That’s the word that properly captured how I’d survived the last four years. Odd jobs, coaching, teaching, writing, speaking, volunteering, connecting, and single mothering had all begun to take a toll on me. It felt as though I was losing on all fronts. The more I moved the more my life of sinking sand pulled me under. Obsessed with escaping this perpetual cycle of frail emotions and faltering finances, finding a plausible solution was all I talked about.

“Do you see what you are doing?” He asked cautiously as I continued to ramble on about how I should have seen this, should have done that, shoulda, coulda, woulda.

“No. What do you mean?” I paused putting my head in my hand.

Shifting his weight he gave it to me straight, “You never let yourself win.”

It was true and it was painful. Winning has always been important to me. One of the first quotes I memorized as a child was, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” In tennis, it isn’t just the winning that is so highly valued, it is the way you win.

A young tennis player never knows what lays ahead when they triumphantly leave the court. A post match conversation with a coach/parent may contain the following:

You won BUT it was not fast enough.

You won BUT the margin was not large enough.

You won BUT you played not to lose rather than to win.

You won BUT look how tired you are, you should have trained harder last month.

You won BUT

With all this ugly winning you’d think I, at my grown adult age, would be able to recognize this mindset’s glaring flaws. In my world though, these kinds of thoughts were normal, comforting even. This script had served me well until, well, it didn’t.

When we allow ourselves to win without condition true success is activated in the form of peace. 

Pointing out the flaws in a win can be helpful but it is not necessary. In his book “Winning Ugly” famed tennis coach Brad Gilbert captures the problem with self criticism in two sentences: “When you get down on yourself—start beating yourself up mentally—there are now two players on the court trying to take you down. And one of them is you.” In other words, when we refuse to acknowledge that we won and then say “BUT” we are adding to the list of obstacles. So in addition to all you have to face in your daily life, YOU are now one of your greatest enemies.

Winning in sports is often superficial and fleeting. Winning in life is the difference between thriving or having your Maslow’s incinerated. So how do you win ugly?

1.Define Winning

Rather than impulsively comparing ourselves to others or thinking goal achievement is winning, stop and think about three task areas you can win today. The more precise and simple the better. There are days my list includes: kids to bed before 9:00 pm, using the restroom without an audience, and “sweating in my creases.” While I may not have won the day, I did collect a few “W’s” along the way.

2. Recognize The “W”

After you win, take a moment to say “Wow, I did the damn thing.” As a stay at home mom my housekeeping, cooking, and caregiving went completely unnoticed, “oh wow, the way you folded that laundry was just next level” said no-one ever. While it may be small and perhaps even silly, take a second and give yourself some recognition. “I’m impressed with how I scraped that slime off the table, I’d normally let it sit there until it dried…handling things like a BOSS.”

3. Reset

It simply does NOT matter what the win looks like, it’s the fact that you won. You won wearing mismatched socks when you worked out because you worked out. You won when you showed up thirty minutes late to your friend’s party, you showed up. You win even when the bank account says you lose because well, you worked for that paper anyways.

The moment I stopped robbing myself of the joy of winning ugly my life changed. Learning to enjoy the ugly win can take time but it is worth the investment. When we allow ourselves to win without condition, true success is activated in the form of peace.

Winning isn’t about being pretty. Winning isn’t about being perfect. Winning is about giving your best and being okay with the outcome. Winning, even if ugly, deserves our respect.

Want to see if coaching is right for you? Email me at [email protected] to schedule a 15 minute call.

Jennifer Magley is a former professional athlete, speaker, author, and high performance coach. Article originally appeared on www.magleyjennifer.com/blog More information can be found at www.magleyjennifer.com and videos on YouTube.