Are you playing to win or… Trying not to lose!

(This was taken from a soon to be released book)


Great question isn’t it. Can you answer it honestly? I bet most would say they’re play to win (we all want to be winners right!). However, because actions speak louder than words, would your answer be the same as a friend or family member who is observing your behaviour? Would they say you’re playing to win?

I want to be upfront and honest with you. This is a key skill you must master if you want true success in your life. If you want to reduce stress in your life and feel more in control so you can decide where your future is going instead of taking what’s thrown at you. If you want better personal relationships, good health with a fit body or simply if you want to make better decisions in your life you need to get your stress under control. And, how you play the game of life greatly impacts your results.

I want to also give you a heads up. This is not going away. If you don’t understand and address how this mindset is guiding your life, you are setting yourself up for tons of stress, unhappiness and constant conflict with others. A life of mediocrity and of not being fulfilled. And further, you will not be able to get the true success you desire. That’s the truth!

So the answer to this simple question… Are you playing to win or… trying not to lose… can be very revealing and oh so empowering and guiding in helping you get more fully in control of your life and your future! I believe it will lead to a great sense of purpose, peace of mind and fulfillment. You’ll have a happier life.

So let’s examine this question and mindset to find out where you are at. Then we will look at ways it will empower you and give you back control. Then we will look at how to apply this understanding in your own life to reduce stress, how you can get really present to have those deeper personal relationships and allow you to have more vision and direction with peace of mind. Be more true to yourself and authentic.



rainbow cloud

Let’s break it down to what the core differences are:

Playing to win Playing /Trying not to lose
Motivational focus Prevention focus
Focus on what could go right Focus on what could go wrong
Focus on what you want Focus on what you don’t want
Dream big, don’t let anything hold you back More conservative, reserved
Expect to succeed Expect to fail
Risk of Failure drives you closer towards your goal Risk of failure holds you back
Focus on Opportunities Focus on Obstacles
Focus on solutions Focus on problems
Optimism Fear and worry
Abundance (offensive) Lack (defensive)
Growth Loss
Think Big Think small
Flexible Ridged
Control your life Go with the flow
Move forward in spite of fear Let fear stop them
High expectations Low expectations
Grows your world Shrinks your world
See their goals as creating a path to gain or advancement and concentrate on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them. They are eager and they play to win. Those who are comfortable taking chances, who like to work quickly, who dream big and think creatively.Unfortunately, all the chance taking, speedy working, and positive thinking makes these individuals more prone to error, less likely to think things through, and usually unprepared with a plan B if things go wrong. See their goals as responsibilities, and they concentrate on staying safe. They worry about what might go wrong if they don’t work hard enough or aren’t careful enough. They are vigilant and play to not lose, to hang on to what they have, to maintain the status quo.They are often more risk-averse, but their work is also more thorough, accurate, and carefully considered. To succeed, they work slowly and meticulously. They aren’t usually the most creative thinkers, but they may have excellent analytical and problem-solving skills.
Promotion-focused people

  • work quickly
  • consider lots of alternatives- are great brainstormers
  • are open to new opportunities
  • are optimists
  • plan only for best-case scenarios
  • seek positive feedback and lose steam without it
  • feel dejected or depressed when things go wrong
Prevention-focused people

  • work slowly and deliberately
  • tend to be accurate
  • are prepared for the worst
  • are stressed by short deadlines
  • stick to tried-and-true ways of doing things
  • are uncomfortable with praise or optimism
  • feel worried or anxious when things go wrong



 3d human with a red question mark

What’s your ratio? How much time do you spend with each mindset?  30 : 70  or… 70 :  30  This might seem a little extreme or harsh that everyone should be striving to be playing to win all the time. And that playing not to lose is “bad”, right. But this is not necessarily so. It’s comes down to balance and our personality types. Our nature and character dictates where on this continuum we “play”. We need a balance of the two sides.

We also need to be aware of how these mindsets impact our lives so we can control them, not have them control us and our destiny. As the last part of the chart above expresses, sometimes it’s good to be “defensive” and play not to lose. Other times, that mind set might limit our social engagement and fun so we need to be aware of that and act in spite of fear, worry, doubt and even if we aren’t in the mood we can choose to act. To be empowered and in control.

