Psychology of Winning

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Happy Hormones

Welcome to another Minute with Markie! Today we are going to be talking about “happy hormones”, and how to use them  in getting things done!

Before we get started, I’d like for you to consider your personal goals. If you haven’t already, take a look at our SMARTER goals video, to learn how to set appropriately detailed goals to set yourself up for success.

So, what’s keeping you from reaching your goal? Are you lacking motivation? Or are you too anxious to get started? Or maybe you are just feeling stuck?

Let’s start by taking a look inside, at some intrinsic motivators within our brain chemistry.

An important thing to note about the brain is that it is always working to survive!

How it Works

Our brains will always positively react to successful experiences because they promote our survival. Our brain is wired to encourage more successful experiences (let’s call them “wins”) and discourage failures by using our “happy” hormones, or lack thereof.

For instance, during a race when you are ahead of the others, your brain releases a surge of serotonin at the thought of winning, which results in more motivation and confidence directed toward the reward of winning! Or, you see your half-baked souffle you’ve been working to perfect rising perfectly in the oven so far. Then, when we experience the “win”, such as finishing the race in first or achieving the perfect, fluffy souffle, our brain experiences a surge of dopamine which makes us feel good about our success and makes us want to do it again! Your brain will respond this way to anything you use your time, energy and effort to achieve. 

Additionally, social acceptance and a sense of belonging related to the win causes our brain to release oxytocin, another “happy chemical” to make you feel good.

However, when we experience a failure, our brain releases a hormone called cortisol, which alerts our future self of the failure we may experience should this situation occur again. Whether it’s cortisol or dopamine, When our brain releases these hormones, the neural pathways that triggered their release, get stronger.

Winning is Important!

Winning even once is a strong predictor of future successes because our happy chemicals work to reinforce this behaviour (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ab.21476); our brains love to win; the ‘winner/loser effect’ noted in some literature refers to winners or losers of previous events being more likely to keep winning or losing in future contests, so you can see how having a “winning” experience can jumpstart a change in behaviour. 

But the question remains, if feeling unmotivated or beat down, where do I go from here?

Controlling your Brain with Behavioural Activation

I’d like to introduce to you: Behavioural Activation, or BA for short. BA is often used as a treatment for depression; but the principles are very applicable to anyone that is trying to get and stay motivated. BA works to link the events in our life with the moods they inspire, and using that to our advantage when we are feeling uninspired.

Baby Steps!

If you have learned to avoid doing certain things because of past let-downs, it is crucial to break the cycle as soon as possible. We can do this by taking small steps. Start with your SMART(ER) goal for instance, what barriers did you encounter to achieving your goal? If avoidance was one of them, because of the negative feelings associated from past experiences, you could be experiencing this negative cycle. The first step is to choose one or two activities that are small and easy; we want items that you are pretty much guaranteed to complete.

I think we can all agree that getting motivated to exercise can be difficult. If you also struggle with this, Behavioural Activation would have you start with a subgoal. Something small, easy, and convenient. Such as parking further away from your workplace in the  morning, or taking your dog for a walk every day – as small a step as you need in order to be successful.  

Build on Past Successes

Once completed successfully, no matter how small the task, you have jump started your brain into a stronger dopamine neural pathway! Take advantage of this new surge in happy hormones, and set your next goal just a baby step ahead. Allow one successful experience to encourage you to complete another, and another, and another, until that original goal has been achieved!

If it sounds like I’m describing you, but you need more assistance with full Behavioural Activation, reach out to a Psychotherapist or Occupational Therapist for treatment support.

Thanks for joining us and I hope you learned something new!

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