Why playing to win is better than being a realist

I’ll cut to the chase: I’m about to press send on my book proposal.

I’ll cut to the chase: I’m about to press send on my book proposal.

I’ve spent the past few months laying out the format, tone and first chapter so that I could submit it to a publishing contest. First place gets a book deal with the publishing house hosting the contest. Second and third get self-publishing packages.

When I outlined the contest to the designer I hired to style my proposal, I told her, quite simply: Winning is the option.

From the second I began this grueling and rewarding process, I’ve approached it with the mindset that I’m playing to win. I plan to excel, to give it my all. And I let myself envision the outcome I want, daydreaming about the joy I’ll feel when I get first place—and that moment, in the future, when I’m asked to talk about my book on the TODAY show.

At the same time, I’m a realist. I recognize winning the lottery might be more likely than having a bestseller (one that results in national press, no less). But being practical isn’t nearly as helpful to my work as believing in possibility.

Here’s why I think you should play to win, too.

It makes the journey so much sweeter. This is, frankly, the most important reason to envision the future you want. It’s an instant mood-booster. And after all, if you don’t enjoy the journey, what’s the point? Believing the dream will become my reality is fun—so I won’t dim the light before I need to.

The quality of your work reflects your mindset. As you consider your own potential and the possibility of your success, notice how that changes—and ultimately improves—the work itself. Thinking about winning is much more motivating than thinking about how you’ll lose. When I imagine seeing my book on shelves, I want to work harder on it. I think the proposal reflects that.

The outcome will be what it will be. We can control how we approach our work and how much effort we put into it, but we can’t control how others receive it. I don’t know if the publisher is looking for my book. I don’t know who all will be reviewing it, what their life circumstances are or how many entries they have to read and in what amount of time. I have no control over the final word, so why not imagine it’s the one I want? The alternative would hurt no matter what, so I might as well fill these months with the joy of hope.

I hope, as you pursue your next big goal, you’ll let yourself dream about what it’s like to win big. I think you’ll have more fun along the way.

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