Please note: Just to be clear, playing to lose is not negative or wrong in some situations. I want my accountant to be very accurate, and worried about doing my taxes so as not to get audited. I would want a surgeon to be concerned about not losing (in this case the patient!) when performing their task. Other positions where this mindset pays off could be administrators, bookkeepers, accountants, technicians, and manufacturing workers. These occupations require knowledge of rules and regulations, careful execution, and a propensity for thoroughness—they are jobs in which attention to detail is what really pays off. Simply identifying your own type should help you embrace your strengths as well as recognize and compensate for your weaknesses. Some of this info was extracted from an article by Heidi Grant Halvorson and Troy Higgis Playing not to lose is a career limiting decision. You will feel safe and your results may be consistent but your true potential will not be achieved.

I personally think that with all the fear mongering negative news in the media, and scare tactics employed by marketing companies many have shifted their focus from winning to not losing. This in turn impacts our psychology, the way we think and act and thus many of our life decisions are impacted. This reduces the quality of our lives. We don’t live up to our full potential. As a matter of fact, I don’t thing we are anywhere close to it.

When we play to not lose we aren’t moving towards our true goals. We don’t achieve what we know we are capable of. Our world may shrink and become more “plain vanilla”. We lack zest and optimism for life. We lose our drive. Our hearts sink and we may feel like we aren’t living up to our potential. Success alludes us.

Further, we feel empty, unfulfilled without peace of mind and we don’t have that deep sense of purpose and mission. Can you relate to this? Haven’t you felt this at some time that the world is holding you back from being the real you, for living the real life you imagine and dream of and want? From being truly authentic to yourself.



How does this play out in our daily living?

This mindset greatly impacts what we pay attention to and notice. It impacts what you get out of life. And as the saying goes, “where thought goes, energy flows and results happen”. Or said another way, “you get what you focus on and what you focus on expands!” If you focus on crap you’re get more of it! If you focus on the good… you’ll get more of it.

When you have the playing to win attitude, you think about abundance and play offensive. You look for opportunities and solutions. You may try alternative paths to find solutions. You focus on the end result… the Success. You expect to succeed and you do! You control and take charge of your life. And along the way you learn a broad range of the skills to make it happen.

With a playing not to lose mindset you have the mindset of lack and defensive. You find obstacles and reasons to not move ahead and you make choices based on the expectation of failing or losing. You end up focusing on what you don’t want (so you get more of it).

How this plays out and affects your relationships:

Those who are playing to win may be willing to go ask the person they are interested in for a date or dance where others won’t. Most have had a broken heart. And most get over it. However some get stuck in the “playing to lose” and focus on what could go wrong and thus they play it safe, defensively and thus will not take the chance of getting into a relationship or wanting to love again for fear they will get hurt. Or they get stuck in a bad relationship and can’t break free to get out of it. The devil you know vs the devil you don’t situation. Or in this case, playing to win or playing not to lose.

How this plays out and affects your finances:

Similar story here. Many will not even get into the game of investing because the fear of loss is so great. They make their decisions based on fear and worry. Some will invest their hard earned money into the stock market so they have their money working hard for them earning higher levels of interest. Others may be afraid to lose their money so they simple put money into the bank as cash or a very low paying bond. Safety trumps gain. You can’t win if you are always being defensive. Most have made and lost money in the markets as the economy ebbs and flow. That’s normal. However those with the “playing to lose mindset” will not reinvest for fear of losing more.

How this plays out and affects your career/ work:

The playing to win, promotion focused people will often get the types of jobs where creative thinking, brain storming and alternative solutions are vital. They can think outside of the box. These types of jobs are rewarded for creative and innovative thinking. Being practical isn’t emphasized.

The types of industry they choose to work in are dynamic industries, where it’s important to respond rapidly and innovatively to stay ahead of the competition.

Prevention-focused individuals are likely to take up “conventional and realistic” work, as administrators, bookkeepers, accountants, technicians, and manufacturing workers. These occupations require knowledge of rules and regulations, careful execution, and a propensity for thoroughness—they are jobs in which attention to detail is what really pays off.

Prevention-focused leaders are most effective in more stable industries, where avoiding catastrophic error is often the key to success.

How this may show up in your lifestyle.

