Winning from Loss

Competition lineup
You’ve put in all the work. Sometimes that work can amount to days, weeks, months of sweat, tears, and sacrifice. You feel ready both mentally and physically. You know what you’re supposed to do and you’re ready to execute the plan.

So what happens when your “plans” don’t work out? What happens when, at the end of the day, all of the work you’ve put in is not rewarded?

Let’s be honest… losing sucks! No one wants to lose. There’s nothing that will give you a quick punch to your gut and grip your heart like losing, but that’s the name of the game.

In the sport of bodybuilding the effects of a “loss” can feel a little more magnified. Imagine months of dieting, cardio, lifting, saying “no” to some of your favorite things when you really want to say “yes”. Whether you go home with a trophy or not all depends on the judgement of others – sometimes it’s fair and other times it can be completely subjective. While you were hoping for first place, you ended up in last and all you can think about is how you were robbed of a victory.

I’ve had my fair shares of defeat. My first bikini competition – last place. My second bikini competition – 7th place. My third – third place but nationally qualified. My first national competition – last call outs but moved to center.

I remember that first competition I entered. I was so certain that I was going to place in the top five of girls. It’s actually comical to think back to it now. I was not tanned properly, I had barely developed legs, I didn’t know how to pose at all. In my mind, since I had a six pack and since I had just given up the last four months of my life I deserved to win. After waves of girls were called before the judges – I was left standing on the stage among the last callout. I remember seething in blinded anger. I remember walking off stage and having the worst attitude, telling my husband and mom that I was NEVER competing again and that the sport was rigged. I remember feeling let down. Were any of these feelings logical? Absolutely not.

Sports do not build character

After that competition I vowed to change my thought pattern when I stepped on stage next. What I had failed to come to terms with prior to my first competition was that as cliche as it sounds – I had already won. I had already kicked my high cholesterol. I had already fell in love with nutrition and working out again. I was starting to inspire my friends and family. I had set a goal to compete in my first show – goal accomplished! I had also failed to acknowledge that although I had worked diligently over the last few months – there were likely other competitors who had been working MUCH longer than me. Who was I to be upset over not “winning” when there were other competitors who may have been in this competition circuit for years?

I always hate the question that employers ask in interviews- “what is your greatest weakness?” I don’t know – spiders? Tornadoes? A bowl of ice cream? The answer I actually dish out is, “my greatest weakness and strength is how competitive I am”. I am not saying in this post that you should tame down your competitive side – absolutely not – I still get mad when I lose at Monopoly. Instead, you should use those moments of defeat to drive you, to get better, and to reach your goals. How you win or how you lose is a direct reflection of you. If you behave like a child yet stomp around demanding respect you have ultimately failed – even if you happen to squeak by with a victory.

So how do we play off these intense emotions? How do we keep our egos in check when at the root of it all we are competitive humans all wanting to succeed and receive approval?

Victory is sweetest when you've known defeat

1. Set goals within goals. The best way to set yourself up for failure is to set one big goal. What happens if you don’t reach that goal on time, or like in the sport of bodybuilding, that goal is placed in the hands of judges? You need smaller goals along the way that you can safely cross of your “list” while climbing the ladder to success. For example: If your goal is to eventually turn pro you cannot expect to compete in one local competition and head to one national show and take home the cake. Does that happen? Sure, I’m sure it rarely does. In reality, you need to be setting yourself up along the way. Set a goal to network and market/brand yourself. Set a physical goal like a reduction in body fat or hitting a PR in your weakest training day. There is no reason to throw a pity party if you are not charting your progress. Would we expect a high school baseball player to pitch in one game and then get signed to the majors the next day? Absolutely not.

2. Seek out a mentor. While bodybuilding can often feel like a solo sport – it often times takes a team of people to get you physically and mentally prepared. Mentors and coaches can play a huge role in keeping you humble, pushing you forward, and helping you to reassess your goals and physique.

3. Act without expectation. How uninteresting would it be if every time you played a game or entered a competition you won? Yeah, it would feel pretty freaking awesome for a while but eventually you would feel a lackluster in your craft – unmotivated because you weren’t being surpassed. If you want to be a winner you need to train every day like you have something to prove but keep watching your back because there is always going to be someone wanting it just as bad. You cannot discredit the hard work of others just because you have put in hard work, too. You need to train because you love training – not just to win. What happens after you win?

4. Give yourself a break. Okay you lost. Did you die? Nope! We tend to be our harshest critics. We tend to think that everyone is looking and staring at us after we’ve “lost”. In all reality, most people are inspired by athletes throughout their journey – yep throughout their wins and loses. You need to choose your battles and while the greatest battle often lies within our own judgement, we must remember that at the end of the day we’re all just imperfectly human living in an imperfect world.