Why is Winning SO Powerful?
Why do sports heroes get paid a lot of money to give talks to top business executives? After all, sports people usually know very little about managing shareholders, capital investment, or business risk. The answer is that they have something that all business people want: expertise in winning!
Winning is more powerful than most of us imagine. It doesn’t just affect our mood at the time (it always feels nice to win), but actually has permanent and long-lasting effects on our brains and even our bodies. It is not just about individual winners either: winning teams become better in a whole variety of ways as a direct result of winning. So how does it work?
Winning an award, whether in sports or business or in recognition of charitable work, triggers physiological responses that come from our distant evolutionary past. When humans were swinging about in the trees, we had small communities where one dominant ape got the first refusal on food and mates. They had social status and control over the group. And they had to defend that position to pass on their genes year after year. Fast forward to 2021 and things have not changed that much. Our way of thinking is still structured around the idea that winners will accrue wealth and power. The winner’s brain chemistry is subtly altered by the release of chemicals in the brain that makes them bolder, healthier and more quick-thinking, so baking in the advantage.
And this does not just apply to the individual winner. Where a team is involved, winning has the same psychological and physical effect for the whole team. They become more confident, work better together, and more focussed on achieving goals. It applies to all kinds of group activities, which is why achievable but challenging individual and team goals are so important in any walk of life. But what about the losers? Well the opposite is true. Losers become less confident and more compliant. If they lose regularly, they will likely never win. Losing will become a habit unless new blood is brought into the team.
Why Are Awards So Popular?
We all experience rewards on a daily basis. When someone laughs at your joke, responds on social media (social media likes and follows are mini rewards) or says “well done”, these all trigger small versions of the same effect. They are little advances in social status. On the pitch a great pass, a goal, a strategic tackle, and of course winning the game, are all rewards and achievements. Each of these little achievements are bite-size wins, and steps towards achieving a bigger win.
Awards are so popular because they turn an abstract victory into a physical object: the trophy. The soccer team who wins the cup will have an emblem of their awesomeness in the club house, reminding them of their win and reinforcing the psychological effect every time they play. Each team member will see the cup and think “we beat everyone last year, so we can do it again”.
Awards are usually given at a ceremony. The bigger the occasion, the bigger the psychological impact on the winners. If you think about the Oscars or the BAFTAs, those actors who are nominated will command more roles, more respect and higher salaries than those who are not. And the winners will do even better.
Win Like Mario
One of the most addictive things about computer games is the way they have designed in rewards and awards for achieving goals. There are thousands of micro-awards in games – special prizes, hidden messages, pleasing sound effects – that encourage the player to increase their mastery of the game. And within sports, players have smaller goals that help them build up to winning – better team tactics, achieving a personal best, better scoring techniques. In a business environment, great managers understand the psychology of rewards and use this to keep staff motivated: helping staff to master a new, useful skill, saying “well done” for a good piece of work. In education, the personal satisfaction of mastering a topic is one step on the way to achieving the top grade in your subject.
Rewards can come in many forms, and any manager – from sports to business to teaching – knows that a physical award will reinforce that positive impact of winning. When those winners receive their award they will go on to get better and better!