The Winner’s Mind

A Competitor’s Guide to Sports and Business Success

The Winner's Mind by Dr. Allen Fox“The mental traits involved in achievement and success appear transferable from one sport to another and to business as well,” Fox writes in his new book The Winner’s Mind: A Competitor’s Guide To Sports and Business Success. “They are generalized attitudes and mental approaches to problem solving that certain individuals employ in whatever realm they wish to become successful. These individuals are rare. Fortunately, the rest of us can learn how to do it by observing, analyzing, and emulating the tricks used by those who are naturally good at it.”

In short, if you’re not a natural winner, find someone who is and copy his/her strategy.

The Winner’s Mind provides a thought-provoking analysis of the nature of competitiveness. Fox — himself a former world-class tennis player, coach and successful entrepreneur — has written a book that goes far beyond the typical “sports metaphor” genre. He has interwoven intelligently written theory and practical advice with a tapestry of stories from the realms of sports, entertainment, history, and the business world.

The first half of his book delves into the genetic and biological roots of the drive to win as well as the struggle between ambition and fear that paralyzes us and keeps us from giving the game our all. As Fox explains, “unconscious fear of failure nullifies the will to win by distorting perceptions and causing competitors to refuse to compete, lie to themselves, make excuses, blame others, procrastinate, fail to finish tasks, and panic on the verge of victory.”

Some few people are naturally good at winning in whatever arena they compete. But what if you’re not naturally one of them? What if you’re a laid-back type who just doesn’t enjoy the fight? Do you have to settle for always coming in second best? Of course not, says Fox. You simply need to watch the natural winners and do what they do. And that’s the point of the second half of The Winner’s Mind. It explains what makes some people champions — what they think, what they do, and how they think about what they do — so that the rest of us can pick up enough of their tricks to get more of what we want too.

Here are just a few examples:

Be extremely sensitive to actions that succeed and fail. Winners pay extraordinary attention to what works and what doesn’t. They concentrate intently on the task at hand, learn quickly from their successes and failures, and adjust their behaviors accordingly. The losers make the same mistakes repeatedly and are slow to make what would appear to be obvious adjustments. What blinds them?

Fox answers, “Constantly refining one’s techniques to become more efficient or effective takes mental effort, and thinking is hard work. Most people prefer to do their jobs on mental autopilot. It’s less stressful and simply easier. Thinking, planning, and adjusting takes work and may even involve some risk. The losers tend to keep their heads down and just plug along, so they lose to the people who are alert.” The lesson is: Stay attentive to what’s working and what isn’t. Lowering your eyes and simply grinding in the general direction of your goals is apt to be inefficient. You must make a conscious effort to work with your head up — observant so as to soak up and assimilate every bit of available information. At the same time, be especially wary of a natural urge to ignore or discard facts that: 1.) are at odds with your preconceived notions, 2.) cause you to change your plans, or 3.) force you to do things you don’t like. Absorb and employ ALL information so that you work not just hard, but “smart.”

Be alert to problems. When you find one, assume that there is a solution. Successful people are vigilant in confronting problems. They understand their own weaknesses. They want to find out about them because they want to fix them. The losers, on the other hand, are insecure and don’t really believe they can fix problems, so they adopt the “head in the sand” approach. They avoid dealing with problems by not hearing about them. Fox illustrates this point by telling the story of Lew, an acquaintance who had, after 27 years, worked his way into the upper middle management of a growing oil services company. He was content with his comfy job and intended to tread water until his pension came due.

“If Lew was a basketball team, he would have been slowing down the game in order to run out the clock,” Fox says. “He hated problems. If subordinates came to him too often with unresolved problems, Lew became resentful and irritated. To avoid his temper, people learned to stay away from him and live with their problems. In 1996, when the price of oil began a relentless decline, companies in the industry began looking for ways to cut overhead. Unproductive employees who get large salaries are tempting targets. Needless to say, Lew no longer has his cushy position.”

How can you avoid becoming a “Lew?” Quite simply, seek out and identify problems, never avoid them, and tackle them immediately and energetically. But most important of all, adopt the core assumption that there is a solution for any problem. This attitude is the key to everything. It will keep you going if your first solution doesn’t work. It will lead to an optimistic attitude that will help clarify your thinking and open your mind to novel ideas. You will find that believing in this assumption will make it come true.