Since we’re based here in Silicon Valley, we’re witnessing firsthand the Warriors mania that is happening right now. The Warriors are up 3 games to none in the NBA Finals and have a chance to win it all tonight. They have shown themselves to be a historically talented team and put themselves in this position by pulling off an impressive come from behind win in game 3 after dominating the first 2 games.

What are the odds they will pull off a sweep in the finals against a very good Cleveland team tonight? From a motivational psychology perspective, the answer depends on how the Warriors look at this game and, really, what they focus on. Will they play not to lose or will they play to win?

If they focus on the fact that they have a 3 game lead and they don’t want to be the first NBA team in history to lose a series after going up 3-0, they have a good chance of losing tonight. However, if they view this game as an opportunity to make history by becoming the first NBA team to ever sweep the playoffs by going 16-0, they have a good chance of winning tonight. How do we know that? Researchers Geir Jordet and Esther Hartman found in a study that athletes performed way better when they felt challenged to rise to the occasion rather than feeling threatened to not blow it.

In the study, Geir and Hartman analyzed all penalty shootouts ever from the World Cup, the European Championships, and the UEFA Champions league. They compared successful attempts to unsuccessful attempts and found that when players were shooting to win, they were successful 30% more often than when trying to protect a lead. Players protecting a lead and fearful of not blowing it had completely different body language than players that viewed the shot as a chance to take the lead. It all depended on their perspective.  

Key Takeaway

In any situation, whether it be sports or in business, the simple practice of how you view a goal or competition can significantly increase your motivation and the possibility of accomplishment. Your performance will be much better by focusing on what you can gain by pushing harder and reaching further rather than what you can lose if you take risks. We’re just hoping that Kevin Durant’s motivation to make his 3-pointers tonight will be to make basketball history.