In his famous poem, "If," Rudyard Kipling referred to victory and defeat (or, as he put it, "Triumph and Disaster") as imposters. He was right. We need to treat victory and defeat as the imposters that they are. Here's how I've learned to do it using the F-word. No, not that F-word.
Even though it's ingrained in western thought, thinking in terms of victory and defeat is largely unhelpful. When we feel we've lost, we go get drunk. When we think we've won, we go get drunk. But there is a third alternative: I work hard to see seemingly great outcomes and perceived lousy ones through a single lens--practice.
It's All Just Practice
If you decide to learn how to run a seven minute mile, but your first attempt is nine minutes, you didn't fail, it's just practice. And when you finally get to six minutes, if you regard that as victory, you'll likely stop getting better. So, following advice offered by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander in their book The Art of Possibility, in every circumstance I find myself in, whether I perceive it to be bad or good, they all deserve only one response:
"Fascinating! How did that happen?"
Sometimes you'll use the other F-word first, but get to "Fascinating" as fast as you can.
Always Getting Better
When I respond to both victory and defeat this way, I set myself up to learn from both of them. If something goes "wrong," I need to be deeply fascinated by it to learn how to not repeat it. And if something goes "well," that same deep fascination will help me learn how to repeat it regularly. It saves me so much emotional energy once I get past the wrong F-word and start being "Fascinated."
I always ask the whole question--"Fascinating! How did that happen?"--because I want to remind myself why I should go through life fascinated; so I can learn, grow, and perfect as I go. Any other response to either of these perceived extremes is just wasted emotion that will keep us from learning and getting better.
Life Is Full of Seminars
A successful friend of mine, Alan Wyngarden, gave me an expanded view of how to be fascinated by the hard lessons. He calls them "seminars." Some seminars are more expensive than others, and some go on for months or even years. But if we see them as seminars instead of bad experiences, we're much more likely to learn from them. Alan has built a number of highly successful businesses and has a balanced personal life as well. He has shared a lot of seminars with me, and he has definitely been fascinated a lot.
I didn't grow up making lemonade from lemons. When dumb stuff happened, I saw it that way and focused on feeling bad. I've invested many years in learning to be fascinated, regardless of the circumstance, and it has saved me a lot of time and energy. It has also helped me to see that, more often than not, it's the perceived tough stuff that has taught me the most valuable lessons, but only when I've decided to be fascinated enough to learn.
Which Mental Muscle Are You Developing?
I spent a few decades developing the victimology muscle that made it reflexively easy to whine and go into a slump when things went "wrong." So it took a lot of focus to build the new mental muscle to turn everything into a learning opportunity.
Every day we are faced with opportunities cleverly disguised as obstacles. Build the right mental muscle; learn to live fascinated. And yes, sometimes we'll use a different F-word before we get to "Fascinating!" But we should get there as fast as we can, so we can learn and get better.
It took years, but I have embraced this "fascination" axiom for a couple decades now: Circumstances don't make me who I am. How I respond, does. Responding with fascination only makes sense.
"Fascinating! How did that happen?"