If You Want to Win, Don’t Focus on Winning

Goal Setting to win

We all want to win. We all want to get the feeling of feeding an opponent, the feeling of getting ahead, the feeling of winning. But in this article I’m going to talk about my perspective on how focusing on winning most of the time actually is not optimal for winning. And at the end of the article I’m going to talk about the few times it’s reasonable to focus on winning first.

Everyone Wants to Win

Every athlete, every team, in every competition – all of them wants to win. So wanting to win can’t be the main factor that differentiates winners from losers.

James Clear talked about this too. He had this great question: If you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results? I think you would, he said. And I agree.

If you played sports, you probably heard the saying “the results will take care of itself.” The three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh said something similar: “The score takes care of itself.”

In other words, focusing on winning doesn’t matter because it will take care of itself. Focusing on winning is not included in the equation. The only thing that matters is that you focus on taking the right actions – that will get you the results.

Winning is for the short-term and learning is for the long-term.

Winning is Not the Main Differentiator Between Winners and Losers

To give you an example of this concept, I’ll talk about my experience with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is a fight sport. This concept can be applied to all other areas.

The guy that focuses on winning is probably going to win more but that’s only in the short term.

Focusing on Winning Doesn’t Matter Because Results Will Take Care of Themselves

To learn something new, to learn a new technique, you will have to first put yourself in situations where you’re able to apply that technique, where you’re able to learn that technique. And by doing this you’re risking putting yourself in situations where you will lose and you will fail.

And if you’re the guy that focuses on winning you’re not going to want to do this. So you’re not going to be able to learn new things and new techniques.

Example: My Experience with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Second of all, the guy that focuses on winning is going to rely more on his strength than his technique. A lot of the times in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you’re going to be put in situations where you can either use more strength to submit someone or you can use better technique.

And if you’re new, using more strength probably going to be a higher percentage for you to finish or submit your opponent. And because your focus is on winning you’re going to use strength.

What you don’t realize is that in the long term, the guy that focused on better technique, his submission rate is going to be way higher than yours because he has better technique and he hasn’t even applied his full strength yet.

The Guy Who Focuses on Winning Will Win More in the Short Term

Another concept that comes in when we talk about focusing on winning versus focusing on learning is the concept of external reward versus internal reward.

As I’ve said earlier, the guy that focused on winning is probably going to win more in the short term. In other words, he’s going to get more external rewards. And he’s going to think back to how he got this reward – he got this reward by not putting himself in situations where he could lose, and he got this reward by applying more strength than technique.

So he’s going to continue to do those actions. By winning and by getting external reward, ironically he’s going to reinforce bad actions and ultimately bad habits.

The Guy Who Focuses on Winning Won’t Put Himself in Situations Where He Can Learn

To become the guy that focuses more on learning you have to realize that if you managed to put yourself in situations where you were able to apply new techniques and learn, you’ve actually won even though you might have lost that round. Even though externally it didn’t look like you gained something, you have to realize that you’ve won. You have to internally reward yourself.

The Guy Who Focuses on Winning Will Rely More on Strength Than Technique

Concept: External Reward Versus Internal Reward

By focusing on winning, you reinforce bad habits. By focusing on learning, you reward yourself internally.

By Focusing on Winning, You Reinforce Bad Habits

Lastly, let’s talk about when I think it’s reasonable to actually focus on winning first.

I think it’s very reasonable to do it now and then just to feel what it’s like – feel what it is like to use 100% your strength and speed, feel what what it’s like to let your subconscious take care of your techniques while your conscious is 100% focused on winning.

By Focusing on Learning, You Reward Yourself Internally

When It’s Reasonable to Focus on Winning

The second time I think it’s reasonable to focus on winning is in important competitions. Note that I’m saying important competition and not all competition.

To give you an example of this, I participated in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition and my focus at that time was on winning. As a consequence of that I went down a weight class and I won.

But looking back at it now I would have changed my focus to learning. By focusing on learning I wouldn’t have gone down a weight class, I would have competed at a heavier and more competitive weight class even though my chance of winning would have gone down.

The reason I would have changed my focus to learning is because that competition was really not that important and my future competitions are going to be more important. And I would argue that the experience that I would have gotten from competing in a heavier, more competitive weight class would have been of a lot more value than competing at an easier weight class even though I would have won.

Feel What It’s Like to Use 100% Strength and Speed
In Important Competitions (Not All)
Example: My Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Competition Experience

I would change my focus to learning for most competitions rather than always trying to win. The experience of challenging myself is more valuable for my long-term progress than some short-term wins that don’t really matter.

####### I Would Change My Focus to Learning for Most Competitions

So in summary, focusing on winning can be useful now and then, especially for important competitions. But most of the time, you want to focus on challenging yourself and learning rather than being obsessed with the outcome.

If you focus on getting better every day, the wins will come as a natural result. As the saying goes: “The score takes care of itself.”

The desire to win is inherent in all of us. But Counterintuitively, focusing too much on winning can hold us back from fulfilling our potential. By fixating on results, we limit our ability to take risks and challenge ourselves. The path of mastery requires falling down seven times and getting up eight.

Progress happens when we focus on the process, not the product. Learn voraciously. Experiment boldly. Measure often. And let the results speak for themselves.

This article is inspire from Outperform


  1. Should you always focus on winning? No, focusing only on winning promotes short-term gains at the expense of long-term development. The path of sustained excellence requires risk-taking and resilience.
  2. When is it OK to focus on winning? It can be useful to focus fully on winning during important competitions. But most growth happens incrementally through practice, failure, and renewed effort.
  3. What should you focus on instead of winning? Focus on learning skills, refining techniques, and measuring small improvements. With an emphasis on progress over outcome, winning emerges as a natural byproduct.
  4. How do you balance winning and learning? Maintain a primary emphasis on learning and development. Then shift focus to winning selectively for milestone events without losing that growth mentality.
  5. What’s an example of focusing on winning backfiring? Over-relying on natural strengths limits the incentive to fix weaknesses. The better path is to intentionally put oneself in uncomfortable situations in service of growth.

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