Are you Playing to Win? Or Playing not to Lose?

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January 5th, 2011 – Buffalo, NY

Team Canada was up 3-0 on Russia in the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships. It was the 3rd period and Russia was pressing, but time was on Canada’s side. Or so it seemed. Russia’s pressing paid off and they scored to make it 3-1. Then, 13 seconds later, they made it 3-2 and the lackadaisical Team Canada was now reeling.

At 7:29 of the 3rd period, Russia scored to tie the game 3-3. The game was even on the score sheet, but completely lopsided on the ice. Canada couldn’t recover despite outplaying Russia for the first two periods.

Before you know it, Russia had won 5-3 and claimed the gold medal – with all 5 goals coming in the 3rd period.

For Russia, it was a miracle comeback. For Canada, it was a crushing collapse. Not a miracle at all, but an epic failure on all levels.

January 18th, 2015 – Seattle, WA

In the second half of the 2014 NFC Championship game, The Green Bay Packers were up 16-0 on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. The 16-0 lead was good, but it could have been better. Green Bay conservatively settled for field goals twice in the first quarter from Seattle’s 1-yard line. Seattle, down those 16 points gambled on a fake field goal on 4th and 10 for a touchdown.

Then down 19-7 with under 4 minutes left to play and a __% chance of winning, Seattle scored again. Then with an onside kick, Seattle scored once more to make it 20-19. With Green Bay wondering what had just happened, Seattle converted a 2 point conversion. Seattle would go on to win in overtime.

Each time Green Bay settled for a field goal, they were playing it safe. Extending their lead but simultaneously leaving room for Seattle to come back, which they did.

It’s the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose.

In both these cases, the team that was up didn’t focus on what was working. For Canada, it was a strong forecheck and physical play, for Green Bay it was their pass game. Too quickly they tried to run out the clock to no avail. Each time taking their fate out of their own hands and in into Seattle’s. From very early in the game, despite leading, they were too conservative.

When you are down, the risks don’t matter as much. You can go for it on 4th down or go for an onside kick, you can pull your goalie, and you can take chances. When it’s win or go home. You can lose by 50 or lose by 1, the result is the same.

In business there’s Blackberry – a company that decided to keep doing what had worked for them, not being aware or keeping up with the changes in the industry. As Apple and Android moved to the consumer market of smartphones with touch screens and apps – Blackberry stood its ground. But the ground moved beneath their feet.

At its height, Blackberry had 80 million subscribers in 2012. Now, just 3.5 years later, it’s down to 46 million and continuing to drop. Its stock reached its peak in February 2011 at $69.86. Now it hovers around $7 in 2016.

Blackberry, like Canada and Green Bay, played not to lose. It doesn’t matter how high up you are – that just leaves plenty of room to fall. To fail spectacularly by playing not to lose – they went with what was already working and, by staying pat, ended up being passed. Then headlines started to change.

Life itself is not a game (though if it were, it’s Tetris) but it can be a lot more fun if we treat it as such. On its own, the comparison of playing to win and playing not to lose is the same as saying “keep your eyes on the prize” it’s somehow full of hope and an empty sentiment all at once.

So how does one “play to win?” By living as if we are playing from behind which, in some respects and with all due respect, we all are.

Cultivate Discipline, not motivation – If motivation is a great tool, discipline is being the labourer who knows how to use that tool. What Seattle really needed from Green Bay was a turnover. But with Green Bay running the ball, Seattle could either go for a fumble and risk letting the runner go or wrap up and tackle and stop Green Bay, force a punt. Seattle had the discipline to play the game as it was handed to them. It left less time on the clock.

The motivation was there for Seattle – playing in the Super Bowl. The discipline was getting there.

By taking a disciplined approach we are mindful of what works best for us even when it seems counterintuitive. For me, I would sit down to write without any time restrictions and I would start and stop. Then Start. Then stop. Then get somewhere. Then get wrapped up in the internet. Then it suddenly, it was passed midnight and I was no further ahead. Now, I cut myself off at 11 pm. With the imposed restriction, I focus more on the task at hand. Left to my own devices, I fail. Given a deadline, I focus better. It seems like such a small change, and it is, but it works.

The motivation to write was there. The discipline to do it productively was not.

For some, it’s getting up at 6 am to work out or meditate. Motivation is great, and while they are not mutually exclusive, discipline is better.

Motivation is saying you are going to turn Blackberry around come hell or high water. Discipline is removing yourself from the situation and looking at where the market is going.

Create your own “Heroes Journey” – Russia was the underdog against Canada. Their journey to the gold medal game was arduous but filled with unlikely comebacks. Canada, meanwhile, had won their quarter-final and semi-final games by a combined score of 8-2 and avenging their round robin loss to the US. The game was in Buffalo, NY, about 1.5 hours from the Canadian border and the crowd was overwhelmingly Canadian. In the second intermission, their coach broke a whiteboard chewing out the team. The fire was set.

Creator of Nerd Fitness, Steve Kamb’s book Level up Your Life is about becoming the hero of your own story. This “Heroes Journey” put you in charge. Remember, life isn’t a game, but we can treat it like it is one. Create small achievements to “level up” no matter how small and insignificant they may seem to others. This is your journey you are building yourself up little by little. Win the puck battles, win the physical matchup. Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal. Gold.

If you want to be a great lawyer, you can’t stumble into the job like in Suits. You crack a book, you learn, you write a test, you read an ungodly amount.  But each step is a step up. A level up to becoming the hero of your own story.

Turn Obstacles into Teachable Moments – Looking at the companies it was losing ground to, Blackberry saw themselves as a different entity. The rise of the consumer-based smartphone was a signal of the changing of the guard. Creating a personal-focused phone versus a business-based phone was not a priority. They overlooked the obstacle. They ignored it entirely or didn’t recognize it for what it was.  Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is The Way is about using each obstacle or trial in life to learn and get better. Get better as a person, as a team, as a business. A bad job, being laid off, losing a relationship. These are all obstacles and, by using them to our advantage we can come better not despite these problems, but because of them.

NFL players and coaches and Arnold Schwarzenegger all agree.

Blackberry had a leg up, they had business contracts, they had market share, and they had dedicated users. But they were blocked by an obstacle.

You know nothing, Jon Snow – Sorry, when typing “you know nothing” autocorrect adds the “Jon Snow.” Alas.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy knew that 3 points from a field goal were better than 0. Blackberry knew it had 80 million users. Canada knew that with 3 goals already, they didn’t need anymore, they just needed to stop Russia.

As Socrates said, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

Learning new things is scary. Trying something new is scary. Getting out of your comfort zone is downright terrifying but it is how we learn. We learn through trying and, inevitably, that means we learn through failure. No one wants to fail, so we do what we think is right. We don’t want to fail, we don’t want to lose, and subsequently, we do.

We do what we know instead of learning. By accepting what little we know we constantly strive to know more. By always being a student of life, we are open to learning at all times.

By using these tips, by learning from those who let their minds get the best of themselves – you can avoid their mistakes.

Do not play not to lose. Inevitably, you will.

Play to win.

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