Saturday evening was a tough evening for our team, we lost every fight that we had on the card and that’s a difficult thing to face after such a great effort from everyone. As difficult as these kinds of results may be, it’s inevitable that you will always learn more from your losses than your wins. Buried in this fact are the keys to the art of losing.
Competition is yin and yang, a perfect 50/50 balance between winning and losing, without these two complementary elements there can be no competition. People often fail to realise that it’s perfectly in balance, for example if you took the 25 fights on Saturday night you would note that there were 25 winners and 25 losers. If you took every MMA fight in history and looked and the amount of wins and the amount of losses then again you would find a perfect 50/50 balance between these numbers.
Competition has to be this way, with the promise of victory on one side and the painful counter force of loss on the other. It’s the only thing that makes the game worth playing and the victory so valuable. Imagine playing a game that you couldn’t lose, there would be zero value in winning, there would be zero satisfaction in winning, it would be a game you would quickly stop playing.
So many people don’t learn that losing is the complementary balance to winning and fail to appreciate it. They make the mistake of hiding and avoiding from the yin and just try and focus on the yang, believing that if they apply enough mental effort on winning that the spectre of losing can be kept at bay. The inevitable result of this is that losing becomes something to fear, some people/gyms even refuse to use the words of ‘lose’ and ‘losing’ hoping that keeping it out of sight and out of mind will keep these demons away.
I don’t believe that this is the best approach. I believe that the best way to handle this fear is the same way you have to handle any fear, you have to face it head on. I believe a much more positive and healthy appreciation of the yin is needed. The objective here is the complete opposite of what seems intuitive, if you want to excel then your goal is not to try and avoid losing at any cost, it’s to actively seek out losses and go hunting for them! Think of it like this, the game of getting to the top is one of consistently seeking out the biggest challenges and eventually overcoming them, not seeking out tasks that you know are within your current capabilities and ticking them off for hollow victories. If you want to be the best then keep trying to find people that can beat you, when you’ve run out of people that can beat you then you’re the world champion.
If you’re still not convinced about the importance of coming to terms with losing then think of it like this. Take yourself back to a time when wars hand to be fought literally hand to hand on the battlefield. Now imagine the enemy marching into sight and knowing that losing doesn’t just mean the referee raising the hand of your opponent, the stakes are much higher. What’s the most terrifying enemy to see coming over the hill? The enemy that is not afraid to die. There is nothing more terrifying than an enemy that is prepared to pay the ultimate price.
“Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price.”~Sun Tzu
Fortunately the price we pay in MMA competition is not as severe as it was once on the battlefield, but the pursuit of victory certainly still comes at a cost. Hard work, sacrifice, pain, injuries, being judged and still no guarantee of success – it’s a tough path but there is no other way.
So here’s my three step plan to face the fear of losing head on…
Appreciate the importance of the yin of losing
I’ve addressed much of this in the opening of this article, you have to properly appreciate the role that losing has to play in competition and your own personal progression. Once you start to understand the importance of the balance between the outcomes it’s much easier to face it with a positive outlook. Do not avoid addressing the possibility of losing, learn to appreciate it and tackle it head on.
Appreciating losing doesn’t mean you have to like it
The appreciation of the importance of losing as part of progression does not have to lead to liking it! You can and should still hate the act of losing with a passion without being fearful of it. There’s a fine balance to get to here, fearing losing will not lead to optimal performance but you still want to have a healthy hatred of it! You can accept the possibility of it without expecting the probability of it. If you push it to the point where you don’t care about losing then you definitely went too far…
Losing presents the greatest opportunity for growth
Nothing forces self analysis more than losing. I often warn against the complacency that can come with winning, it’s a big issue with students that are getting really advanced with their training, because they lose less they are less often forced to analyse their weaknesses. When you lose, self analysis is forced right in your face and this almost always leads to the greatest opportunities for growth and progression. Again there’s a line to balance here, it’s certainly possible to push too far with the self analysis and allow your confidence to take a massive hit. To keep this in check it’s best to do the analysis with a coach or training colleague, get together with someone who you know will be honest and help you to properly assess your performance and next steps. The opposite end of the spectrum comes when you allow excuses to taint your analysis, there may well be some legitimate reasons why your performance suffered but if you allow them to prevent any underlying important analysis then you are missing the opportunity for progression that suffering a loss presents.