Newsletter #491 – The Only Way to Win

Jim Loehr is a “performance psychologist” who has worked with numerous world-class performers in sports, business, medicine, the military and other fields. Two of his earlier books – The Power of Full Engagement and The Power of Story—influenced  me a lot and I have just finished reading his latest, The Only Way to Win. Loehr draws on numerous research studies and his work with Olympic athletes and Fortune 100 executives, among others, to show that winning gold medals, fame, championships and money does not bring lasting happiness. Most people might not be surprised by this—maybe including many who are striving for medals in London this week.

What does bring lasting happiness? The answer includes having positive relationships, connection to others, spiritual commitment and meaning, marriage, a lasting sense of gratitude, optimism, generosity, inner hope, control and extroversion. To experience ongoing happiness not all of these need to be present. Neither is there anything innately wrong with pursuing gold medals, championships or other trappings of success.

Nevertheless, too often we teach our kids, employees, students and ourselves that finishing first, making a big impact, or beating out the competition are the only ways to win in life. For this many sacrifice their health, families, relationships and even their lives. Loehr’s book describes prominent people (and others who are unknowns) who fall into this cycle: sacrifice everything in the pursuit of winning, experience the achievement, but then feel dissatisfaction and emptiness. The result is a new push for achievement and the cycle repeats itself. Can you think of people who live this kind of life?

The subtitle of The Only Way to Win summarizes the author’s major message and recommendation that “Building Character Drives Higher Achievement and Greater Fulfillment in Business and Life.” Winning competitions and winning at life both come to those who have learned “moral character strengths” including integrity, trust, compassion, kindness, gratitude and persistence. Loehr’s book shows how coaches, parents, teachers and leaders can help others avoid building their lives on the values imposed by the culture but that ultimately do lifelong harm.

We’ll have more on this next week but please leave a comment this week.


  1. Last night during a church-league playoff softball game, while taking a throw at second base after a grounder to short, I was taken out on a hard slide by the runner trying to advance from first with two outs. We’d just scored eight runs in the bottom of the previous inning to knot the score, but any hopes of a comeback win dwindled soon thereafter as our weary pitcher gave up hit after hit. The other team scored a whopping 10 more runs before we finally secured an out.

    And then I was taken out by the hard-charging runner. My first inclination was to jump up and cry foul in protest of the blatant hit. My teammates certainly weren’t happy, reminding me that such an aggressive play wasn’t necessary considering that the other team had built a substantial lead. But reason won out and flared tempers ebbed.

    Across the infield my two boys looked on from the nearby dugout. Luke, 7, and Joshua, 5, had seen the entire incident. As the dust settled my boys bolted upright, their lean bodies angling toward second base trying to catch a glimpse of the play, wondering how I’d weathered the impact. Incredulously, I’d hug on to the softball. Sitting there I shook my head before tossing the softball from my mitt. And then I got up, accepted the runner’s meek apology, and jogged back toward the dugout.

    My Joshua hugged me and offered me a kiss, sensing that I’d been hurt by the ill-advised slide. “You okay, Papa?” Joshua asked. “Yeah, I’m alright,” I answered. “Did you hang on to the ball?” Luke asked. “Sure did,” I answered, and then explained how sometimes baseball players get run over trying to get a force-out at second. They seemed to understand.

    More importantly, they saw how a drive to win and get vindication didn’t win this time. Instead, they had a front-row seat to my calm demeanor and nonchalant attitude. Building character last night took restraint as well as a realization that living a life of integrity, compassion, and kindness will pay dividends in the lives of my boys. Even in a church softball game.


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