Watching my kids have a horsey race using their noodles at their swimming lessons, I heard my eldest tell the instructor that her sibling hated to lose. She then compromised her own race so that her sister wouldn’t be upset. In fact her sister, more than anything, is quite suggestible and so quite happily then got upset (playing up to her role) when she did finally lose.
On the way home I started talking to them about the purpose of the race. “To win” they said. So I went a bit deeper and challenged them. “Mm, so win or lose, what do you get out of racing?” Between them they came up with fun and better swimming. Both true. The other word I’d put in there is confidence, with a caveat.
The purpose of the race is motivational, to get them out there having fun and building their confidence and skills. However, if winning is seen as the purpose, only one person gets the confidence boost and where’s the sense in that?
I started to reflect on this a bit more, drawing on my own experience as a competitive swimmer. When I was about 11 years old I beat my personal best time for 100m freestyle; 1 minute and 7 seconds. I have no idea if I won that race, I can’t remember that part. What I do remember is that, despite all the years training afterwards, I never beat that time. There were other races I won, but none of it meant anything.
Freestyle wasn’t ‘my stroke’ so I told myself it didn’t matter, yet it obviously irked me since I still remember the details 30 years on. I really wanted to be able to swim it in under a minute, which is what would have made me feel like I’d been successful.
Winning over others, on the other hand, is just contextual; there will always be others out there who can beat you and there will always be others you can beat. Sure losing can feel bad if you wanted to win, but perhaps we need to think beyond that to the actual goals of participating in the first place.
I know that I want swimming to be fun for my kids, and for them to become capable enough to be safe in water. Personally I don’t really care whether they make a sport of it. Well, that is not true, I care that they only make a sport of it if it’s a passion they want to pursue for the joy of being the best they can be at it.
There are so many things in life to pursue, the choices are endless. We came to experience life here to its fullest, and that means winning and losing in life.
Right now my focus in life is to feel as good as I can as much as I can, to enable me to be fully present in each moment, listening to my inner inspiration. That is no mean feat and is likely to be a lifelong goal. With any luck I can at least improve the proportion of my day I spend in that state versus the one most of us live in.
That state is the one where we live in our head, ruminating on the past, whether it has just happened or happened 15 years ago, and worrying about our future, whether in 10 minutes or 10 years. Most of us are rarely present in our own lives in this moment, which of course is where all life happens,
So each day I take small wins as I manage to become aware of my mental state and let whatever thought had been in there drift away as I focus on my cat purring away beside me, or one of the kids drawing a picture, or playing a game, or the weather outside and the garden. I also love to dwell on and relish the inspired thoughts too though, like the words that come as I write these articles.
And each day there are what I might consider many losses, cumulative hours of wasted thoughts. But there are many other things in life we could view as ‘losing’. We have each lost jobs, people, relationships and many other things beside all with varying degrees of emotional intensity.
Yet of all the changes in my life that felt really bad at the time, if I look back they are all just the ebb and flow of life that ultimately led to growth that I underwent. Everything always seems to work out in the end, circumstances change, people change, and out of that comes growth and confidence.
Even in this latest turn of events with mum sadly dying, while I will always carry mum in my heart, no doubt there is some change seeded in me as a result and I will grow in ways I can’t foresee right now.
So perhaps we need to consider the messages we give out when we seek to use winning or losing to motivate someone, especially ourselves and our children. For really, if you choose to look upon any loss as a stepping stone to a better version of who you are in the world, then you are always winning.
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