Losing well seems like a ludicrous concept. If someone tells you they enjoy losing, they’re either A) a masochist, or B) lying. So really when we discuss the value of losing well, the intended outcome is often just to feel less bad.
Still, for all the pain and inconvenience that arises from loss, it can be a valuable and enriching experience — much more so, in fact, than when we simply win. How can we benefit from losing? That’s what Sam Weinman, author of Win at Losing (link), sought to learn when he interviewed dozens of athletes, politicians and celebrities who have had epic losses. And here are a few of his takeaways:
- Losing provides invaluable feedback. Losing is the ultimate truth serum in that it forces us to identify our weaknesses. When we lose, whether it’s in sports, in our careers, or even in relationships, we inevitably seek to understand why. That exploration helps crystallize underlying flaws we might have previously overlooked, and usually leads us to addressing them.
- Losing forces us to redefine success. We are a results-based culture, which is OK when everything is going great. But lose enough and you’re forced to assess progress differently. Lose out on that account on work, and you at least appreciate the effort that went into the presentation. Finish fifth in the race and you celebrate that you never quit. These consolation prizes might seem like hollow efforts to soothe our egos, but they’re actually an effective way of steering our focus away from outcome and toward “process.” Experts contend this is the more effective way to pursue our goals anyway. “The people who are really successful, they’re not thinking about winning and losing,” says sports psychiatrist Dr. Michael Lardon. “They’re thinking about the execution of what they can do.”
- Losing fosters resilience. Just as losing teaches us where we can be better and helps us quantify success in new ways, it also fuels motivation. More impressive than winning is winning on the heels of defeat, and losing often instills us with a desire to rebound from disappointment. If you recognize these outcomes less as an eventuality and more an opportunity, you prove to others — and most importantly to yourself — that you can get knocked to the ground and still find a way back to your feet.