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Git Gud - Redefining winning and losing

(This post is part of the git gud series.)

Before we can talk about any type of strategies, we first need to address the concepts of winning and losing.

Your coach or your dad may have told you at one point in your life:

It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game

Now generally this was told to you right after getting clobbered by the other team, but this statement nonetheless rings equally true in regards to winning.

What is winning?

What does it mean to win? If you look at health bars, points or bases destroyed, winning a game simply means the conditions or set of rules required for one side to be deemed victorious has been met in your favor. A win, in a vacuum, does not imply anything about how the game was played.

We win some, we lose some. But without taking proper inventory after a win, a "win" can actually take us off our path of progress and distract us from our goals.

What is losing?

What does it mean to lose? If you look at health bars, points or bases destroyed, losing a game simply means the conditions or set of rules required for one side to be deemed victorious has been met but not in your favor. A loss, in a vacuum, does not imply anything about how the game was played.

Sound familiar?

If your view of winning and losing depends solely on whether the game has decided if you have won or loss, winning and losing are just two sides of the same coin and offer very little insight.

Redefining winning and losing

Before you can improve and break beyond the plateau, you have to redefine what it means to win and what it means to lose. Life bars, victories, points - none of that matters anymore. You must learn how to set goals other than simply winning the game if you want to eventually start winning the game.

Your habits are everything

So we've established that "winning the game" is no longer winning. So what is winning? When progression beyond an average level of skill is the goal, to truly win is to incrementally build good habits and incrementally break bad habits.

In other words,

  • You win by implementing and reinforcing good habits.
  • You win by breaking bad habits.
  • You lose by failing to implement good habits.
  • You lose by failing to break bad habits.

As you can see, habits are important - both in real life and in your gameplay. (Some say that your gameplay is simply a manifestation of your inner world. I, too, believe this.)

What exactly are good habits and what are bad habits? That depends both on your current level of play and your game of choice. Later in this series we will learn how to derive habits relevant to your game from principles universal to competition.

But for now, the most critical step to take on your path towards high level play is to evaluate wins and losses relative to how well you practiced strengthening a specific new habit or how well you practiced breaking an old habit.

Incremental progress

Real progress takes time because building habits takes time and unlearning bad habits takes time. It is important to aim for incremental progress - small victories that eventually accumulate to sizable change. If you set overly ambitious goals too quickly you will ironically not progress as fast as you would like.

I would encourage you to work on building one good habit or breaking one bad habit at a time. Choose goals that are realistic to obtain but still require you to push yourself.

This is all easier said than done. It requires extreme mental discipline to begin a habit-based approach to evaluating your gameplay. Why? Because you must ignore all distractions, including the losses you will initially incur by not focusing on "winning".

Make peace with the incoming losses

  • It's not whether you win points or lose points, it's how you play the game.
  • It's not whether you are bronze / silver / gold / platinum / diamond / master, it's how you play the game.

In order to drill this truth into your head, you must accept that you are going to lose a LOT while you are trying to rewire your brain for high level play. We have a lot bad of habits to undo here, and these are bad habits that your play relies upon. Also, we have a lot of good habits to introduce here, and these are habits you currently do not have and will have to concentrate on. With all of these new mental processes you are about to take on, you will lose a lot.

So go ahead and prepare yourself for this.

  • Prepare to lose vs lower ranked players
  • Prepare to feel tempted to revert to old habits to try and win a round
    • Resist this temptation - it's just another distraction
  • Prepare to drop a league or even two

But remind yourself that it is temporary, and you will come back to your current rank stronger than ever with a strong mind and a new perspective.

Go Win and Go Lose

Every new round of your game is a new opportunity to test yourself and your relationship with your habits. You will win some and lose some even against just your habits. But these are wins and losses that are easy to measure and easy to understand. If you continue to focus solely on one habit at a time, you will begin to consistently win against that habit. You will grow stronger as a result, and you will observe the fruits of deliberate practice.

(This post is part of the git gud series.)

Date published - November 14, 2020