In a competition, we usually see two or more people, teams, or organizations facing-off. Often there are the favorites and there are the underdogs. Although movies would have you believe that the underdog usually wins, that wouldn’t make them the underdog now would it. Generally when it comes to these two going head-to-head, the winner wins.
Winners Win and Losers Lose
More often than not, those who have been winning will continue to win and those who have been losing will continue to lose. So why is this? Well depending on the type of event, the strongest,
smartest, or most clever will usually win. This is due to their competitive advantage being most relevant to the event at hand. Additionally, when one begins winning regularly, they also get use to winning. This leads to a feeling of confidence which is carried with you on to the field (or into the office).
However, the reason the underdog story is so well known and liked is due to the fact, every once in a while… they win.
Chip on the Shoulder
Being the underdog comes with a few advantages. First, no one expects much of you. Because of this, you are free to do what you want. Second, it helps drop the guard of your competition. Third, you walk around with a chip on your shoulder. This results in an even stronger desire to win, and often, that desire is the X Factor to winning. In fact, famed social media entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck recommends that you even fuck up on purpose just to acquire these benefits.
Additionally there is one major benefit to losing, but this comes closer to halftime than to the end.
Halftime Locker Talk
In many sports, when it comes to half time, the team that’s losing is most likely going to lose. However, there is one specific event that can actually increase the odds that the underdogs take the crown. This occurs when the losing team is down by only 1 point. In Invisible Influence by Jonah Berger, he discusses a study done on over 20,000 games played in the NBA over a 15 year time-span. This study showed that for every 2 points a team was losing by, the winning team was 7% more likely to win. However, at this 1 point mark, the losing team was 8% more likely to win! This study was later expanded to a controlled experiment where a similar outcome took place. It turns out that the underdog is often encouraged by this close margin and can actually benefit from this effect.
Finding those ahead of you can actually be motivating. However, you must be careful of who you are comparing yourself to.
The Losing Mindset
When it comes to losing, there is that small window where it can be hugely beneficial to be the underdog. Most of the time, however, this can be to your detriment. In situations where success starts to seem out of your reach, motivation can be sapped from you. At this point, competition can become demotivating and no longer an effective tool for boosting oneself up to fight the good fight. This can be seen when a team is down by a large margin at halftime where even the second string team begins to manhandle the opponents.
This isn’t just a warning for the underdogs either. Even winners can begin to psyche themselves out of the competition with the wrong mindset.
The Personal Handicap
When someone in a competitive situation has been the favorite for a long time, often this leads to high expectations. This pressure from the audience can actually begin to lead to a terrible situation. In sports, as I’m sure it is in business, when an MVP player is beginning to age out, they sometimes place a handicap on themselves. This can include drinking the night before a competition, or in business pushing back important meetings with clients. The reason for this is so that if the saboteur loses they have something to blame their loss on. This is bad enough in sporting events, but when it comes to business, this can be a devastation.
The Entrepreneur Mindset
There is something elemental that you can begin doing today in order to avoid these aforementioned pitfalls. Something so simple, but often neglected, is structuring one’s mindset. In Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The Psychology of Success, she discusses this groundbreaking idea that the way we think about ourselves can have a profound impact on what level of success we can reach in life. In this book she discusses the concept of the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset”. The fixed mindset believes our intelligence is an entity, something that exists within us when we are born and is unchangeable. The growth mindset believes that although we may start at different places, through incremental changes, we can improve our intelligence and therefore our limits.
With this new mindset, you can avoid the pitfalls of self-saboteur and gain the benefits of the underdog. Realizing that there is always someone who is stronger, faster, smarter, or more clever is no longer demoralizing. Instead, it shows the potential for which you can reach for if you simply put in the time and effort needed to reach it.