Former Lifehacker writer Patrick Allan once explained how to avoid being a sore loser at competitive games. It’s useful advice for anyone older than a toddler, but it might also be worth revisiting in order to apply his lessons to a higher-stakes context. Say, an election.
“A simple handshake or ‘well done’ completely shifts the spotlight to them,” says Allan. “That way, if you need to sulk, you can go do it on your own without drawing unwanted attention.” When John McCain lost the 2008 presidential election to Barack Obama, he not only congratulated the winner with a private phone call, he gave a speech that sought to rally his own supporters to the greater cause—the success and well-being of all Americans, not just those who vote for one party or the other—in an eloquent speech.
“You want to prove that you’re the best,” Allan says, “and that you deserve respect. This kind of thinking is hard to shake because it’s ingrained in your personality, but it can really get the best of you when things go south.” Especially when it comes to a presidential election, it’s important to think about the consequences should one candidate simply refuse to accept the results of a free and fair democratic process.
If Americans cannot trust the integrity of the electoral process—especially if outlandish claims or conspiracy theories are espoused with no or misleading evidence—it will harm the nation any more than it might help a single candidate. If you truly think you are the winner, there are legal processes you can follow—but obstructing the natural course of governmental succession with specious lawsuits just because you don’t like the results isn’t quite the same thing.
According to Allan, “Saying nothing is always better than saying—or doing—something you’ll regret later. If your anger is raging inside, leave the table, put down your controller, stand up from your desk, or take a seat on the bench. It won’t always look good to others, but it will look better than swinging your arms and screaming.” If you’re used to jumping on to social media to complain whenever things don’t go your way, now might be the time to shut your phone off.
“Being a graceful winner can help you avoid being a sore loser too,” says Allan. “If you can avoid gloating or talking trash when you happen to be victorious, the people you play against will probably return the same respect.” Of course, if you’ve got a history of being a sore winner, you can’t expect people to suddenly treat you with kid gloves the second you’ve been knocked off the pedestal. But maybe something to remember for the future?
You need to remember the point of it all, says Allan. “It’s okay to be competitive, and nobody ever said you had to enjoy losing, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. Winning and losing are just very small parts of the whole experience.” Again using the example of a presidential race—the winner of which is responsible for leading the country and setting an agenda that will impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people—it should go without saying that the stakes are far higher than comforting your own ego.
In conclusion, says Allan, “Losing is an opportunity to learn, to get better, and prove to others that a loss doesn’t shake you. Losing hurts because we fear that others will lose respect for us and our abilities, but if you can take your loss in stride, you’ll always gain respect no matter what.”
It’s important to learn how to lose, especially if you’ve got a lot more losing ahead of you.
This post was originally published in December 2017 by Nick Douglas and updated on Nov. 9, 2020 by Joel Cunningham to add updated context and a new header image, and to align the content with current Lifehacker style.