As the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors continue their slugfest to determine the NBA's 2019 champion, one player is already preparing for next season:

The Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not that long ago it appeared that Antetokounmpo and the Bucks would be playing the Warriors for this year's championship. The Bucks had cruised through the playoffs, and were up two games to zero against the Toronto Raptors.

But the Raptors went on to win the next four games in a row--a remarkable feat considering the Bucks hadn't lost three games in a row the entire season.

The Raptors managed to defeat the Bucks by tooling their defense to focus on stopping the young team's star (who's affectionately known as "the Greek Freak" due to his Athens upbringing and monstrous athletic prowess).

In a recent interview with The Athletic, Antetokounmpo acknowledged that Raptors players Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol gave him particular trouble. Giannis admitted that now the series is over, "every day in his head," he continues to see Gasol and Leonard coming at him.

Then, Antetokounmpo went on to say something remarkable to his opponents:

"Thank you. Thank you, because Gasol and Kawhi made me a better player. I'm not trying to be sarcastic. I'm being honest. They're going to push me to be better."

"Thank you."

It's rare for professional athletes to admit weakness or to credit opposing players for stopping them. It's even rarer that they thank their opponents.

With these two words, Antetokounmpo revealed evidence of a remarkable and invaluable quality:

The ability to learn from mistakes.

What's EQ got to do with it?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify emotions (in both yourself and others), to recognize the powerful effects of those emotions, and to use that information to inform and guide behavior. In essence, it's the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

Failing to reach a goal gives rise to negative emotions like sadness, frustration, even anger.

But feelings like these can help you--if you let them.

For example, when you experience failure, consider there are a few ways to respond:

  • You can move on and pretend the failure never happened.
  • You can sit around and feel sorry for yourself.
  • You can stop and reflect, extracting lessons from the failure to help you grow.

Guess which option is going to make you better?

The key is to treat every mistake as a learning experience.

It helps to find a mentor or coach you can trust, that will help expose your blind spots and provide additional insights. Ask yourself--and your confidants:

  • What problems did my mistake reveal?
  • What can I do differently next time?

Then, use the answers to learn and grow.

It's true--failure never feels good. 

But instead of dwelling on negative feelings, you can use them--to help you achieve heightened focus, and to provide motivation to make needed changes.

Accomplish this and you'll begin to see failure, not as the end of the road, but as a stepping stone to bigger and better--much like a certain NBA superstar.

Because remember: Often it's our opponents, those who point out our weaknesses and flaws, who help us to grow. It's the ones who challenge us who truly make us better.