Do you want the perfect formula for winning every time? I heard it from Tim Gallwey several years ago.
You want to win at tennis? he asks. Okay, here’s the thing. Never play anyone anywhere as good as you are. Preferably only play people under the age of 6 or over 90.
It is so easy to win!
His comment reminded me of a wobbly moment when our son was five. It was sports day at his infant school. The teachers lined up a few children at a time, and the fastest child in each race was awarded a winner’s rosette. In our son’s year, all the fastest liveliest children rushed forward to take part in the first race, he among them. He ran fast and came 3rd. The second race was much slower, but the winner still earned a rosette. The thought entered my mind – not my finest hour – “Why didn’t I keep him back for the second race? … he could have won!”
What is it about winning – and losing? It’s a competitive world out there, some say – you might as well get used to it; whatever you do, make sure you’re not a loser. Oh no, protest others, competition’s bad; everyone’s a winner.
But, as Gallwey pointed out back in the 80s, we love to win, but winning is pretty unsatisfying unless we value the contest. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi expressed the point eloquently a decade or so later in his book Flow. What we enjoy most, he says, is a good challenge at just the right level – stretching but non overwhelming – where we have a good chance of success. It’s a race all right – a really competitive one – but we’re actually racing to see if we can outdo ourselves.
If there’s no challenge, like in playing a 5 year old at tennis, winning holds no charms. On the other hand, to play tennis against Andy Murray and have every ball shoot past your racquet wouldn’t be much fun either. Csikszentmihalyi puts it like this:
The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”
It’s the stretching challenge – neither a walk-over nor out of reach – that is stimulating, exciting and fun. We WANT to have the challenge of testing ourselves, and we’ll create such opportunities if we can. Why climb Mount Everest? George Mallory was asked. “Because it’s there!”
Surveys have proved again and again that reward and punishment are not the biggest motivators for people at work or in society. We WANT to learn, and explore the edge. If you want your people to work their absolute best, give them satisfying, stretching but achievable, challenges – and, importantly, freedom to set about achieving them.
Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort. Franklin D. Roosevelt
In any case, winning – to beat others, rather than to achieve – has big downsides. When the reward of winning becomes more important than the pleasure of achievement, things get skewed. People cheat for rewards. They never cheat to achieve a personally-satisfying best.
Not winning also has significant downsides. When winning depends on others being worse than you, you lose sense of your real value. Many people brand themselves a failure if they don’t succeed at interview. Yet they often have no idea whether they lost out to a superb candidate, or against feeble opposition, so winning and losing are poor benchmarks of ability. Attempting to re-enter the job market myself after having children, I definitely thought myself a winner of the first order when I was offered the job after interview. It was a year or so into the job that a colleague-friend told me, “Did you know that when you applied, there was only one other candidate, spectacularly unqualified for the job? It was you or nobody!” Some win!
What satisfying challenges are out there for you? You can recognise them in two ways:
- First, you get completely immersed in the activity, and time passes without your noticing.
- You experience a feeling of spontaneous joy or excitement while you are in the midst of the activity.
It’s funny isn’t it? You might call that hard work, but it’s just not, it’s fun. Joseph Campbell called this kind of work “following your bliss” and if you do,
You put yourself on a kind if track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.
And, as that phenomenal woman Maya Angelou said, “You have nothing to prove to anybody.” Just yourself.
Google CEO Eric Schmidte says we all need a coach
Read about the value of coaching from Google CEO Eric Schmidt in this youtube interview. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVfeezxmYcA&feature=youtu.be.
Next Voice of Influence Workshop coming up on 14-15 July
It often happens that someone eventually comes to my workshop having built up the courage to come over months, even years. So, if you want a more powerful expressive voice, if you want to greatly increase your confidence and skill in public speaking, let me reassure you that this is a non-daunting fun workshop. And in spite of (or perhaps because of!) the lack of pain and wearisome effort, it works brilliantly, and people walk away with all and more than they came for.
Find your authentic voice; uncover your confidence. Learn to speak in public freely and easily. Whether you already have a good level of skill or whether you are seriously daunted (scared witless), you will transform your speaking skills in these two days – and have a really good time in the process (ask anyone who’s already done the workshop!). Small group workshop in London.
“I learned more about the voice from Judy in 2 days than in the last 8 years from countless sources.” Jenny C, Director, Member of Toastmasters, London
I offer discounts on occasion for worthy cases.
My book The Art of Conversation hits the shelves
My latest book has been on special promotion in Smiths Travel stores, and been talked about this month in the Daily Express, Red Magazine, City AM and other publications. (I say this to encourage you to have a look at a copy!) Whether you’re shy and don’t know what to say or feel you blabber on, or whether you want to make deeper more meaningful connections with people, you’ll find lots of helpful material. It’s an easy read too.
Browse my other books
If you want a stronger more expressive voice and better communication skills, have a look at Voice of Influence: How to Get People to Love to Listen to You, and Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies.
If you want to overcome performance nerves, have a look at Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence.
Spirit of Coaching Event – Inspiring Leadership – 15 June
Inspiring speakers too – Neil Scotton, Jackee Holder and Gopi Patel. Sunday 15 June, 2-5.30 PM at Global Cooperation House in north London. Read more here. It’s free to attend, but you need to register before you come.
Go well this merry month of June.