Want To Improve? Choose Tougher Opponents

By Paul Morin

Do you want to improve at some aspect of your business, in a sport you do, or in some other part of your life? For most, if not all, of the people reading this article, the answer will be an unequivocal “YES”! I know this because most of my readers and clients are people who are trying to grow their businesses and/or trying to improve in one or several other areas of their lives. In short, they are go-getters.

With this “go-getter mentality,” why is it that it’s sometimes hard to get better, even when we want it so bad? In short, in my personal experience and in my observation as a coach and advisor, the reason is that we pick the wrong “opponents.” I put opponents in quotations because they may not literally be people standing across a tennis court from us, or sitting across the table at a chess board, or even competing with us for “share of wallet” of our customers and prospects.

Sometimes our most important opponents aren’t people at all; rather, they are the goals and challenges we set for ourselves. Many times, those “opponents” are too weak. We don’t challenge ourselves sufficiently. We are not willing to put our ego on the line and take on tougher opponents, as we’re afraid of failure. We would rather protect our self-image and the perception others have of us, than take on tough “opponents” and take the chance that we may “fail.”

Such an approach is a recipe for mediocrity, at best. If you don’t take on tougher opponents, you will only get better by chance. You need to be willing to lose and make mistakes, as you will learn more that way, thus increasing the chance that you will continue to improve at your chosen endeavor. I have experienced it in my own businesses over the years and I’ve experienced it in every other competitive endeavor in which I have engaged.

When I was younger, I loved to win. I still do, but back then, I was extreme in my love of winning. I would choose my opponents, whenever possible, in such a way that I was almost guaranteed to win. Winning made me feel good about myself, and it made me feel like I had an edge on the world. As time went on and I had interaction with great coaches, and when it was outside my control, great opponents, I realized that my approach was foolish. I could be a “big fish in a small pond,” given the way I was approaching competition, but I would never get markedly better.

I don’t remember the exact point I made the switch to valuing learning and improving over winning all the time. If I’m being honest with myself though and I had to guess, I’d say I didn’t start really figuring it out until around nineteen or twenty years old. It was at that time that I realized I had created my own little world of which I could be the king, at the top of the heap, but that it was the only heap I would likely ever see if I didn’t change my ways. In great part, I had surrounded myself with mediocrity, but luckily I was able to make the mental shift.

Since that time, that epiphany, I have approached my life differently. I make a habit of choosing the toughest “opponents” I can find. I don’t always succeed in conquering them, but I do often surprise myself. When I “fail,” rather than shrinking into a negative and defeatist mindset, I learn what I can and move on. I look for another route to conquer that opponent and keep on improving. This approach has paid big dividends on every level, with the most important benefit being that I can look in the mirror and know that I’m always willing to put it on the line to conquer the next tough “opponent.”

How do you choose your “opponents”? Do you play it safe, or do you select the toughest ones you can find, so that you can learn and keep improving? Take some chances. Change your concept of failure and approach it as an opportunity to learn, not as an affront to your ego. If you give it a try and give your newfound mindset a little time to take hold, I assure you that you will be pleased with the results, in all aspects of your life where you are willing to assume the risk of failure.”

Paul Morin is the founder of CompanyFounder.com. Morin has worked with various entrepreneurial companies in senior management roles and has led the development, review and selective implementation of several hundred start-up and corporate venture business plans, financial models, and feasibility analyses. You can e-mail Morin at paul@companyfounder.com.
Originally published: Dec 9, 2011

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