Many years ago, I used to play squash. I had a membership to a racquet club and played at least four or five times a week. However, there was one player who consistently beat me. A squash match is the best out of five games, and this player always won by a score of 3-0 every time. As hard as I tried, I could not manage to win even one game against this player.
It was frustrating because I saw no good reason why I should lose. He wasn’t an exceptional player. He had no special technique or particular talent. He wasn't any fitter than I was. So why?
I used to watch him play other people just to study his game. I thought of ways to take my game to the next level. Nothing worked! So why could I not get at least one game from this player?
One evening after work I met up with an old friend. It so happens that this friend was the one who had introduced me to the game of squash. In the course of the evening, I mentioned this particular player. My friend listened intently to my frustrations and then said something that changed my whole outlook on life.
He told me to stop trying to win!
My friend explained that trying to win was obviously not working! He went on to say that, instead of trying to beat this player, I should concentrate on not losing!
Over the next few weeks, I gave this a lot of thought and it occurred to me that ‘winning’ and ‘not losing’ actually yielded the same result. I also analysed my tactics and realised that during a rally, whenever it was my turn to play the ball, I would invariably go for a winning shot. It also became apparent that this was an utter waste of time and effort. Instead, I started to focus, not necessarily to win the rally, but to make it difficult for my opponent to play a win. Better still - if I placed the ball such that my opponent could not return it, I would win the rally regardless. Remember - it takes a lot of effort to win, but it takes no effort to watch your opponent lose.
A few weeks later, I signed up for a club tournament. I breezed through the first two rounds of the tournament, but as luck would have it, I was drawn against this particular player in the third round, the player from whom I had never won a game, never mind a match.
It was a tough match, and he did beat me. However, the score was 3-2. Deservingly, he went on to win the tournament, but YES, for the first time, I managed to win two games from him - all because I played to not lose.
This lesson has gone on to serve me well in life. We often burn too much time and energy trying to win, when all it takes is to make sure we do not lose so that we can ultimately come out ahead!
People will tell you that if you failed at something, it's because you didn't try hard enough.
Try your best - Yes!
Try, fail, repeat - No!
The best way to succeed in business is to make sure you do not fail!
How can I help your business not fail?
Michael A. Coates - Trentyne Management Inc.