In any close contest, the line between winning and losing is thin.
In sports, it’s a few points that go to one team or another, a couple of plays that were close, a few steps between being ‘safe’ or ‘out.’
These few moments create one winner and one loser. They last, at most, a couple of minutes over the course of a few hour.
And yet the story we tell ourselves afterwards is about the whole contest: “this time it was different” or “I really showed him,” or “I can’t believe I blew it, I’m no good.”
In our desire to make meaning, our story dwarfs the fleeting moments that were the difference between winning and losing.
It’s the same thing with any close call—job interviews when you’re one of a few finalists, promotions that are right on the fence, a client who says yes or no to a big sale you’ve been working on.
If it was a tough decision, then a few small (maybe arbitrary) things made the difference.
This helps us remember that “I’m so [adjective]” statements aren’t the right conclusion in these situations.
Instead, try out “it was close, and I [did/didn’t] get it this time.”
This mindset helps us focus more on those few clutch moments, the specific, small thing that kept us from winning—this time. It also frees us from unproductive self-criticism (or unfounded self-praise), shrinking the emotion of both the win and the loss.
Then, instead of telling ourselves a big, unfounded narrative, we can get on with our important work of giving it our best shot the next time around.