The Winner Effect


Recently, I had one of those months where every project had to get done at the same time. Each deadline loomed too near. If I stopped to rest, I risked failure. It was the perfect storm of project deadlines that at one time would most definitely have resulted in sleep deprivation, lousy eating, excessive caffeine intake, missed family events and an all-around exhaustive feeling after accomplishing the amount of work that was on my plate.

But this time around, as I checked each task off of the list, I continued to get stronger, braver and my head remained clear and focused. In fact, in addition to regular work goals, I accomplished a few personal goals I once thought impossible that further elevated my success. It was a power month. And it got me thinking … does success, in fact, breed success?

Enter John Coates research in the book, “The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust.” Coates takes an ambitious look at how body chemistry affects high-stakes financial trading. And I believe his insights have merit in the world of small business ownership as well. In his book, he highlights the fascinating aspect of risk-taking and what it has to do with what is known as “the winner effect,” a self-reinforcing osmosis of the two key hormones driving the biochemistry of success and failure: testosterone and cortisol. In layman’s terms, during winning moments, testosterone rises sharply and induces a state of risk-seeking euphoria and provides a positive feedback loop in which success itself provides a competitive advantage. By contrast, the stress hormone cortisol spikes during those opposing, or losing, moments (financial downturns is one example Coates uses), and people become more risk-averse and timid, ultimately becoming less competitive.

For instance, Coates mentions a study where researchers examined a database of 630,000 professional tennis matches and found that the winner of the first set had a 60 percent chance of winning the second one.

Last year, basketball’s “hot hand” effect was also proven alive and well in the game of cricket by researchers at the Universidade Estadual de Maringa. The hot hand phenomenon is a type of memory effect showing that future performance is determined by events in the past. In other words, chances of success in the next shot are correlated with the success of the last shot. In his research, Haroldo Ribeiro points out that cricket, like many sports, is hugely psychological, in which confidence plays a major role. If confidence is contagious, it makes sense that early success can lead to future success.

In my own example, I am a member of CrossFit Medina. CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that uses constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movements from weightlifting to sprinting to gymnastics during its daily workouts. I’ve set a lot of personal CrossFit goals for myself, one of which was mastering the pull-up. After much practice and lots of advice from other members of the gym, I did it. And it was during this super busy month that I did more than 100 pull-ups in one workout after really only successfully completing three pull-ups consecutively the week before. The feeling of this accomplishment was extraordinary. Instead of feeling exhausted or deflated, I felt empowered. And, I wanted to do it again. Riding that high, I continued to conquer personal and professional challenges throughout the month. I’m convinced this one personal physical accomplishment – pull-ups – enabled me to more smoothly and confidently tackle other assignments. I think that’s the winning effect.

Ultimately, Coates says, “We hold the keys to victory within us, but usually cannot find them.” Now you know it’s in there. You have a built-in edge; all you need to do is tap into it. What positive achievements in your life will enable you to make that next sale or win that next job? Mine happens to be CrossFit. What’s yours?

Nicole Wisniewski is a 15-year green industry veteran and award-winning journalism and marketing professional. She is currently a senior project manager in The Davey Tree Expert Co.’s marketing/corporate communications department. Visit her blog at <45 Light Oblique> or reach her at <45 Light Oblique>[email protected].