Winning When You’re Losing

I love playing games. Board games, real-time strategy computer games, video games…oh yeah, and sports, too.

Those who have played any sort of game with me know that I can be a pretty competitive person. I particularly enjoy the thrill of playing strategy games (e.g. Agricola, Dominion, Settlers of Catan, Starcraft, etc).

The only downside about being competitive is that I generally hate losing.


Being married has a funny way of helping you see your blind spots, and for me my overly competitive spirit was one of them. My wife and I even had to stop playing games with each other for a time since we’re both pretty competitive. Thankfully, we’re now able to enjoy the occasional game with each other, such as Tiny Wings or Ticket to Ride. (I highly recommend both!)

Along the way, I’ve learned a handful of things about winning and losing.

Switch from a Win-Lose to a Win-Win Mentality

From a very young age, we have all developed this concept of what it means to win and to lose. If you grew up having siblings (or have kids of your own), you probably heard a lot of, “I win! I win! You lose!” Whether realized or not, most of us gradually developed a win-lose mentality. This means that if one person wins, then everyone else loses. Within this paradigm, you can’t have a situation whereby all parties win.

This is especially true of Chinese culture, where competition is at an all-time high. China’s massive population of 1.3 billion is a major contributer to this issue. To get into a prestigious university or earn a well-paying job, the Chinese must compete against hundreds (and often thousands) of other people vying for the same position. There is usually one winner and multitudes of losers. For the Chinese, there is no such thing as a win-win situation. One person must win, and the other person must lose.

How do we switch our win-lose mentality into a win-win mentality?

Find the Silver Lining

Yesterday afternoon I participated in a soccer game with a university team. This was the team’s fifth tournament game and we had to win in order to make it to the playoff round. Through the first 45 minutes of the game, we were blown out 0-6. As the referee blew his whistle to end of the first half, you could tell that our team morale was pretty low. Everyone looked pretty devestated.

I thought about what I could do to change the atmosphere of the game. We still had another 45 minutes left to play, so I suggested that we try to win the second half. As we ran back onto the field, I told the goalkeeper, “No more goals this half. You can stop all their shots.”

Our team played much better in the second half, even though I ended up suffering an ankle sprain that took me out of the game. Because of my injury, we played a man short the remainder of the game. Yet we still managed to outscore our opponents 1-0 in the second half.

If we maintained our win-lose mentality, we’d look at the final score and see that we got badly outscored 1-6. We might also think, “The other team probably just didn’t try as hard because they had such a huge lead.” But if we tried to find the silver lining, the “victory” amidst our loss, we might actually find success. We would recognize that we persevered and outplayed our opponents in the second half .

Turn Your Losses into Wins

Let’s broaden this topic a bit so we can relate it to our daily lives.

We are all striving towards success in different areas. For us students, it will be our grades in school. For others, it may be starting a career or finding a new job. Maybe it’s a relationship that you’d like to develop. Or maybe it’s sealing the deal on a potential business opportunity.

Now I have some bad news. At some point you WILL fail. There will come a time (and likely more than once) where you will not achieve the results you are striving towards.

How will you respond? Will you get down on yourself and self-condemn? Will you stop trying? Will you complain and point the blame on others? Will you go back and examine the reasons why you failed?

Now the good news is that you can always find success within failure. It might be really hard to spot, but it’s there. Sometimes it’s simply the experience of failing and still not giving up that makes you stronger.

“Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Alfred Pennyworth, Batman Begins

I still don’t like failing. But I’m gradually learning to find the redemptive element of my failures, and I hope you can also do the same. Switch to a win-win mentality, find the silver lining, and turn your losses into wins.


3 thoughts on “Winning When You’re Losing

  1. This reminded me of a low point in my life. At 16, I was playing monopoly and a friend cleaned me out. I bit her. No, seriously, I bit her. It is definitely better to see the plus sides of failure than to bite your friends.

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