Dec 062011

Want To Improve?  Choose tougher opponents.

Want To Improve?  Choose Tougher Opponents.

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”.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

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  • Hi Paul, very interesting perspective. Without making it painful this is why I loved Klout at first time because i could benchmark myself to big scorers in my categories. That is also why I was so disheartened when I realized that the whole system was just manipulation after Fernandez announced that the new Klout will become more “transparent” with people gaining 20 points or losing 15 overnight and that many platforms like WordPress was not included in the scoring :-(.

    My point is yes benchmark with the best in class but make sure you chose the right Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). I agree that “you cannot manage what you cannot measure” being tangible or intangible measurements. For small business owners like me, I can compare the numbers of comments in my posts with those who are offering similar coaching services for same audience because this is obviously something possible to measure. I don’t know of course how many readers will turn into customers but I assume it is a question of probabilities the more people you engage the higher the chances people talk about you and recommend your services.

  • Christopher Campbell

    I agree with you, right from the title of your post. We can only improve we set the barometer for improvement high enough.

    I remember the time when I had to help a friend of mind in weight training. Since he was way out of shape, I joined him in his routine; so as not to discourage him. He succeeded – in improving his physique and degrading mine.

  • Sherrie Koretke

    Wow. This is a new perspective, that’s for sure, Paul. I need to think about who and what are my worthy opponents. A few are coming to mind as a type. Thanks for sharing that upping your goals is also a good opponent!

  • Pingback: Want To Improve? Choose Tougher Opponents. | Startup Founder's Lounge |

  • Sam Rowe

    Wonderful insight, definitely a great strategy for a business looking to penetrate a market or looking to increase market share in small increments! Also a good way to become competitive in terms of sustainability in your industry. Also, the better you can capitalize on the weaknesses of an opponents competitive advantages the better you can grow your market share and increase the quality of your product or service.

  • Thanks, Sam. I’m happy you found the article helpful and insightful. Paul