by Michael Plank

“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Most of the time when we say that, we’re trying to comfort a kid who’s sad about the playground kickball game – something that doesn’t matter, right? But what happens when you’re the one who loses? When you miss a PR attempt or level down or hit a weight loss plateau or get injured? What does “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” even mean when it’s real life?

What it means is this: winning and losing are outcomes. And outcomes are always largely outside of your control. Maybe your job has been short staffed this week. Maybe you just had a death in the family and you’re not focused. Maybe you have a medical issue that you didn’t know about. Maybe you were in a car accident. All those things will impact whether you win or lose, whether you get the outcome you want or you don’t. And all of those things are outside of your control.

It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose because you can’t actually control whether you win or lose. The only thing you can control is how you play the game: you can control your attitude, your effort, your consistency. You can control whether or not you show up to practice week in and week out. You can control how much your care for yourself when things don’t go your way. You can control how much you let it affect the ways you show up for your family and your friends.

In archery, great coaches spend years on shot execution: all the things that happen while the bow is drawn but before the arrow flies – things like grip, elbow position, breathing, and hand position. Great archery coaches don’t even look at the target, they only watch the athletes. You know why? Because once that arrow flies off the string there is nothing you can do to alter its course. The outcome is up to God. You can only do your best with what you have in your hands at this very moment.

The real test – the day-in-day-out test of any challenging practice from CrossFit to yoga to painting – is how will you keep showing up on the days when things inevitably don’t go your way? That is “how you play the game.” And that is what matters. Not whether you win or lose. Not whether you make a lift or miss it. Not whether you are down 2 more pounds or stuck for another week. But how you show up for yourself and how you show up for people around you. That’s the thing that makes you better. And that’s the thing that makes the journey worth it.