I have only done this when I thought there was reasonable doubt about my possible victory. It makes it easier to live with myself, because I can attribute my loss to an action I controlled. In other words, I didn’t loose because someone else is better than me, I lost because I let it happen. I intentionally underperformed (knowing it could cost me the win), so that if/when I did not win I would have something to attribute the loss to, something that I understood and even controlled. I know it seems like I have created my own reality and a loosing one at that, but hear me out because there is more to this pattern than it might seem.

Sabotage for Control

The reality of my own sabotaged failure or loss, seemed easier to deal with than the possibility that I am actually not fast enough to beat the other guy – on the day. Because then I would have to face my own mortality and the possibility that I cannot….. you fill in the blank. Then I would have to stare stark reality in the face and acknowledge that there are some things or some people that can beat me at my own game. Some things that I cannot control, no matter how well prepared I believe I am. I’m not obsessed with winning, but I don’t like surprises and don’t like being shown up in the space that I claim as mine. After all isn’t winning the object of the game?

Value of a Reality Check

There are however, some very real advantages to getting an accurate check from reality. And by reality I don’t just mean the facts, but also the truth. Having an accurate understanding of your own abilities, talents and unique offerings and their influence on the surrounding culture is very helpful. Knowing the boundaries of your abilities individually and corporately helps you make a realistic and truthful assessment about your current position and most clearly identifies what needs to be done to strengthen your current position.

Getting a realistic, objective and accurate reading of your current position may not always be readily accessible but the market forces of competition will readily reveal what the customer thinks about your product and brand. Competing at 10/10ths in swimming competition and loosing, was the best way for me to get a quick indication of where my weak points were, so that I could work on them – not so that I could curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb because I lost an event.


When faced with the prospect of constantly improving competition it is usually more painful and helpful to give your best and lose because you will gain an accurate understanding of your opportunities for growth.  On the other hand, to hold back some portion of your abilities so that you will have an element (that you control) to blame when it fails later, may provide a sense of control but you forfeit the reality-check that spells out improvement.

Other observations I have made since then,
* the result may only be a reflection of truth for that day – not for my entire swimming career.
* it is better to fully commit and face the brutal reality of my capacity, than to live a self imposed lie, that fosters a false sense of control – setting me up for disastrous implications when multiplied over time.

Two questions then:

  • Might you have sabotaged your performance for the sake of control?
  • Do you have systems to watch for sabotage in you or your organization?