To Judge Is To Fail

To Judge Is To Fail

February 22, 2019

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“I’m so good in practice.”

In the right mindset in the right environment with the right coach, a lot of us are joyful superstars when no one’s keeping score.

We learn easily and dominate effortlessly.

And then we play a match.

And it all goes wrong.

Why is everything so great in practice and so terrible in competition?

It comes down to one insidious thing.


We can’t stand to be judged.

It’s the reason we’re afraid of missing out (I’m not cool), the reason we crave Instagram followers (they like me!), and the reason we lose on purpose (I didn’t really lose if I didn’t really try).

There are very few judgments in practice. There’s no image to live up to. There’s only getting better and having fun.

Without the suffocating worry about what other people will think, we’re free to be as good as we actually are.

So how can we be at our highest level all the time? How can we free ourselves of judgment?

Here are some options:

  1. Don’t care what people think. This would definitely solve the problem. If we don’t care about them, we obviously don’t care about their judgments. But that’s easy to say and very hard to do. Especially in the smartphone era.
  2. Be the underdog. There’s a reason why the greatest competitors portray themselves as underdogs. For example, why did Rafa Nadal always say that Roger Federer was better than him (completely true), even when he was beating Federer almost every time (on clay only)? Because it kept the pressure off Nadal and on Federer. Because it always allowed Rafa to play his best. If you’re not supposed to win, why be afraid of losing? Hubris is a death sentence. Being an underdog is nirvana. If we convince ourselves and others that we’re not supposed to win, it’s easier to win.
  3. Focus on work, not results. In a study conducted on grade school children, we learned something interesting. After getting an A on a test, one group was told how smart they were. The other group was told how great their work ethic was. Fast forward a few years and the “smart” group of kids’ grades started falling. They started feeling the pressure of “being smart” and got scared they couldn’t live up to that image. They became fearful, starting hating that feeling, and thus stopped trying. Again, you can’t fail if you don’t try. Meanwhile, the “hard working” group thrived. Their grades maintained or got better. They loved taking tests because they loved trying to do the work to figure it out. There’s no failure if you work hard and get a B. You did your job. At the same time, there’s happiness in every new “A”.

Who we are in practice is who we really are.

If we get rid of the judgments, we can be that person all the time.

My book is called The Inevitability of Becoming Rich, and you can find that here.