What makes a winner?

Before I begin on the three fundamental principles that make winners, let me state one thing: In life, only winners are rewarded. So the first requirement of winning is to be passionate about winning. To realize that a real win is one that is gained fairly, with integrity and without harming anyone. Only that is a win.

There are three fundamental drivers of all winners:

1. Drive for excellence
2. Compassion
3. Desire to leave a legacy

Drive for excellence emerges from the winner’s self-concept. A winner defines himself by his output. Her contribution is her signature. Winners are contribution oriented, not entitlement oriented. They constantly seek to give and to give more and better each time. Naturally this gives them profit, fame, honor and popularity but that is not why they do it. They do it because of who they are. Not because of what others say about them. I recall a carpenter who was making a table and asked me for 7 grades of sandpaper. When I complained about the time it would take, he said to me, ‘It is your choice. This is how I work. I want whoever sees your table to ask you, ‘Wow! Who made this?’ Not, ‘Who the hell made this?’ He was working for his own satisfaction. That this would result in a satisfied customer was incidental. He would have worked that way even if he had no customer to sell to. The table he made for me was of teak wood, polished to a mirror finish. A delight to see.

Compassion comes from a sense of connectedness that winners have. They realize that they are not alone in the world and that they became what they became because of what others did for them, without thinking of a return. Compassion is not merely to be concerned about the difficulties of others but to be concerned enough to put our money and effort where our mouth is. Compassion is what defines us as human beings. Animals don’t have compassion. A wildebeest herd stands and watches one of its members being eaten by lions and do nothing to help the one that was taken. It is peculiarly and essentially human to be concerned for the welfare of others. Winners are concerned and they act. Today our major problems that threaten the world are because of a lack of concern, a lack of compassion for others. We are singularly focused on growth at any cost. Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. Predatory growth results in environmental destruction, impoverishment of people for the enrichment of a few and increase in unrest and insecurity.

Legacy: Finally winners who have lived all their lives trying to create an impact on their environment don’t want to disappear beneath the waves without a trace. They like to leave a legacy of goodness that continues after they are gone. So they build organizations, systems and processes so that their work will continue. They spend time, energy and resources to train others, to teach them what they know, to share their life’s hard earned experience so that others don’t have to go through the same hardships to learn. Winners leave their mark on the hearts and in the lives of all those they touch. They don’t do this to be remembered but they are remembered because of what they did. For the world remembers us not for what we had but for what we did and how that helped them. The legacy of the winner is in the smiles of those who they helped.

Change the Script

We have reached a stage in our development (if I dare to call it that) as human beings where our world seems to run on hatred, not love. I think we all know the many reasons for this and how the flames are fanned. I remind myself and you that all fire burns and the result is always ash. It doesn’t matter why the fire was set. If it was set, it will burn everything that lies in its path and turn it to ash. Is this what we want with our lives? Ashes? If not, I have a solution and here it is.

“If you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got.
If you want to get what you never had, you have to do what you never did.”

Many times we find ourselves stuck in a negative cycle, especially with respect to certain people; parents, spouses, parents in law, friends; where with great regularity we find ourselves miserable, angry or otherwise in pain. Every time this happens we tell ourselves, ‘Never again. I will never let that happen again.’ But lo and behold we find that the next time around, in the same entirely predictable way we are enacting the same script all over again.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the play, ‘The Mousetrap’; the longest running play in London. It has been running for several decades. Naturally many of the original actors have retired. Some have died. Many new actors have come into the roles. But you know something; very strangely, the ending is always the same. Now isn’t that strange??

‘Ha!! Ha!!’ you laugh. ‘How can you call it strange?’ you ask. ‘After all the script is the same. So how can the ending be different?’

‘Ha!! Ha!! Indeed’, I say to you. ‘Apply the same logic to your life Sir. Remind yourself that if you want a different ending, changing actors is no use. You must change the script. See?’

