Newsletter #492 – Wining Without Trophies

This week perhaps you’ve heard interviews with Olympic competitors who didn’t win a medal. What happens now, both to these disappointed competitors as well as to the athletes who reached their goals and won? How will their experiences in London impact the rest of their lives? Last week we looked at The Only Way to Win by performance psychologist Jim Loehr who works with Olympic athletes and Fortune 100 executives, among others. His experiences as a trainer and researcher shed light on the long-term effects of winning and losing.

Leohr notes that athletes, business people and professionals are motivated by extrinsic and intrinsic values. Extrinsic values motivate us by external rewards including trophies, medals, impressive résumés and other evidences of success. These bring affirmation and adrenalin surges, but when they fade we keep pushing for more. Sometimes this drive for success leads to cheating, substance abuse or other self-defeating behavior. One of Loehr’s clients wrote about being addicted to achievement, never satisfied with her accomplishments, always striving for more. This leaves us feeling empty when we fail to win or reach the time to retire from the competitions.

In contrast, people characterized by intrinsic values are equally motivated to win but they have “moral character strengths” like a determination to do well, loyalty to team members, honesty, gratefulness, integrity, respect for others, trustworthiness, and a desire to make the world a better place. “I’m very disappointed I came in seventh,” one athlete told an interviewer. “But I qualified for the Olympics, helped my team-mates and did my best.” Loehr’s research impressively demonstrates that life overall is more fulfilling, even for high intensity competitors, when internal moral values are deeply ingrained.

How are such values imbedded? Much depends on coaches, parents, teachers, mentors, business leaders and our own determination.We start by writing mission statements about what we want our lives to accomplish, maybe what we’d like on our tombstones. Then we live out, model and affirm what we believe.

Sportswriter Jeffrey Mark once wrote a New York Times bestseller about a high school football team and coaches that focused on character-building and making right choices. Season of Life is a true story that I often give to young athletes, parents and coaches. Please leave your comments.


  1. I agree with your praise of “Season of Life” as an example of how Joe Ehrmann taught intrinsic values to young men. I believe presenting a clear definition of manhood and modeling this develops character leading to contentment.


  2. Hello Gary,
    I wanted to say thanks for sharing these weekly thoughts. I often pass them on to others. You have been an inspiration to me as a counselor educator, supervisor and coach. This newsletter is especially noteworthy — it is tempting to seek extrinsic rewards. Yet the intrinsic motivation is much more long lasting. I know you live by the principles outlined in this newsletter, a great model for us to follow! My prayers are with you today.


  3. Matthew 16:26:”What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Achievement without fulfillment is probably the ultimate failure of life, isn’t it?! Thanks so much for clarifying it, Gary!


    1. Allen, It was so good to read your reply. Just think, less than a week ago you did not even know this newsletter existed — or that I existed. Thanks for your note and your graciousness to Julie and me at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit last week. I hope we can keep on contact.


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