Why It’s Better to Finish 3rd Instead of 2nd

Quick question: Who’s happier when standing on the podium during the Olympics? The person who won the silver medal or the person who won the bronze medal?

You might be surprised by the answer to this question and the reason behind it. Buried in the answer to this question is a nugget of truth about our lives and the power of perspective.

Research has shown that the winner of the bronze medal is happier than the winner of the silver medal. The bronze medalist says, “I’m just happy to be on the podium.” There alternative is to not have a medal at all.

The silver medalist says, “What if? I was so close to the gold medal.” They focus on what happened that impacted them not being on the top step of the podium with the gold medal around their neck.

The bottom line idea here is the bronze medalist focuses on what they DO have while the silver medalist focuses on what they DON’T have, the gold medal.

There is actually a psychological concept for this phenomenon. It is called “counterfactual thinking”.

In order for us to understand our world, we often focus our attention on how things could have been different. We play scenarios in our head like, “What if I had another job?” or “What if I married a different person or went to a different school?” or “What if I had made that basket, caught that pass or scored that goal?”. We are very good at playing this game mentally.

Enough with psychology, but hidden within this concept is an explanation for why we think the way we do at times and why we lead the way we lead sometimes.

This is a powerful example of the power of perspective. What are you focusing on today? Are you focusing on all the things you don’t have, playing the “what if?” game over and over in your head? Or are you focused on the things you do have and leveraging all those things to make the world around you a little better?

To take it to another level, as a leader you are responsible for setting the tone/attitude within your team or organization. Do you take time out to celebrate the small wins or do you focus your attention on all the things your team didn’t do? There is a difference and there is an impact on team morale and ultimately team performance.

For me, this comes down to gratitude (see my blog on The Importance of Saying Thank You), staying grounded by practicing gratitude. This helps me pause and reflect on all the things I DO have and often I am overwhelmed by these things once I take time to really think about it.

Perspective and what we choose to focus on is a just that, a choice. Sometimes it’s better to finish in 3rd place instead of 2nd.

Discussion Question: What do you do to keep yourself from playing the “what if?” game and keep yourself focused on what you do have?

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One Response to Why It’s Better to Finish 3rd Instead of 2nd

  1. John Glisson says:

    Great perspective. Real, abiding contentment is such an amazing gift!

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