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The Art of Losing

Magnanimous Marty “takes the L”

“When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” – H.H. Dalai Lama

Sadly, I think we have a few more Sun Tzus than Dalai Lamas in the world with the art of war (and winning) receiving greater importance.

Today, I would like to place an emphasis on the art of losing; it’s importance, what we learn by it, how we should lose and considering the majority of us will suffer more losses than celebrate victories we had better deal with its inevitability in the most effective manner.

The catalyst for this week’s entry was when I lost to my father in a game of chess. Whilst I’m no Magnus Carlsen, I do consider myself to be quite a competent player and I don’t like losing. However, my dad did beat me fair and square – he certainly is no Hans Niemann. I consider myself to be a good winner, but can I be a good loser as well? Magnanimous Marty after all.

“As simple as it sounds, losing teaches us that we can’t always win.”

Once we understand that we can’t always win – which is akin to we can’t always be right – this opens up the possibility for transformation through losses from humiliating to humility. In other words, we can begin to learn that losing can do us good. It can become problematic for people who have been “too busy winning”, like Shooter McGavin in the film Happy Gilmore, where he eventually comes unstuck as a result of not being able to take the L, so to speak. Losing to Happy is humiliating for Shooter and he reverts to unethical tactics to assure victory, but ultimately fails. Losing can be a humbling experience, but this is rarely seen by those with an insecure ego.

“Competitive people hate losing more than they love winning.”

It’s very difficult for people with a will to win, to accept defeat and move on. The idea of “it’s not about winning and losing, it’s how you play the game” is usually lost on them (pun intended). Losing is a sign of weakness. A fallibility. An illustration of incompetence. A reduction in self-worth and status. I know this all too well because I used to be like this.

Thankfully, I’ve mellowed over the years – I was insanely self-critical especially after poor performances or a loss. I was supposed to do well or win, so I really took no pleasure in it. Not in a smug “confirmation of my excellence” manner, but I just knew my ability and anything less was unacceptable. I like demonstrating my competence and prowess, and I really didn’t like being beaten by someone who I believed had less ability than me...

Failure is necessary. Losing is inevitable. It’s a reality that you are foolish to deny – you can’t wish them away of pretend like they don’t happen or don’t believe in them. I’ve studied psychology with people who were of that opinion and that because “it’s mean or not nice or felt bad because of it” – IT’S SUPPOSED TO ELICIT NEGATIVE EMOTION!!!!!! I’m sorry, Hot Chocolate, but everyone’s not a winner. Human beings are designed to deal with adversity, setbacks, failures, losses…and in some instances actually enjoy it (thanks to our pursuit systems).

Losing can teach you whether you like to externalise blame.

Losing can teach you whether you’re too concerned with outcomes.

Losing can teach you whether you’re too concerned with how people view you.

Losing offers the opportunity to learn where you’re potentially deficient and build from it.

Losing offers the opportunity to practice gratitude, particularly when you least want to.

Losing offers the opportunity to understand and develop what it means to be a good human being.

To end on a lighter note, with the NRL Grand Final this weekend, will it be Penrith or Parramatta that’ll need to practice the art of losing? I know I have readers who are fans of both teams so this should be interesting.

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