Counterfactual thinking or why winning bronze is better than silver.

Counterfactual thinking and other “limiting” thinking patterns

Counterfactual thinking is our tendency to imagine alternative outcomes to events that have already occurred.

A silver medalist gets hung up thinking about the alternative outcome he was so close to achieve winning gold. A bronze medalist, on the other hand, is just happy he made it to the podium.


Counterfactual thinking in life and business.


Counterfactual thinking is a concept in psychology that involves the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred.

My first question to this is: did those events really occurred or are those lies or half-truths?

Do the events that supposedly occurred not limit you in terms of what you can do?

Are your achievements necessarily related to the achievements of other people or organizations?

It depends.  

If you have for example a very specific and measurable scenario, as it is the case in the Olympic games, where all athletes compete under the same discipline and the same rules and regulations, then yes, your achievements are directly related to the achievements of others.

If, however you operate outside of a precise and well-defined frame, as it is the case in life & business, counterfactual thinking is going to drive you to the wrong conclusions.

Counterfactual thinking should be considered as an indication but with no means as a measurement that should influence your decisions.

The reason why is this:

  1. There are multiple complex data that need to be considered to achieve an objectiveness on the outcome. That is nearly impossible. Let me name you some: How exact is your value proposition with that of the competition? In which markets you compete, and which are your objectives and the personas you are targeting? What is your budget, how mature is your solution, how much you spend on advertising, on SEO, on social media?
  2. How reliable are your sources what regards the performance of your competitors? Do you really know how much they make and with what cost?
  3. Why should the performance of your competitors define your performance? Since there are no exact data to measure on an exact environment, the achievements of your competitors are irrelevant to yours. And that goes both ways. They are irrelevant in terms of you can achieve way better than them, they are irrelevant in terms you can not achieve what they achieve because you are on a different game.


If you think however a little bit deeper, you are going to also discover a variety of other reasons that limit your thinking and your success.

You have a polarized “all or nothing” thinking.

Specially nowadays, in the new online world we tend to follow all those super successful guys like for example Tony Robins. There is a lot of space between him and what you can achieve. If you do not become Tony Robins No2, even if you achieve 1% of his success that is a big chunk of accomplishment.

It is not all or nothing.

You are too focused, and you lose the big picture. Detach!

When you are stuck, then put your ego on the side, detach and look the situation from a distance.

Be very careful here on one thing. When I say put your ego by side, I mean objectively criticize your ego. Identify your flows, but also see your strengths. Observe the current situation from distance. That is going to help you take the right decisions.

You blame others.

Never blame others, take complete ownership of the situation and your business. Once you take ownership, THEN is the moment where you are going to change things. By blaming others, you give the control to others or other situations to control your life and business. It’s their call, not yours, so you can not change things.

Binary thinking is for computers.

It is never just right or wrong. There is always a lot of space in between. However, in-depth intellectuality and the pursue of perfectionism, drives to non-doingness. Be aware of that danger and take decisions.


The worst decision is the one that was never made.

Do things don’t just think about them.

You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. All the things you don’t do, count as much as the things you do. Every decision you don’t make is a decision by itself.


Don’t decide to climb the wrong mount Everest.

Things should come naturally and not forced. Clear your mind, forget what the others say, delete the noise, delay to take a decision, meditate and find your truth North. Decide to climb the right mountain. If you, don’t you are going to realize that all the time and energy spent was in the wrong direction.


Your principles make the difference, not your methods.

It is all about your principles and your standpoint. It is about your mindset, that is what makes the difference, not your approaches and practices. Through my sales coaching experience I encounter a lot of businesses men – businesswomen, not being able to realize how to construct a solid unique selling proposition for their solution or product, because they are focusing on the procedures and functionalities of their solution, while at the same time they don’t have any principles in their organization, probably as individuals also. What is your standpoint, on how far are you willing to compromise, what really makes you unique?

We live in the age of unproportionally, overwhelming and often contradictory information. What is missing is the wisdom to digest the information, most importantly however to be able to differentiate what is valuable and what is not.

Often the answer is not on getting more, but on getting good quality knowledge, that can be understood and probably also applied.


The internet age allows us to have access to this wisdom, nonetheless, most probably it is not going to be found on the first page of Google.


Alex Valassidis