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The winner effect

more percent efficient

We live in a world in which victory is unpopular. People have gotten into the shameful mental habit of believing that for every winner there must be a loser, and they have become more concerned with not being the loser than with being the winner. Just think about that for a second. What kind of mentality is this, in which fear of failure overwhelms the desire for victory? It’s the kind of mentality that makes you a loser, despite all your efforts.

Snap out of it. You deserve better than the scraps left after the lions, the victors, have eaten their fill.

An integral part of being human is a desire for victory, a desire to win. Just ask any six-year-old playing in a recreational soccer game. Despite the idea that every game is played “without keeping score” (an entirely artificial concept), every kid out on the field knows whether his team won or not. You can’t trick them. And that is a good thing. Hopefully their innocence outlasts the conditioning we are all receiving—being trained out of the habit of victory and into the same mentality that led to “scoreless” soccer games.

Victory is a process. It is tangible. It is the payout you receive when you’ve put in the work and finally achieve your goals. Victory is positive. It’s what shows you that the thing you’re doing is actually working. It’s the basis of confidence and it’s the result of hard labor, both mental and physical. You have no right to confidence unless you’ve been winning. So here is some hard science to show you why winning matters, and why you have to get back into the natural human habit of eviscerating your foes at every opportunity.

There exists something that we’ll call “The Winner Effect,” which is a realignment of “confidence chemicals” in the brain, most notably testosterone, in the aftermath of any competitive event. Testosterone is linked, in men and women, with confidence, dominance, and assertiveness. In other words, with qualities of a successful individual. The fact is, testosterone rises in the aftermath of victory, and falls after defeat. Even something as insignificant as entering a contest and winning a cash prize of $5, with the prize awarded on a random basis for completing a short task, has been shown to increase testosterone in your body. Not only that, but studies have indicated that a victory today will influence your conquest tomorrow. Nevada’s Department of Sociology conducted a study that found that testosterone levels in tennis players rose before a match if they had won their previous one and dropped if they had lost it.

Another study examined the brain chemicals of California mice. In each case, two mice square off and fight until one of them submits to the other. The variance between the mice comes in the form of two variables—physical size and, most importantly, previous victories. One of the mice previously fought against drugged opponents, winning easily, while the other mouse (even though he is bigger) was drugged himself and lost to smaller opponents. Now, both sober mice are put into the arena.

The result of the study? The mouse that had previously won his bouts was far more likely to win than the mouse who had previously been defeated, even when both mice were battling at full capacity. The research writeup declared, “Testosterone (T) plasma levels significantly increased after the final test when [a mouse] had experienced two prior winning encounters, and the probability of winning a future encounter increased significantly after three prior wins independent of intrinsic fighting ability. We hypothesize a ‘winner–challenge’ effect in which increased T levels serve to reinforce the winner effect in male California mice."

In layman’s terms, previous victories boosted testosterone, and higher testosterone is a predictor of victory. This is why you have to put yourself in situations where you will be successful and get into a feedback loop where you’re constantly winning. Success fuels itself until it becomes an unstoppable force. Put yourself in places where you know you can be successful to build the momentum to mount future obstacles. Learn to win until you can tell everyone that you love the game of life, because you are a winner. Or, as my favorite motivational speaker Andy Frisella said, “My preferred sport is winning at f***ing everything.”

Jack Dolinar is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "more percent efficient" runs on alternate Fridays.