4 Tips to Help You Learn from Your Defeats

In recent years I’ve had the great privilege of visiting an alternative high school that serves the neediest and most challenged of students. One particular encounter with a high school  principal—a man who had given his life to reach and impact disadvantaged youth—left me inspired and encouraged. His stories of the ups and downs of working with that student population reminded me of the unforgettable introduction to “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” when the narrator would dramatically announce, “…the thrill of VICTORY and the agony of DEFEAT.” Seeing a homeless student with a violent gang background graduate from high school—victory! Seeing another go back to the streets—defeat.

No matter where our life path takes us, we’ll experience victories and defeats. Whether it’s sports, contests, career, dating, education, or business ventures, you win some and you lose some. Most of us don’t have too much difficulty with the winning part.

But sometimes, we don’t win. But does this mean that we’ve technically lost? No!  Many of our “losses” prepare us for our victories later on. They can be a major stepping stone—that is, if we choose to learn from our defeats.

Vince Lombardi of Green Bay Packer fame used to say that winning “is the only thing.” Famed basketball coach John Wooden, on the other hand, simply asked his players to play their best, and that was good enough for him. Although he set a very high bar for his players, he was more process driven than outcome driven.

I’m probably more in John Wooden’s camp (despite growing up 20 miles from Green Bay!). Winning may be an important goal, but I don’t believe we’re losers if we don’t finish in first. The key is to learn from a defeat and use it as input for the next practice and for future strategy.  Want a couple tips for making this happen, just in case? Try these:

  1. Don’t see a defeat as an “end all.” In most cases, it’s not the end of the road. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities, new relationships, etc. Something better may be around the corner! Consider if it’s a teachable moment and a catalyst for personal growth. As Helen Keller said, “A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn.”
  2. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Change is not always a bad thing.
  3. Accept that you are not always right and you won’t always have the best strategy. Seek out advice and perspective from others.
  4. Approach situations with the mindset that you’re going to give it your all. You can’t be dissatisfied when you’ve done your very best!

It pays to humbly celebrate your victories and gain and grow from your defeats. You’ll be positioned you to do better the next time (perhaps with a better outcome!), and it will take some of the sting out of your losses! Helen Keller had a great perspective.

How have you handled your victories and losses? Do you view a short-term loss as a learning experience?? Are you satisfied with the outcome if you did your best?

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