Motivation – Are You Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose?

by Kim on February 25, 2010


Motivation can be a tricky subject.  What some people find motivating, others find depressing.

For example, did you ever have a coach in school who seemed to delight in telling you what a lousy athlete you were?  Some kids get fired up over negative “motivation.”  They are going to prove that coach wrong, no matter what!  But for others, that type of talk is very deflating.  I mean, who wants to work hard for someone that treats them like dirt?

“Toward” Thinking

As a business coach, I believe in positive motivation or “toward” thinking.  Envisioning what you do want moves you forward — or towards — your goal.  This is playing to win.

In a business setting, visualizing your future success is “toward” thinking.  You are working toward having more clients… more profits… more freedom.

If you use the motivation technique employed by lousy school coaches, you will be playing not to lose.  Think that’s the same thing as playing to win?  Nope… they are totally different mindsets that produce totally different results.

Fear as Motivation

When you are playing not to lose, you are motivated by fear — fear of looking foolish, fear of failing, fear of disappointment.  Motivation based on fear creates a negative mindset that breeds insecurity.  Instead of fulfilling the true potential of who you are, you spend all your time and energy running away from what you don’t want to be.

I’ve discovered that people are more successful when they focus on what they want rather than what they don’t want.  So, those who have their ‘eye on the prize’ are more likely to reach their goal than those who are just hoping not to be embarrassed in front of their family and friends.

Motivation Techniques

  1. Make Small Goals: You will quickly lose steam if you only set goals that will take years to achieve.  Instead, select a few smaller goals that can be attained in a relatively short period of time.  Like writing an article 😉  Once you reach those, you will find that your momentum builds.  Remember: Success breeds success.
  2. Reward Yourself: It doesn’t have to be a trip to Cancun; a latte will do.  Reward yourself with something small when you reach certain milestones.  This is particularly helpful for tedious tasks.  If you hate returning emails, see if the promise of a trip to the coffee shop when you’re done speeds up the process.
  3. Try Something New: It’s boring to do the same thing over and over again.  Hypnotic, in fact.  Shake up your routine by taking a risk.  Maybe join a business group or attend an industry related meet-up introducing your business.  The adrenaline rush you get from going outside your comfort zone might just give you the jolt you need to ramp up your game.
  4. Play Some Music: Did you see the Olympic snow boarders with their iPods?  Putting on catchy tunes is a good way to get moving and get motivated.  Do this enough and your mind will learn to associate certain music with work and have you instantly ready to start your day!
  5. Visualization: Sometimes, the best motivation comes from simply imagining where you want to be in the future.  At the start of each work day, spend a few minutes on this centering activity.  Close your eyes and visualize what you want your business to be like.  How will it operate?  What will be your role?  Then, consider what you need to do to get to that point.  What action can you take today to bring you closer to your vision for the future?  Now, open your eyes and take that first step!

Those are just some examples of motivational techniques.  There are lots more…  What do you use to keep yourself energized and on task?

Image via Notsogoodphotography on Flickr

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ivana Sendecka February 25, 2010 at 4:32 am

Hey Kim,
excellent post and nice tips.

Music and visualizing is very good way how to get aligned with your next steps.I did it when I was athlete, I am doing it now, when being a blogger and coach.

I personally have a routine when getting into creative mood;-)
It involves, morning coffee, rehearsing my thoughts in head, getting kick by one of my favorite songs and then just doing it.

It is great fun, when you can turn back after your day and see the results of your presence in this world;-)

Thanks for sharing your insights with us.

You have certainly done a great job and you can have your latte peacefully;-)



Kim February 25, 2010 at 7:30 am

Hi Ivana,

It’s wonderful to have your smiling face here. You are a testament of motivation and passion. It is evidenced in your work.

With our coffees — Cheers! 🙂


ayo February 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm

hi kim,
how are you?
i loved this, particularly the distinction between motivation borne out of fear and motivation based on focusing on what we need.
I could relate to the techniques and I always revolve round 1 and 3 most of the time.
Another factor which motivates me is having dealines or time frames and working towards accomplishing the tasks set within those limits.
Take care then


Kim February 25, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Hi Ayo,

Things are great! Awesome seeing you again.

You brought up a good point — challenging yourself with time frames (like Olympic athletes do to break records) can be highly motivating. Yes, I’ve been watching the Olympics and it’s apropos 😉

Be Well


Ben Weston February 25, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Hey Kim,

I love how you make a distinction between playing to win and playing to lose. I’ve found that focusing on what you don’t want tends to just bring more of that into your life because you’re focusing on it so much. My acrobatics coach would routinely tell me that unless I worked harder, all of the kinds on the streets of Morocco with nothing to lose would always be better than me. This kind of junk was hardly inspiring.

I’m a particular fan of your #1,2,&5 techniques. Make the process of achieving your goals enjoyable! Great post Kim.

Take care,


Kim February 25, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Hi Ben,

It’s true — what we focus on expands.
If Jackie Chan listened to his critics, he wouldn’t be a box office hit 😉

Cheers – to making the process of achieving goals enjoyable!

See you soon,


Catrien Ross February 26, 2010 at 12:26 am

KIm, thank you for your very important point, “when you are playing not to lose, you are motivated by fear.” In the first place, this sets you up in a “not” mindset – already negative. So instead of flowing you are already fighting against yourself or the situation. You can lose energy really quickly. The key is tapping into your energy, not losing it. I especially like point 5, visualization, because it works very well for me. A reward for me is reconnection with the natural world outside. This always grounds me, literally, and returns me to center and my deepest motivation. I am reminded about what it is I am doing and why I want to do it. From the foot of Mount Fuji – it’s raining and cloudy today – hello and thank you – Catrien Ross.


Kim February 26, 2010 at 9:20 am

Hello Catrien,

Thank you for sharing what grounds, centers, and motivates you. I love that we share this message to help others become aware of its importance in our whole being.

I will especially be mindful of “tapping into my energy, not losing it” as you simply stated. A gentle re-frame in our minds can be powerful.

I appreciate and enjoy your contribution.
Be Well.


Dawn February 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Hi Kim!

I also really love the distinction between playing to win and playing not to lose. It’s easy to get caught up in that game and you forget what you REALLY WANT and instead focus on not “losing”. I never thought about it like that. And I LOVE your motivational techniques! Those little steps can make a big difference.

Thanks Kim!


Kim February 26, 2010 at 12:34 pm


I’m so happy you stopped by! There are so many great analogies to building forward momentum. Your comment reminds me of being on offense vs. defense on a football team and not losing sight of the goal.

Thank you for contributing. Hope to see you here again soon!


Wilson Usman March 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm

As crazy as it might sound I use to work door to door and I think the owner use to try to motivate us there with negative comments. I honestly didn’t like it but it’s crazy how it would would work because we went out there and sold out everything. I got tired of the mistreatment and I was motivated and was told that’s how I had to pretty much train my team. I couldn’t do it!

Great post I know treat my people like I always wanted to be treated.


Kim March 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Hi Wilson,

I’m happy you stopped by. Unfortunately, negative motivation is not uncommon. The more we gain clarity on specific goals we desire, the more we save in time and stress.

Take care!


{ 6 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: