Updated: Jun 25
What does it mean to be a winner? Is the mindset of a winner different to winning? Can you be a winner without being first? As with many of my previous blogs I like to begin by posing some questions that can then be explored and discussed.
I love sport from the perspective of being an athlete, coach and fan. I enjoy watching and observing many sports and what a great summer of sport we have had. I not only enjoy watching the action, but I love listening to the pre and post-performance interviews to gain an insight into the mindsets of the athletes. And sport undoubtedly has people who typify and illustrate a winning mindset.
Winning can be measured objectively or subjectively and if one takes the approach that winning is purely an objective measurement then the outright winner, in any sporting contest, is THE winner. Whether that is the Italian football team in Euro 2020, Lewis Hamilton winning the British Formula 1 Grand Prix 2021, Ash Barty winning the Ladies Singles at Wimbledon 2021 or Ylena In-Albon whom I watched winning the tennis championship at Les Contamines in July. If it is first past the post, then there can only be one winner and everyone else is a loser. But just because you have won a competition does not mean you have a winning mindset.
It is interesting that in the Olympic Games the media talk about winning a bronze, silver or gold. So, it seems that in this sporting environment there can be three winners. But what about the person who came fourth, eight or fifteenth? Are they losers? Not if they have a winning mindset.
A winning mindset has a lot to do with how you perceive your performance, or how you choose to frame the situation. That is not to say that if you perform badly that you should pretend that you have done well. Successful athletes are honest and realistic BUT look for the positives in every situation. If someone performs beyond expectation, like Emma Raducanu the young British tennis player at Wimbledon 2021, or the English football team in Euro 2020, or an athlete who beats their personal best, then surely, they are winners too, or at least they can be if that's how they choose to frame it?
Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique that is used to shift your mindset – in this case from a losing to a winning mindset – so that you can view a situation from a somewhat different perspective e.g., identify the positives from that situation. By doing this you can change your thinking, feelings and subsequent behaviour. This was epitomised for me the other day when watching the Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan at the Tokyo Olympics. Having been one of the favourites for a medal in the men's pommel horse he made a big error, early in his routine, in the final. He composed himself and completed his routine. But what was so striking was his post performance interview where he was so positive and exhibited the ability to cognitively reframe the situation. He truly exemplified a winning mindset.
Therefore a ‘winning mindset’ is NOT the same as the traditional view of winning by being first past the post, or by always having to beat someone else. That does not mean that you should not strive to win competitions, titles, awards etc. but it means that you have a mindset where you are not afraid of losing. You are not afraid of failure.
FEAR is the number one detriment of a winning mindset. Why? Because you will avoid taking risks. You will not challenge yourself and are therefore less likely to experience flow. The result of this is you lower your ceiling of success and limit your potential for growth.
But what is it that people are afraid of? They are afraid of what others think about them. They are self-conscious (another reason to seek flow). They are afraid of rejection, emotional hurt, embarrassment, humiliation, their status being challenged etc. It is so easy to catastrophise. This emphasises why a winning mindset needs to be nurtured from early in life. If children experience some of the aforementioned then it will have a massive negative impact and could easily result in them giving up a sport that they loved.
So, in order to overcome fear and develop a winning mindset you need to:
See challenges as an opportunity to experience flow and to reap all of its many benefits.
Cognitively reframe situations to find the positives while remaining realistic and truthful to oneself.
Treat failure as a temporary event that provides an opportunity to learn and to grow emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.
Have a desire for adventure and, while having clear goals, be immersed in the journey whether that is in sport or in life.
Choose to see life as a chance to learn, enjoy, flow and grow.
The message, I hope, is clear. Cultivating the right kind of winning mindset in sport – as described in this article – can greatly help with other areas of life such as business, relationships etc. because mindsets are transferable. All that remains is for you to get out there and use sport as the vehicle to greater fulfilment and wellbeing in your life.
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Derek N. Tate is an author and blogger. His recent book Learn, Enjoy, Flow and Grow: Using the principles of positive psychology to help find passion and meaning in life is widely available in paperback, ebook and audio.
Details of his new book, cover and title will be released in September 2021 with publication in November. Below is a little teaser for the book.
Update 25th June 2023. Six Steps for Training the Mind is available in both paperback and ebook formats. Click here for more info and to buy.