  • Making poor food choices when you know there is something better
  • Not moving or exercising much or at all- you know better!
  • Justifications such lack of time, money, energy, or that you are ok as you are
  • Lack of self-care and investment in yourself



make your choice

Other ways we “play not to win” aka “avoid losing”

We all learn strategies for getting thought life with as little pain as possible. Playing not to win is one of them. Jack Canfield wrote a short article pointing out some of these behavious. He shared that some adapt the “being perfect” role. You may try to do everything… well… perfect and without flaws. That way you will not be subject to criticism that things aren’t right. It prevents you showing weakness. You never relax or let your guard down. Instead, you overdo everything.

Some people have learned to have a victim mindset. Jack Canfield says “you become a problem”. This way you have an “excuses” for not trying thus you can’t fail. Also, others will have to look after you and you will not have to try so hard because of your problem (diagnosis?). Expectations from others towards you are lowered. This is a form of self-sabotage and part of the playing to lose mindset.

Others will become the “judge”. This allows one to not have to participate. You get to stay on the sidelines and point out how others are doing. By being the “judge” you avoid the task or activity yourself and thus avoid being judged by others and “failing”. Staying on the side not dancing but judging others is one example.

Another strategy (habit) some adopt is that of never finishing or completing anything. That way if it’s not finished, it’s not complete. Thus you can’t be judged as not good enough because your project/ task is not complete. You can’t fail!


Be Aware of change (notice patterns in others first)

Like many habits or “programs” we run in our minds, it’s easier to see them in others rather than ourselves. So start looking for how others are playing. See and listen to how they talk and act. Are they always negative and finding fault with things, shooting ideas down, being over cautious and always worried about the worst that will happen etc? Or are they upbeat and positive looking for new opportunities, generating new ideas, thinking about the future and what they can make happen? Are they optimistic that things will be good and workout, that here is hope?

Reflect back to them and give them some gentle observations and feedback. Get curious about how they are living their life. Once you notice and see the observation in others, it’s easier to see them in yourself and to make positive changes for the better. Helping others to better help yourself. Win – win!

Now that you understand how this major driving mindset impacts your life let’s look at some straight forward action steps you can take.


3d human with big positive symbol

Action steps:

Start spending a bit more time looking after yourself- you’re worth it!

  • Start doing the small easy and simple things that will build up your body and mind. (Eat breakfast with protein. (Don’t have time? Want to have a shake? Watch this video on how to make the best power shake). Cut out all the low quality snack and junk. You know what they are. Stop putting that crap into your body.
  • Start to move more. Movement generates positive emotion and boosts your energy (you need more of this). Start with simple walking. Park farther away form the office or mall when you go there.

Start expanding your comfort zone with small simple steps such as:

  • Start a conversation with one person per day
  • Complement people you meet on something (their clothing, style, shoes, project completion, happiness etc)
  • Get into the game. This could be a new event or project at work. Joint a new networking group, try a new meal at the restaurant

Develop the habit of completion

  • Set yourself up to win by having a list of achievable goals. Make this really easy to win (got out of bed, had breakfast, got to work 5 minutes early, put my dishes away after supper etc). These may be things you would normally do, just give yourself credit for doing them. This will help develop the habit of completing things you start. Then start building the list with slightly more challenging things. Remember, the goal is to make sure you always finish them. So make them really easy to complete at first. (If you just laughed and thought no way! This is dumb or silly or I’m to cool to do this, you may be missing out an vital and key strategy for taking control of your mind and life. It’s key to getting ahead in life. You must work and grow this “muscle” to have real success in life.)

Focus on the positive, think Big and be flexible

  • When choices and decisions come up, brainstorm about all the positives that will come from the task or event. When the inevitable what if… negative thought comes up, ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” If that happened, think about how you could overcome that situation. If you can’t come up with a solution, get help. Ask someone. If they can come up with a solution you know it won’t be the end of the world if it happens so you can let that negative (playing to lose) thought go and focus on the positive. Start thinking about other options. Actually get help from someone and brainstorm with them. Make this fun. Get excited and enjoy the process.


What else can you do? Focus on what you want to happen not on what you don’t want to have happen. Start getting more control of your life. Write down some big goals and write about what you want to have happen in your life. Complete the “BE-Do Have” exercise. This will be fun and get you started quickly moving towards your key goals. Download it here.



Invest in yourself- learn how to truly master your stress, get more direction and purposes in your life. Live with more “Juice” and passion.

Go check out the Ultimate Stress Reduction Program.

This will be the most important investment you make in yourself.




“Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.”

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Best of health and spirits to you on your journey along the path of life.

Robert Ridpath.