MAX Blog

The Secret to Success

If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.
— Henry Ford

We are what we repeatedly do. Our daily routines and everyday habits are products of weeks, months, and years of repetition. It is easy to see how regular activities, whether good, like going to the gym, or bad, like smoking, can become habitual over time. Morning after morning, the alarm goes off and our predictable day begins. Just as our schedules grow to be routine, the same is true for our chances of success, and unfortunately, failure. Our previous experiences can actually determine our future likelihood of experiencing success or not. Crazy, right?! A little science lesson can help us understand this phenomenon.

According to neuroscientist and clinical psychologist, Ian Robertson, animals have a higher probability of winning future aggressive battles after experiencing previous wins. This “winner effect” is the result of an actual change in their biology. Winning releases testosterone and dopamine, and over time, changes the structure and chemical makeup of the brain resulting in an increase of intelligence, confidence, and assertiveness. In contrast, the opposite “loser effect” results in a lower probability of success following previous losses.

While we may not be facing an aggressive opponent or literally fighting for our lives, the winner and loser effects also applies to our tame, everyday challenges. Success, or lack thereof, is seen in the corporate world, in the athletic arena, and in our own homes. Winning biologically changes you and the effect becomes stronger as we continue to succeed. We see it daily as individuals receive promotion after promotion, athletes go on competitive winning streaks, and friends accomplish their New Year’s resolutions with ease.

So, if we only used our gym membership twice last year or we just opened our third rejection letter are we destined to continue to fail? Should we just buy another pack of cigarettes and chow down an entire pizza by ourselves? Why even bother? If we have failed time and time again are we biologically doomed to repeat this losing pattern?

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Not exactly.

Failure may chemically change our brains but we are still in control of our minds. Until we are able to biologically adapt with success, we must learn to psychologically adapt to our failures. Losing is disappointing, emotionally painful, and often leaves us with feelings of shame and dismay. It is no wonder failure can warp our perceptions and sabotage our future chances of success!

Here are just a few ways failure can distort our minds and how we can positively change our mindset:

  • Fear of failure- Even after a single loss, we can be consumed by a fear of failure. This fear can take over our minds and have us succumb us to a point where we avoid any activity that may result in failure. We must recognize our fear is based on our fragile ego and only impedes our chance of success. At one point or another, everyone fails. We must consciously choose to try and try again. As Thomas Edison has been quoted saying, “ I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that did not work.”

  • Warped perception- Our confidence in ourselves and our abilities plummets following failure. Goals seem out of reach, resolutions unattainable, losses inevitable. The truth is, nothing has changed, just our perception. Realize your true potential and never give up.

  • Excuses- Following a defeat, we can be discouraged, humiliated, and searching for any reason to justify our failure. While excuses may temporarily make us feel better, they do not change the outcome and will only inhibit future efforts. Excuses, even reasonable, valid ones, can be destructive and become habitual responses when things do not go our way. Failures are learning experiences. Own up to them, embrace them, study them, and learn from them.

  • Mental game- In my nearly two decades of coaching, I have seen some of the greatest athletes never reach the top of the podium. With all the skills required and talents beyond belief, they choke. With natural abilities most athletes can only dream of possessing, they freeze. For many, the pressures of winning override actual ability and ultimately lead to failure. For this very reason, sport psychologists are in high demand, with elite athletes working on their mental game as much as their physical training. If pressure is ruining your chance of success, give this book or this book a try. Game changers.

  • Self-control- What is the difference between satisfying a craving with a small treat or binge eating the entire fridge? Willpower. Buying another case of beer at the store or just sticking to your grocery list? Going to the gym or staying home? Putting off your term paper or getting it done in a timely matter? Willpower. Willpower. Willpower. The ability to control your actions, impulses, and emotions is a psychological mind-body response to internal conflict. According to Stanford Health Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, PhD, the need for self-control triggers a set of coordinated changes in your brain and body to resist temptation and self-destructive urges. In addition, it sends extra energy to the prefrontal cortex of the brain which keeps track of your goals, makes wise decisions, and overrides impulses. If you lack self-control, the good news is willpower can be increased and strengthened over time!

  • Self-care- Peak performance in athletes is greatly affected by how well their body is fueled, rested, and trained. Factors such as dehydration, stress, unbalanced nutrition, and/or exhaustion can impair the body and how the brain functions. While we may not all be elite athletes, we all do strive to be the greatest we can be, to perform at our best, to succeed. In life, there are many things out of our control, so it is imperative to take advantage of the things we can control. Proper nutrition supplies our brain with the energy needed to make wise decisions, overcome addictions, accomplish our goals. Being well-rested is also vital for success. Sleep plays a critical role in how we think and learn, and being deprived of a good night’s sleep adversely affects brain and cognitive function. Lastly, daily exercise improves more than just your physical health, but also greatly benefits your mental health. Physical activity increases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, the same “feel good” chemicals released after success. It also reduces stress, improves mental clarity, decreases worry, and boosts self-esteem. Give your body a fighting chance to succeed. Take care of yourself.

  • Small victories- The cyclical nature of the winner and loser effects may seem disheartening at times, that our future is already predetermined, but we can actually use it to our advantage. Often we fail because our goals are too lofty, making them unattainable and setting us up for defeat. Instead, focus on creating smaller goals and set yourself up to succeed! Losing 50 pounds is easy to write down on a piece of paper, but can actually be quite difficult to accomplish. However, losing 5 pounds, tracking your calories for a week, or making time for the gym this month, are more reasonable goals. Even something as simple as cutting back to one soda a day, instead of three, is admirable and should be celebrated. These little victories may seem insignificant, but with each success, you are changing your mindset and replacing a loser attitude with that of a winner. Take it one day at a time, then one week at a time, then one month. Before you know it, the small victories make way for huge results!

Have a winning mindset and turn your failures into success! Change your mind. Change your destiny. Change your life.

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