Jürgen Klopp and dragons: Fear of loss vs Desire to win

12 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

German football coach Jürgen Klopp once said:

“I do not believe that it’s the fear of losing, that makes you a winner. It’s rather the desire to win. … That desire lets you grow beyond your own possibilities. … It makes you strong.” (Jürgen Klopp)

I love that thought. It struck me the first time I heard it (they then went ahead and used it in a TV car commercial….) and I have used it on a number of occasions, on myself and others. Is this move motivated by a fear of loss or by a desire for gain? Surely, desire to win, a positive mindset, has more power than a negative one. If anything, the route to winning is much more enjoyable if I am focused on the trophy.

Seems rational, right? Something to motivate you in a positive sense should yield better results than its evil twin brother. My gut feeling suggested that theory to be supported by psychological studies. Well, not quite. To my own surprise, studies done on loss aversion all came to the same conclusion: that the fear of loss trumps the desire to win.

Say there are $100 and you have the choice between keeping $50 or gambling it with the chance of doubling the amount. Turns out, more people keep the $50 than take the risk of losing everything. Even more interestingly, when the question is framed negatively “you lose $50” the percentage is a lot higher than when it’s famed positively “you keep $50”. Regardless then of the possible alternative – of doubling your money.

Losing something you already have (especially when it’s framed that way) seems to have more power over you than gaining something new. That of course explains many marketing and sales slogans, that are to a large extent informed by motivational psychology. And while Jürgen Klopp’s statement of course resonates and makes sense on an intellectual level, when you honestly analyse your own behaviour and that of others, you find that many people actually do act out of fear of loss.

So many of us get stuck in dissatisfactory situations, in our personal and professional lives, but so few of us actually pro-actively do something about it. Or at least it can take a long time before we do something. Even when we know that a change could bring about something better. The fear of losing the known, the familiar, the safe, the “sparrow in the hand” versus trading it in for something uncertain, something new, for “two (birds) in the bush” (or in German: the pigeon on the roof).

If risk-taking hence is the more “unnatural” human behaviour, this then also explains why the big winners are so rare. Because winning big means risking big too.

I still think Klopp has a point and I think once you have risked something and you have gained something better than you had before, when you have made that exciting and thrilling experience, you are much more likely to do it again. To take a step into the unknown. We are habitual creatures after all and we learn a lot from experiences. But it’s that very first experience – that first crossroad moment, where you have to chose between the familiar and the unknown –  that will determine your future path, your future decisions.

From experience I can say that I have taken those risks on a number of occasions. I have left familiar situations without having the next step figured out. I have said yes or no to things that then lead me to uncertainty. I have gambled in that way. And every time so far, I eventually found myself in a better situation than I was in before. Perhaps that is why Klopp’s words resonate with me so much – they speak after my own heart. But if I am being fully honest with myself, it has sometimes taken me a long time to get to that point – I could have acted faster on some occasions. And it was the fear of loss, the fear of the unknown that has kept me from taking that one decisive step, even though I have never regretted taking a chance.

Unhappiness and fear limits and clouds or thinking in a way, similar to when we feel stress, that narrows our vision down to the basics. Such a state does not allow for creative thinking, for drawing positive images of the unknown. It rather shows us all the ways in which something can go wrong. The outlook of winning something, of a future where we have more than we have right now, is of course motivational, but it requires our mind to be open and flexible. It requires us to take a risk, to jump off the edge. To trust that there is a big IKEA ball pit underneath. Or a trampoline which will then propel us back up and take us even higher. Or a dragon that will catch us mid air and take us to unknown kingdoms. See, there are soooo many fun ways in which this jump can end well! You don’t meet a dragon on the street or in your office. To meet a dragon, you have to go on an adventure and meet them where they live. Ahhh, I love dragons.

Picture: Pixabay / CC0

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