Events Don’t Make Winners

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What makes a winner a winner? (photo by ronWLS)

It’s hard not to see it the wrong way.

Sports teams hoist the trophy after they win the big game, and not a moment sooner. Only one team is named champion, even if the teams are similarly skilled and equally deserving of victory. This distorts our view of success.

The losing team sulks because they lost, but they may still be winners.

We feel validated by winning, but winners are made well before they win. In other words, victory is nice, but it doesn’t make someone a winner. Victory is something that happens to someone who has already won.

Winning in sports or in life comes from a combination of chance and preparation. The inclusion of chance is why people cannot be judged as winners or losers by individual events. Michael Jordan is considered the best basketball player ever, but he still missed shots; he still lost games. That’s chance.

Assuming that everyone wants to be “a winner” or regularly successful in their pursuits, we must devalue individual events and instead focus on the other component that enables victory—preparation.

Are You Prepared to Win?

About three years ago, I quit a recreational basketball league at the YMCA after our first game. I scored 60 points in that game. I was in “the zone,” making most of my shots. So why did I quit?

My team lost the game by double digits! We had no chance to win.

When I signed up, I was added to a group of non-basketball players who were just there to “have a good time.” That’s fine, good for them, but the other teams in the league were competitive and skilled. We lost because our team wasn’t prepared (or skilled enough) to win. Despite having the game of my life, I knew my team was destined to lose every game we played. Competition and teamwork are why I enjoy basketball, so I quit. 

The point isn’t that being prepared to win guarantees victory, it’s that being unprepared to win guarantees defeat! Being prepared gives you the opportunity to win in any area, and your chance to win increases with your level of preparedness.

“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.”
~ T. Alan Armstrong

How to Prepare to Win

The first and main requirement for preparedness in most pursuits is skill. You need to have the ability to accomplish your intended goal. Skill can only be gained through practice.

The importance of practice is obvious in some areas, but not in others. For example, do you have the skills needed to have a morning routine? Do you have the skill to overcome feeling unmotivated and still take action? Such skills are easily neglected because society tells us success comes from willpower or “wanting it more.” If you don’t have the right skillset, willpower and motivation won’t help you succeed.

Let’s say you want to have a morning routine. You could try the normal route of “going for it” and “really being serious about it this time.” Or you can practice.

Alarm clock practice: lie down in your bed as if you’re sleeping and set an alarm for 5-10 minutes. When you alarm goes off, jump out of your bed like you can’t wait to get to your kitchen or bathroom. Repeat this. Practice it. Over time, you will have conditioned this response to your alarm clock. Then it won’t be a fruitless struggle to peel yourself out of bed, it’ll be what you’re used to doing when your alarm goes off. (hat tip to Steve Pavlina for this great idea)

Morning action practice: Once you’ve nailed your ability to get up, you can focus on the routine. I strongly recommend a mini habit routine, or basically what Steve Scott talks about in his book, Habit Stacking, where you aim for very small (low-resistance) actions and string them together. The more you repeat the routine, the easier it will get. Increased effortlessness is the result of practicing. Put another way, the more you practice doing anything, the easier it will be to get yourself to do it again. Any time you face resistance to one or more behaviors, make them smaller or reduce the number of behaviors and repeat your practice until your comfort level expands to accommodate more.

On a macro level in life, the average person does not live intelligently. People live from day to day struggling against themselves constantly, and they continue to fight their conflicting desires blindly without any semblance of strategy. Internal struggle is a part of being human and will never go away completely, but you can reduce or remove it in the areas that are most important to you. If you can make the most important activities easier and more autonomous, you’ll be a lot happier and more at peace with yourself and the direction you’re headed in.

My Story

You may have heard my story before, but I want to emphasize that this process is real. I’ve tried living both ways, and there’s no reason to live the other way.

I could be considered an “overnight success story” for my young writing career. My first book, Mini Habits, is already published in or being translated into 15 languages. That’s really uncommon for a first book. 

One could argue that my idea for mini habits was a fluke or that I’m lucky. But it wasn’t possible until I was prepared for it to happen. Not only did I practice writing, I practiced personal development and studied it to understand it better. I got better at seeing connections and insights. The more I practiced, the more I was able to practice, and I started having more breakthroughs.

One might then point out that I luckily “stumbled across” the idea for mini habits because of an idea I got from a book.

A few years ago, I didn’t read books. I averaged zero books read per year. 

Because I practiced and improved my willingness to read, it exposed me to this idea, which evolved into another idea, which evolved into the mini habits idea. My practice in blogging, writing, marketing, reading, self improvement, and more put me in a unique position to share Mini Habits with the world. There is certainly some good fortune involved in my story, and I recognize that, but this good fortune would not be possible had I not been prepared to receive it.

Michael Jordan won some games because other highly skilled players missed shots. That’s fortunate. But he was prepared to take advantage of good fortune. Every success story involves good fortune, but almost all of them are a result of preparedness.

The best we can do is prepare ourselves to win. On a macro level, we must practice the behaviors that may lead us to our dreams. On a micro level, we must practice the individual skills that we want to succeed in. Champions don’t depend on luck or even “the will to win.” Champions are always prepared to win. They practice. They seek victories in the small everyday choices they make. Over time, this cascades into much larger windfall victories.

Nobody has the power to guarantee success, but we guarantee failure when we aren’t prepared for success. Prepare to win by practicing. Anything else is a distraction. Even when you lose, don’t be fooled, because if you were prepared to win, then you are still a winner.

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