Elite Athletes Use Defeat To Create Perpetual Motivation

And how you can copy their recipe for success.

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

The Kansas City Chiefs had just defeated the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship. While the Chiefs celebrated a second consecutive Super Bowl berth, Stefon Diggs — the Buffalo Bill’s top receiver — stuck around to watch from about 50 yards away.

Confetti rained from above. The few Chiefs fans who were fortunate enough to attend stuck around and got their money’s worth. Chiefs players, coaches, staff members, friends, family — they all embraced the moment.

Diggs did too.

Even from afar, you could feel his discomfort. He swayed and fidgeted as if he still had one more drive left to get them back in the game. He wanted to leave — but he wasn’t ready to. Diggs remained on the field until his head coach, Sean McDermott, reemerged from the locker room just to retrieve his star wide receiver and escort him off the field.

Stefon Diggs watches the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate; Photo by AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

From an individual standpoint, Diggs had a masterful 2020 season. He led the NFL in receptions and yardage, snagging 127 balls for 1,535 yards and 8 touchdowns. No Buffalo Bills player had ever accomplished this feat. This production helped the Bills make it back to the playoffs and secure their first playoff win since 1995. At the end of the day, Diggs should be proud of his 2020 production and accomplishments.

So, why would someone subject themself to the agony of watching their competitors revel in that coveted moment?

As torturous as it was to see his opponent celebrate, Diggs knew what he was doing. He forced his brain to process and store this painful but deeply emotional memory in the recesses of his mind. Why?

To create a source of perpetual motivation.

Emotional memories are everlasting

Emotional memories are our most vivid and enduring memories thanks to an almond-shaped mass of gray matter within our brains: the amygdala. According to the University of Queensland, “The amygdala boosts memory encoding by enhancing attention and perception, and can help retention by triggering the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, to boost arousal.”

In short, deeply emotional memories are tattooed to our subconscious.

Diggs repurposed this pain to his future advantage. He’s not watching just to see what he’s missing out on — he’s already mentally preparing for next season. He created a renewable source of motivational fuel. The image of watching Patrick Mahomes and his fellow Chiefs hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy is forever embedded in Diggs’ mind, and he’s going to use that to become an even better athlete.

This approach isn’t restricted to professional sports. We can apply this to our everyday lives.

You can replicate this method outside of sports

We can’t reproduce the high-stakes nature of an NFL playoff game — but we can mirror Diggs’ mentality and response to failure.

No matter who you are, you’re bound to face defeat in your life, and you’ll bear a heavy emotional weight as a result. Instead of folding, the Diggs’ approach would be to embrace the situation, convert the emotional burden into motivational fuel, and burn through it like a locomotive burns through coal.

How we act in the face of failure, doubt, ridicule, and rejection is arguably the most significant life skill we could ever possess. While that’s easier said than done, overcoming adversity is still a skill like any other — one we can improve with experience and repetition.

The Kansas City Chiefs left Arrowhead Stadium as AFC Champions, but Stefon Diggs has a champion’s mentality worth emulating.

Corporate banking drone turned freelance writer & editor. I write about personal finance, entrepreneurship, psychology, writing, and spontaneous allegories.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store