So I was walking down the cold streets of Milan the other day and it popped into my head how easy it was to invest a huge amount of time into something very difficult that often didn’t give many returns– then I realised…
Competition is one of the greatest life cheats, but it also has its costs.
I was always a naturally competitive person, which was helpful as the mindset came easily to me. I loved to acquire new skills and see myself grow through the reference points I had around me, eg. the kid who was the best at football versus the kids who were the worst. In life we’re often surrounded by such comparisons and it allows us to know where we fit and gives us a sense of purpose, but it also becomes a great motivator for improvement. Typically improvement in any skill is tough and arduous, the rewards not immediately apparent. Psychologists would call this deep gratification. The thing about deep gratification is that the rewards are something we need to put faith into, we need convince ourselves that the work we are doing now is creating a better us in the future. From my experience the easiest way to motivate ourselves through the struggle and tribulation of training for the promise of a better us is found in competition. Here we have visible reference points, we can see the people who are worse than us and we can easily recall when we were as bad which validates our efforts. Another way validation is provided is how we stand witness to those that are better than us, it also provides faith that we too can achieve such greatness if we just work a bit more, that we can become the thing that we admire so much.
The first thing that I find interesting about this is that, having your value depend upon how you stack up against others is an intrinsically damaging way of thinking. It inflates your ego if you do well and if you do badly you feel it under attack; an experience of inner turmoil when results are below expectation. This is because your value has become rooted in how you perceive others around you, and their perception of you. Your reality has become reactive in nature, thus it is chaotic and unpredictable equalling to the many uncontrollable circumstances in your environment. That is the grand cost that often comes with skill based pursuits. It’s something I experienced in a very real way, I often couldn’t understand why the results would be bad some times but good in others, it would cause a lot of bad emotions to surface because I couldn’t understand why my performances were fluctuating so much, “So much work and effort and for what? Sometimes the question that I would ask myself.
The second particularly interesting thing is that, this mindset can encourage the idea that results are the metric on which you judge skill and hence your own improvements or progression. This actively discourages the idea and practice of analysis, in which the end aim is to create the highest percentage plays to play “correctly”, which operates under the acceptance that sometimes you will fail regardless, and let this be your metric instead. And if you are having a bad time with your results, it tends to make you play even more as you strive for good emotions– good results. This mentality is referred to in poker as “chasing your losses” which as the poker players amongst you will realise, almost never ends well. “We can’t end it on a loss” is something I’ve heard many times at the end of a night of practising. Why is it such an important factor that we were either the winner or the loser? What grand purpose does it serve? The answer is: none.
I’m going to get really nerdy here, because I often like to view life in a way that you’ll be familiar with. Positioning. We talk about this constantly in esports but of course it’s a universal constant. Achieving the best results requires strong positioning and as such the understanding to put yourself in a position of strength. To break it down a bit, good positioning is acheived by first understanding your environment and the rules at play, this allows you to then pick what is in theory the best spot or state which will help you have advantage across the broadest range of possibilities that come your way.
But in this case, your mentality finds itself in a position of weakness, unable to be steady throughout all situations; as your emotional state and self-worth are tied into unreliable elements that could fail you at any time. So we have to remove the behaviour that was initially conditioned in by copious competitive pursuits, and train ourselves to rely on more predictable elements.
Now, some players who are more analytical in nature will find that a by-product of that behaviour is less investment into outcome and more into what is “correct”. This in itself becomes its own motivator, as the games richness starts to become more evident you become rewarded in an entirely different way.
This is my proposed solution! I am known as a huge advocate of analysis already, and perhaps it seems a bit like I’m preaching to the choir here, but it’s a great antidote to the mindset of results oriented behaviour. And if you want to become a great player, this is something you must definitely consider.
The value or good emotion switches from:
Did I win or did I lose?
Did I make the correct decision or the wrong one?
And if you’re asking yourself the second question, then that means instead of feeling bad emotions, you become excited at the realisation that you have an area to focus your next improvements on, or if you made the correct decision you can be happy that you couldn’t have played it better. I think we call this a win-win scenario. 🙂
If you liked the discussion on this topic, I talk about similar principles in a past article about results oriented behaviour and competitive mindsets here.