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How to not be a sore loser, even when board games are your chief form of entertainment

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsApril 15, 2020

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A lot of people are using this time of social distancing to better themselves in big ways by setting big goals, and that’s cool; I applaud that. I, however, seem to be leaning into my ultra-competitive Aries ways by playing way more board games than I normally do, and I’ve started embracing each instance of play as an unnecessarily high-stakes competition. With such little breaking up one day from the next right now beyond ongoing and distressing updates related to the COVID-19 crisis, it’s hard not to let results of a game of Monopoly or Yahtzee momentarily affect my sense of self-worth. But still, it’s not a cute look, and I could clearly use some help learning how to not be a sore loser. The last thing I need right now is for my boyfriend to break up with me by spelling out “BYE” across the Scrabble board.

Luckily, a pro tells me that my behavior shift likely doesn’t mean that I’m destined for a lifetime of huffing and puffing over Scattergories scoring disputes. “Competitiveness can be either a trait, a permanent part of someone’s personality; or a state, something you feel only on certain occasions,” says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. So if you, like me, wouldn’t normally define yourself as a cutthroat creature, yet you suddenly find yourself completely negatively consumed by, I don’t know, euchre, these two different flavors of the competitive trait might explain what’s going on and a number of reasons it’s happening right now.

“Competitiveness can be either a trait, a permanent part of someone’s personality; or a state, something you feel only on certain occasions.” —Aimee Daramus, PsyD

“The current crisis could be pulling competitiveness out of people for a few reasons,” says Dr. Daramus. “One is survival. People feel scared and out of control, so some of us might find our survival instincts are kicking in and urging us to run faster, climb higher, and do what takes to win. Some people…don’t have a healthy outlet for it, so a core part of their lives is missing right now.” Ah, yes, this explains a lot: We’re all just trying to do the best we can—and board games are no exception.

But still, just because we can explain bad behavior doesn’t necessarily excuse it. Get expert tips below for how to not be a sore loser.

Read on for a psychologist’s 5 tips for how to not be a sore loser who comes out of quarantine with zero friends.

If you consistently find yourself being a sore loser right now, Dr. Daramus says a great potential solution is to try and surround yourself with people who are equally competitive and, thus, likely understand where you’re coming from. But, since there’s a good chance you didn’t happen to choose your quarantine crew based on their competitiveness compatibility with you, there are at least five strategies you can employ to keep your home from becoming a battleground.

1. Consider whether your competitiveness is coming from a suppressed emotion

Maybe you think you’re mad that your partner checkmated you in the first 10 minutes of your chess match, but what you’re actually upset about is that they didn’t throw in your load of laundry with theirs. In this case, Dr. Daramus suggests taking a moment to journal and touch base with yourself before the next game begins.

Also, check in with the people you care about in order to process your true feelings. “Video conference with friends and support each other. See if you’re feeling insecure about anything that might be fueling the need to win. If you’ve taken a big loss lately, you might be seeking a win to compensate, so deal with your feelings about the loss,” says Dr. Daramus.

2. channel your competitive urges online—with bots or complete strangers

“Another option is to channel your competitive urges. Find someplace where other competitive people are gathering, like a multi-player video game or the leaderboards on Duolingo. One of the biggest differences between healthy competition and toxic competition is who you’re playing with. Try to throw down hard only with people who want to play the same way,” says Dr. Daramus.

3. Use your competitive nature to motivate yourself

Maybe with whatever outside time you do have, you could use to train for a marathon. Or spend couch time learning how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Or spend kitchen time mastering the subtle art of baking bread.

4. Have an honest conversation with your board-game partner

Cut to me, sitting in my boyfriend’s living room, explaining, “I don’t know—I’ve just always been like this. Please don’t take it personally—I just need to be left alone for a solid 12 hours after you beat me at anything.” Dr. Daramus says that explaining yourself can at least give your partner and idea of what they’re signing up for when they agree to be the banker in Monopoly.

5. Meditate, and watch your competitive thoughts float by

Another option is meditation,” Dr. Daramus says. “Mindfulness is all about letting thoughts, feelings, and urges pass you by while you remain at peace. Breathe deeply, and keep your attention focused on your breath or a mantra while you let all of those needs rise, fall, and eventually pass you by.”

Worried if you’re, umm, boring? Here’s how to tell. And if you’re in need of some boundaries unrelated to games and fun in your quarantine relationships, here’s how to draw a line in the sand

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