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How do you define success when you’re not winning?

If you’re a football player, and your team is nowhere close to winning, how do you define success? It’s easy to get demoralised when all we’ve got is one end point. We need more than one measure of success. Here’s a couple of ways to redefine it in a useful way.

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We either win or we don’t. James Carse spoke about this in his book, Finite and Infinite Games. There are two ways to play games: people play to win, and people play to keep playing the game. Finite or infinite games. Simon Sinek picked up and ran with this theme in his own version of the title as it applies to business. The concept is about the joy of playing, an intrinsic reward, versus the joy of winning, a temporary extrinsic reward.

When I interviewed Cameron Schwab, former CEO of the Richmond Football Club, he said he had to face this question: “What does winning look like when you’re not winning?” He faced many challenges during his time at Richmond. If you’re not winning the premiership, how then do you define success?

This is the question I often ask leaders: How do you define success? How we answer defines how we feel about our efforts and our results.

I’ve come to realize that success is really two things: It’s the results that we produce and it’s how we feel about the process. It’s an internal measure, as well as an external one. It’s finite AND infinite games. It’s the game, and the joy of playing.

I recommend to all my clients that they have a success journal. In it they are to record their efforts for the day and how they felt about it (the joy of playing). They can also record any goals achieved (the joy of winning). From the joy of playing we get serotonin (the well-being neurochemical), and from the joy of winning, or reaching our goals, we get dopamine (another happy neurochemical).

The only thing interfering with our ability to feel successful is our own mental focus. So in the face of insurmountable odds, in the face of epic challenges, how then do we define success?

When things are grim the ‘game’ feels less fun. And yet if we get up each day, find beauty and joy in the small moments, connect and be in service to others, then this is a good starting point for staying in the game without losing hope.

Play the game for the joy of it, and savour the wins when they happen.

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Related Articles:

How to develop a motto for your culture

Boundless Leadership: The trap of success

Boundless Leadership: Why sports is the worst analogy for leadership

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