Silver Medal Face

May 28, 2021

Below is a picture of the US Men’s hockey team during their Silver Medal ceremony at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

It is fascinating to think that finishing 2nd would bring such demoralizing feelings.

There was a study done where you had to guess which person looked happy in pictures of Olympic medalists receiving their awards.   Without being able to see the medal, the results were consistent.  The silver medalists were deemed the least happy.

Both gold and bronze winners were more likely to display a different type of smile - a Duchenne smile - which are more associated with positive emotions.

I personally can attest to the fact that I relive and reflect on those experiences where I got close to winning an award or a race and yet don’t do the same for those where I wasn’t even close.

How we perceive our achievements seems to matter more then the actual achievement itself.

To illustrate, imagine the following scenario:

During your performance review you get a 20% raise and you are thrilled.  Then you find out someone on your team got a 25% raise.   Somehow the excitement has just waned!

In the case of silver medalists, their focus (at that moment) is on how they didn’t win gold whereas the bronze medalist focuses on the thought that they might not have won a medal at all.

This is called counterfactual thinking – comparing our objective achievements to what might have been!

We have all been there.  Just missing a goal hurts.  Even though the outcome is the same, it seems odd that it is more painful to lose by a close margin than a wide one!

We stew over what we could have done differently, as if we could somehow change the past.

Coping with losing is a skill set we can all improve upon. Learning to deal with things that don’t go our way is the key to rebounding and regret can be a way to leverage the loss into a motivation to improve.

The takeaway isn’t strictly that Bronze medalists are objectively worse off and yet more pleased with themselves.

It is also that Silver Medalists have an opportunity to move past regret by trying to think more objectively about the experience of not winning.  Finishing 2nd is a great result that can bring a stressful experience.    When you recover from it, you usually grow stronger as a result.  

Being a “gold medal loser” is a failure that opens the door to new ideas and new behaviors. When you recover you develop resilience or post traumatic growth!

The process of questioning ourselves is HOW we build resilience.  We ask ourselves questions like – I’m not the best so therefore who am I?  The question alone prompts learning and a growth mindset.

As you build the skills to recover from experiences of failure, managing them becomes easier because you have a system.   In turn, you will take more risks knowing you have this built in resilience.

Resilience is a learned trait – it is mindset and behaviors!

The next time you see someone or yourself with Silver Medal Face, you will be thinking:  “This is a moment of adversity” and ask yourself questions such as:

·       Am I being objective?  What positive can I take from this?

·       What resources can I draw from to create a new mindset?

·       Everyone experiences failure - what can I learn or do differently to create post traumatic growth?

Enjoy the long weekend,


Regret is a really interesting emotion. Even though we regret actions we took or didn’t take in the past, that regret can change our decisions about the future. And sometimes regretting poor choices can help us learn and improve.  Katie Milkman
Everyone has a right to have a present and future that are not completely dominated and dictated by the past Karen Saakvitne

Karl Choltus

Deep thinking Canadian sharing thoughts created in the shower.