How to win?
Everyone loves to be a winner, first place is the only place to be and participation awards are for losers. What a sad state of affairs that would be if it was true, a world where only one person can be happy at the expense of the rest of us, where being second place condemns you to the Purgatory of the depression and worthlessness and it would not even be good enough to be the best at any single thing, as in such a world the status of loser is so humiliating that it blocked out any achievement or progress in any other area. Even if you were the best sprinter in the world, the fact would be that you were a loser in every other Olympic sport, overall and on average you still be a loser.
The idea of worthlessness if you fail to be the best at something, that it is not worth your time to be less than perfect, sets up a losing game for everyone else. If you are not the richest person in the world, you have not tried hard enough therefore the progress you have made is worthless, you still have to wait to be happy, you still need drive yourself harder and sacrifice more for the mission until you succeed. The basis for this logic is that if you are happy, you will not try, you do not have the drive to achieve and that you need overwhelming competition to be the best that you can. Being satisfied, having inertia and a plateau in your performance, the idea that just turning up should be rewarded demeans the achievement of the soul winner.
Is there any evidence that this is true? Does stress and a winner takes all attitude improve the performance of people, if it did the stock market would surely be the place to find them. The incentives are simple the best investment funds attract the most capital and provide the highest returns, yet what we find is that the fear of being the worst investor is far greater than the rewards of being outstanding.
In contrast we have Warren Buffet, who just tries to get a good return spends his day reading and talking with his friend about investments, with zero-competition between the two of them, they just tried to a little bit better than they did yesterday or last year. They try to be a little bit wiser and have a little bit more knowledge each day, and they seem to enjoy themselves both at work and home. They spent a lifetime learning and gaining experience, and do they always win, do every investment they make turnout be the best investment they can ever make. I think even buffet would admit that he has probably only made a dozen really outstandingly excellent choices in his career, every other day was probably made up of some good and bad decisions, he probably remembers the missed opportunities as much as anyone else would, but he has the confidence to say overall he has done better than most.
If Buffet was playing the game as he was supposed to by always being a winner, even he would say he was a loser by that definition he has been playing a different game. A game where you win by improving, learning and gaining experience, some days you win just by not losing, but not over committing to a single strategy. I am sure he does not even think of himself as playing a game of winners and losers, he just repeats the process that he has done everyday for most of his life and he gains satisfaction from that repetition. To be clear he does not surround himself with competition or competitive pressures, most starkly in the fact that he has never had an office on Wall Street, electing to stay in his little town and goes to his little office and spends his day with his friend. Which is a billionaire's version of going to a coffee shop, reading a book and talking with a friend about whatever interests you the most, which seems the sort of thing that is achievable for all of us.
If you are setting up the game in your mind that you need a billion pounds to be happy, you're setting up a game that you are unlikely to win and you will certainly not win it in a single day. Do you want to play game where you are unhappy every day until you win it? Why not set up a game that you enjoy playing whilst you are playing it and if you enjoy achievement, why not enjoy practising for achievement, why not enjoy the process rather than the state you think you will feel when you achieve what you think is important.
If you want to master something, there is a magic figure of 10,000 hours and most of that is taken up with deliberate practice, especially of the simple skills required rather than advanced techniques. If you want to suffer whilst doing it, you certainly have the opportunity to tell yourself that it means nothing if you do not push yourself as hard as possible, however you always have the chance to enjoy your practice, if instead of suffering and pushing, you focus instead on being present with what you are doing, being aware of the exact action that you're taking as you take it and without the distraction of the mind. That is what you are inviting in when you pressure yourself so hard with relentless competition, you invite the mind to focus on future goal rather than the task at hand, is when you can let go of time and self that you are able to achieve flow, and that is the state of mind that aid to learning and improvement more than anything else.