The Winner’s Brain is written by Dr. Jeff Brown and Dr. Mark Fenske, who are a behavioral psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, respectively. In the 2010 book, they provide eight characteristics you can work to implement in your thinking to help you be more successful at anything you try.
Brown and Fenske identify some characteristics of people who have what they describe as “winner’s brains”: brains of high achievers who have beaten enormous odds to succeed or come back from adversity. Keep in mind that even our “average” brains are miracles of observation, processing and computing. It has taken computer scientists decades to build a robot that has the dexterity, learning power and adaptability of the average 20 year old human. So don’t worry if you feel that your brain is not yet in the top tier; its plasticity (or adaptability) will allow you to get better at whatever you put your mind to, according to the authors.
Winners’ brains do function differently, and we know this because sophisticated scans allow scientists to observe and track brain activity. They can watch the neurons fire in different parts of the brain and see how long reactions and thinking take to activate and dissipate.
Here are some characteristics winners’ brains have in common:
- They have what Brown and Fenske call a well-developed “opportunity radar;” they have a better sense than most people of what will work. Winners often make connections no one else is making; we sometimes call that intuition, and winners seem to have more of it than most of us.
- They are great at tuning out distractions and using the most effective parts of the brain for the task they are focused on. It helps that they often have a passion for what they are working on; the emotion and interest helps their brain optimize its resources for mastery. They’re also willing to stay on task longer than most people, even when the task is repetitive or unrewarding. They practice longer and harder, and that helps them get better faster, whether it’s at golf or playing classical music.
- Winners’ brains are exceptionally adaptable, meaning that they change their neural pathways as they solve problems and learn. As people, winners tend to be more resilient than other people; they take losing better and bounce back faster. This helps them spend less time on regret and more time on trying again – a sure predictor of eventual success.
- They also have a good sense of how talented they are, and what they’re not good at. This saves them lots of wasted time working hard on a skill that will never develop. Brown and Fenske write that average people often experience “The double whammy of incompetence”: not being very good at something and not knowing that you’re mediocre. If you don’t have a sense of your shortcomings, you don’t invest in the time or adjustments you’d need to get better.
In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. But that practice must be guided by someone more skilled than the practitioner: a coach. Practicing on your own, without someone there to guide you and correct your mistakes, won’t make you a master. Every great athlete has a coach; every classical musician has a conductor to guide his playing.
Winners know that they need outside help to achieve their goals. When was the last time you consulted a coach or checked in with a mentor about your performance goals?