Cut to your real life’s negative cycles – many people change actors. They get divorces, marry again, change jobs, change friends, cut off relations with parents (they can’t change those can they?) and so on. And a couple of years into the new relationship they find that the same problems have resurfaced. And they are surprised. I always tell them to go and watch ‘The Mousetrap’. Not perhaps for the usual reason but to drive home the point that the problem is not with the actors but with the script.

So, what can you do?

Well here’s my solution.

I call it my 3 – step solution:

  1. Stop dead in your tracks
  2. Take back the control into your own hands
  3. Then do the opposite of what you normally do

Stop dead in your tracks

Remember that until you are in the cycle, it will move in the same direction it always did. So, get off. Stop in your tracks. Break the cycle. How? Tape your mouth. Say nothing. Leave the room. Pretend you are having a heart attack. Go to the toilet. Knock over the water – do anything but don’t say that thing which is on the tip of your tongue. DO NOT REACT.

Take back the control into your own hands

DO NOT REACT: Remember that when you are reacting you are merely demonstrating that you are a puppet on a string. You are moving in whichever direction the puppet master pulls the string. So, break the string. Let him pull it whichever way he wants to. Since it is not connected to you, it will not affect you. Remind yourself that NOBODY CAN MAKE YOU FEEL ANYTHING. People do whatever they want to. YOU DECIDE HOW TO REACT. Stop reacting. Instead RESPOND. What is the difference?

Responding is what you consciously choose to do. Reacting is what someone else makes you do. So instead of reacting, respond. What does that entail? Well, for one thing, it requires that you stop (refer to step 1 above) and think about what is happening. Then it requires that you think of what the best way is, to deal with it. Not what is the ‘natural way’ or the ‘instinctive way’ but ‘the best way’

Remember that what is instinctive or natural is not always what is best. Emotional maturity is to act deliberately and consciously. To do what may not be natural but is wise, useful and productive. To do that, you have to ask yourself another question, ‘What is the result that I want from this interaction?’ Then do that which will get you that result. Not what you are dying to do to score some cheap point. So, stopping in your tracks is essential. Remember, anger is natural. Controlling it is not.

Then do the opposite of what you normally do

There is a famous story of President Harry Truman (I think it is about him. Forgive me please if I’ve got the wrong president) who was locked in an argument with someone. It got to a point that when he was about to say something, the other man said, ‘Don’t even bother. I know exactly what you will do.’ Harry Truman stood up, did a summersault on the carpet of the Oval Office and said, ‘I bet you didn’t think I’d do that?’ That broke the cycle.

Do the opposite. Suddenly hug your mother in law and kiss her. Maybe she will have a heart attack and your problem will be solved. Or even better she will see the error of her ways. Do the opposite of what you normally do. A good way is to be especially nice to those who are nasty to us. Be good to them. Serve them. Be especially thoughtful. And do it sincerely. That is important. Insincerity always shows up and causes more problems. Acting can’t be sustained. Be sincere. And be consistent. Don’t be nice only once. Be nice always. Not because of them but because of you. Make being nice your brand.

The Prophet Muhammadﷺ said, ‘I guarantee a palace in the middle of Paradise to the person who has the right but gives up his right for his brother.’ He said that because that is tough to do. Do the opposite. What is the best ‘opposite’ for you to do? Well, it is your life, see? So, think about it for yourself. One rule though – it must be the best that you can do. Not simply something to score points against the other person.

Because remember the fundamental rule? When life presents a problem for us to solve, if we solve it, we go ahead. If we don’t, the same problem will come back to us again and again until we solve it. Complaining changes nothing. The problem must be solved to show that we learnt our lesson. After all there is a reason for the problem to come in the first place, see? Nothing is without purpose. We need to graduate from one class to the next. Until we are in the same class, no matter how many schools we change, it is still the same class, same exams, same books, same lessons; until we pass the exam. Only then will we be permitted to move to a higher class. The sooner we demonstrate that we learnt our lesson, the sooner will be our graduation.

In conclusion, remember it is not about changing actors but about changing the script. You are the director. It is your play. But you are not the audience. So, you must act.