Winning Versus Not Losing

On a recent three-day golf trip to Mexico with friends, I had an interesting experience that highlighted a common problem in moving closer to achieving goals.

The first day of the trip, the three of us played a friendly game. No betting. One golfer ? let?s call him Alan ? was the best player by a wide margin. He shot the best score and had the lowest handicap. It was a relaxed, free-wheeling day with lots of jokes, digs, laughter and cervezas, and Alan easily bested us all. It seemed almost effortless for him

I?m a student of behaviour, though, and I love to see how golfers respond when there is something on the line. The second day we decided to up the stakes by putting a few pesos on the game. And that?s when things began to change.

Alan, our best player, not only had a complete personality change but a complete swing change as well. Let me assure you it wasn?t for the better.

With the increased stakes, his manner became very serious and intense. He stopped telling jokes and was no longer laughing at our attempts to loosen him up. His golf swing became very defensive and he started hitting the ball all over the course, taking more penalty strokes than any of us cared to count, particularly him.

The outcome, as you can guess, is that Alan lost, going overnight from our best golfer to our worst.

But what happened? How does effortless grace turn to struggle and defeat so easily?

In Alan?s case, all it took was a subtle change of intention.

The first day, Alan was playing to win. He was having fun, enjoying the moment, swinging freely and producing great results (a low score). The second day, however, he was playing to not lose. It was obvious he wasn?t having any fun, and he was swinging defensively and producing very expensive results. And in the end, the great irony of it all was that his intention to not lose created the exact opposite result!

This may just be a golf story, but there?s something bigger here. Life is no different. Some people spend their lives living defensively ? they?re playing to not lose ? while others are stepping out of their comfort zone and playing to win. And the outcomes they get are decidedly different.

You may not always succeed when you play to win. But I can?t help but think that the fun in life is to step up, look at the target, and take a big swing to see what we?re capable of.

If you had to define your intention for 2011, is it a year when you?re going to win? Or will you try not to lose? I?d love to hear your ideas in the comments.