Why ‘Pull Your Socks Up’ Is The Best Advice Ever

Build a ritual to get back on your feet

Gustavo Razzetti
Aug 24, 2017 · 5 min read
Bouncing back is the real victory. Pic by Tom Pumford
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“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” — Marilyn vos Savant

Life is like a game — It’s full of both wins and losses.

But defeats loom large in our memory.

Being defeated is a temporary condition. What makes it permanent is our inability to bounce back.

That’s why ‘Pull your socks up’ is the best advice I’ve ever received. Rituals can get us back on our feet. Immediately.

Let me explain why.

What I’ve learned from being defeated (over and over)

“Remember when your plans fail, that temporary defeat is not permanent failure.” — Napoleon Hill

I’ve played rugby for over a decade. And I’ve always dreamt to be part of my High School A-team. But when I finally joined it, all I got was the disappointment.

My team was on a losing streak. Defeat after defeat, our morale was reaching a new low.

Until one day, our English literature teacher overheard one of our post-defeat complaints. “Guys, you must pull up your socks.” — She said. And then smiled at us and left.

Great advice — like feedback — is always unexpected. It took me practice to realize how powerful those simple words were.

That’s when I realized that bouncing back is the real victory.

Victory didn’t happen overnight. But our mindset did: we stopped feeling defeated even after losing a match.

“Pull your socks up” is a British expression: to make an effort to improve your work or behavior because it is not good enough. I didn’t just embrace its meaning but also turned the physical activity into a ritual.

If the other team scored, I checked my socks to make sure they were in place. To actually pull my socks up was a message to my brain: I was back on my feet again.

“A daily ritual is a way of saying I’m voting for myself; I’m taking care of myself.” — Mariel Hemingway

Our behaviors wire our brain. Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. After feeling defeated over and over, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of the match result.

Feeling defeated becomes your default behavior, even before the match starts.

And it only gets worse. Research from Stanford University demonstrated that complaining damages other areas of the brain, diminishing your ability to solve problems and making intelligent thoughts.

Feeling defeated can have the same effect.

How can you turn the score around when your ability to think creatively is diminished?

For me, pulling my socks cleared my mind. It reset my brain.

The Power of Rituals

“Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet.” — Epictetus

Most of our brain patterns are developed when we are kids. Luckily, neuroplasticity has demonstrated that the brain is not a machine that is fixed. It changes with everything we experience.

Our brain is always learning how to change itself. We can train our brain the same way we train our muscles at the gym. But we have to work up little by little.

Training your brain can reroute its patterns and thoughts as explained in the book “The brain that trains itself.

Reset your brain.

Build a ritual to overcome defeat. And be back on your feet immediately. Follow these five steps:

1. Create a ritual that’s both literal and metaphorical

A ritual is more than an act. It’s a sequence of activities that have a specific meaning.

The moment, space and the ‘how’ turns an act into a ritual. It creates an experience that builds meaningful memories. Having both a literal and metaphorical meaning makes rituals more visual and compelling.

“Rituals are the formula by which harmony is restored.” — Terry Tempest Williams

Repetition makes rituals powerful.

By re-living that experience, you train your brain to feel more positive.

In my case, every time I pulled my socks up, it was like starting the match all over.

Regardless of the score, I was feeling like if the game was just starting. It allowed me to focus on what was going to happen next rather than if the other team just scored.

2. Reset your brain:

A ritual is a turning point. It can help you prepare to accept defeat or how you react to it.

You can always score back. After the first half of the game, there’s still another half to go. You always have a chance to get even.

“Rituals are a good sign to your unconscious that it is time to kick in.” — Anne Lamott

Charon Smith — California State Cyclist Champion — was told that he wouldn’t win a race in 2013. He typed those words on a piece of paper and hung it up at work.

Seeing those words every day during off-season became his ritual. A reminder that he wanted to prove the other guy wrong.

Charon ended up winning the four first races of the year.

3. A collective ritual has a more powerful effect:

Social support is critical to overcoming defeat. If you are part of a team build a ritual that becomes part of the collective behavior.

“Rituals are comforting; rituals combat loneliness.” — John Irving

Your social network plays a critical role in building resilience. It’s easier to bounce back as a group than on your own.

Pulling my socks up felt stronger when the rest of the team was doing so too.

4. A ritual is a pause to reflect:

Use that moment to improve your strategy not just to boost your morale.

Prepare for the next match. Do you need to change your strategy? What skills shall you strengthen to do better?

“Feeding is a very important ritual for me. I don’t trust people who don’t like to eat.” — Gina Gershon

The pause of a ritual helps overcome defeat. Rather than getting stuck on the loss, you move on. It enables you to think forward rather than re-living past sad memories.

5. Build endurance to move on:

A loss is not definite. You always have a chance to overcome defeat.

Use defeat to test your spirit. We all experience losses. Learning to overcome losing will increase your chances to win.

When a story I submit to a publication is not accepted, I immediately start writing a new one. When a client rejects a proposal, I reach out to a new one.

“Your habits are driving your performance. Your rituals are creating your results.” — Robin Sharma

If you lose a match, you can win the next one. But that requires playing rather than staying in the “defeat mode.”

“Pulling our socks up” not only helped my team overcome defeat. It shifted our mindset from being defeated to seeing a loss as something temporal.

And our scores radically improved too.

Create your own ritual to overcome defeat. Experiment until you find the one that works the best for you.

How do you use rituals to get back on your feet?

Gustavo Razzetti is a change instigator that helps organizations lead positive change. Author, Consultant, and Speaker on team development and cultural transformation.


We help teams and people drive positive change by liberating the best version of themselves. Insights on #leadership #selfimprovement #teambuilding #innovation #orgculture. https://liberationist.org

Gustavo Razzetti

Written by

I help people and teams become the best version of themselves. CEO @ liberationist.org Top Writer. Subscribe → bit.ly/ChangeInsights


We help teams and people drive positive change by liberating the best version of themselves. Insights on #leadership #selfimprovement #teambuilding #innovation #orgculture. https://liberationist.org

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