in an exercise at the gym, but didn’t get it. For my runners out there it might be falling short of your goal pace on a training run. For others it could be getting up to give a speech in class and forgetting your own name. What does it look like for you? Is it work related? What about in our relationships? There is potential to ‘lose’ around every corner. Here are a few ways that I’ve learned to face the inevitable and take losing in stride:
I “six months test” it. It goes something like this: “How much will this mean to me six months from now?” If the answer is: “not much”, “absolutely nothing”, or “I probably won’t even remember that it happened” then I take a breath, I shake it off (sometimes literally), and I move on. Seriously. Somewhere along the line I just decided that I’d rather not spend my time stuck in the ‘coulda-shoulda-woulda’ mindset, especially about something that will eventually mean very little to me. Being able to honestly picture myself six months down the road and how I will feel about this current ‘loss’ helps to put it in perspective.
Since we’re being honest, there are some things that I truly believe will matter a great deal to my six-months-future-self – and that’s okay. When it comes to these instances where my response to the above question is instead: “a lot”, “a whole lot”, or “nothing has mattered as much to me since that day” then I take a different route in the moving on process. Sometimes after a loss or a disappointment, shaking it off really isn’t enough – sorry Taylor Swift. That doesn’t mean, however, that the experience has to have a negative impact on you, and I’ve included the following tips for this exact reason.
I remind myself that losing does not define me. I don’t care if it’s a literal loss in an actual competition, getting edged out of a promotion at work, or the fact that you chose donut holes over kale at the grocery store – You are NOT your losses. You are not your short-comings, your bad days, or your moments of weakness. Don’t let losing (whatever that looks like to you) define you or impact your next opportunity to succeed. How many times have you tried something and failed, and then the next time you consider attempting it there is a corner of your mind that is still hanging onto how things turned out the last time? It’s hard not to, right? But trust me, it’s a lot harder when you gauge your self-worth on that failed attempt. So here’s a challenge for you: find your worth in the process, not in the result. Give yourself props for being willing to try again. Celebrate the fact that you have the opportunity to try, to fail, to make mistakes, or to succeed. Be your own companion on this journey – one who is there for each long stretch and each pit-stop, and who will remain regardless of the outcome or the destination.
I learn from it. This one might be a little cliché, but it is arguably the most important – so try not to brush it off. Every time I ‘lose’ I find something that I can learn from the experience. Every single time is an opportunity for me, and you, to learn how to improve. Now there are times where ‘losing’ is unavoidable, so it’s not always a clear cut lesson. For example, let’s say I put my full effort into a task at work yet my boss is still unsatisfied, and I count that as a loss. In my opinion, I could not have completed the task any better than I already had. So, where’s the lesson here? Maybe I learn a little more about the source of my self-worth. Maybe I decide that for the next task I will gather additional information on exactly how my boss sees it being completed. Or maybe I brush up on the fact that everyone is different, and that what I see as being great, someone else may see as being average. No matter the instance, there is something for you to learn – don’t be afraid to get creative.
This one is important because it takes an otherwise discouraging event and turns it into something productive. Rather than putting your energy into wishing that things had turned out differently, it allows you to look at the situation through a new lens. Not only are you doing ‘future you’ a favor for the next time you attempt something similar, but you are also easing the sting of the present-moment disappointment.
Identifying what your ‘losses’ are is step one. Practicing and applying these tips when you experience ‘loss’ is step two. Living a happier, less stressful life with fewer instances of crippling disappointment is step three. Wash, rinse, and repeat.