Wanting to Win vs Wanting to Give 100% Effort

Last week I talked about the inner game vs the outer game. It can be a complicated topic, so I want to talk more about it, specifically about balancing two different motivations: the motivation to win and the motivation to give 100% effort. Balancing these 2 motives and knowing when to shift your attention from one to the other is a key to peak performance.

The reason why you should want to give 100% effort is because this helps you win (it is also a reward in itself.) Your chances of winning are maximized when you give 100% effort. Winning is a byproduct of effort. So shouldn't you just always focus on giving 100% effort and never worry about winning/results? This sounds good in theory, but it doesn't always work out well in reality. This is because you need the motivation of winning to motivate yourself to give 100% effort. Giving 100% effort is hard and uncomfortable. Thinking about winning reminds you to keep pushing through. Intrinsic motivation isn't always enough to give 100% effort all the time. Together, these two motives can work in a circular way to maintain maximum effort. You should want to give 100% effort because this helps you win, and you should want to win because this helps you give 100% effort.

Secondly, it is not always easy to know whether or not you are actually giving 100% effort. You need some sort of objective feedback to judge your effort. The scoreboard can help give you this feedback. If you are losing, this may indicate that you are not giving 100% effort. You should also know what your normal performance results are when you give 100% effort. For example, if you normally score 20 points per game (in basketball) when you give 100% effort, but you only have 4 points at halftime, then this may indicate that you're not giving 100% effort. You can use this feedback to monitor/increase your effort level. You can't just rely on your subjective sense of effort level. Too many times, athletes "feel" they are giving 100% effort, but they aren't. Many athletes deceive themselves and say they're giving 100% effort to make themselves feel good. They don't want to admit that they aren't giving their best effort. You need to be very critical in your judgement of your effort level, so you need to use both objective an subjective feedback.

Those are two of the benefits of the motivation to win and thinking about the score during games. However there can be many bad consequences of only thinking about the motivation to win. First of all, if you think only about winning and don't think at all about your effort level, then you will tend to only give as much effort that is needed to win. For example, if you're play an average opponent, you may only give slightly above average effort to try to win. This is the path of least resistance. It is like trying to win while using the least amount of effort possible. It is trying as hard as is needed to maintain a 1 point lead over your opponent at all times. As long as you win, nothing else matters, you may think. The problem with this is that it isn't always enough effort in order to win. You may think you only need to play with 75% effort in order to beat a specific opponent, but you may be surprised that it isn't enough. You may maintain a slight lead for most of the game, but then during the last few minutes of the game, something unexpected could happen (such as luck) and your opponent could take the lead and win. If you focus on giving 100% effort, you don't need to worry about this happening. If you give 100% effort, you will give yourself more margin for error and will still win even if something unexpected happens. You should give 100% effort, just in case, to guarantee that you'll win, even if you don't think you need to give 100% effort. The path of least resistance approach also doesn't help you improve as much as giving 100% effort. You should play not just to win, but also to improve.

Secondly, only thinking about winning increases nervousness, which increases your chances of choking. You can't entirely control your chances of winning. Even if you play well, your opponent may play better and beat you. Winning is an uncertainty. This uncertainty causes you to get nervous. You may think "What if I lose? I'll be sad/mad." This makes you nervous which can hurt your performance. If you focus instead on giving 100% effort, which you can control, which isn't an uncertainty, you will be less nervous and will play better. Thinking "I just want to play my best. Whether I win or lose, if I give 100% effort, I'll be happy" is a great way to reduce your nerves. Remember, if you give 100% effort, and still lose, there is nothing more you could have done. You have nothing to regret. You simply lost to a better opponent who deserved to win. There's nothing to be mad/sad about in these cases.

Focusing only on winning also makes it harder to control your emotions. You are more likely to get angry or sad when you're losing, and these negative emotions can hurt your performance. Furthermore, if winning is all you care about, and you believe you have no chance of beating a specific opponent, you are more likely to give up against them and you're also more likely to avoid challenging yourself against tougher competition. When you focus on giving 100% effort, you become more emotionally stable and are less afraid of challenges.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to both of these motivations. Neither one is better than the other. They complement each other. You need both of them to gain the pros of each and counter the cons of each. The challenge is knowing how to balance these two motivations in games. There are two ways to do this. You can want both of them at the same time. You can keep telling yourself "I want to win, and in order to win, I need to focus on the process." Or you can focus on one and then shift your attention to the other. You can tell yourself "I really want to win" and then later say "Ok, now that I'm motivated, let's just focus on giving my best effort."

The key is to know at which moments do you need which kind of motivation. There are some moments when you'll need to think about winning, and there are some moments when you'll need to think about the process (giving 100% effort). If you sense yourself not giving 100% effort, then you may need to motivate yourself by thinking about winning. If you're starting to feel nervous, you may need to focus on giving 100% effort. You need to be constantly aware of your thoughts/motives and how they are affecting your performance.

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