When we win a victory, we feel good. Why? One reason is that our brains adjust our self conceptions accordingly. We start to think of ourselves as more competent, able, fortunate. And such a person wins more, right?
Wins make us believe we’re going to keep winning, and this is one of the greatest feelings. It’s a high-hope, high-dopamine state.
The converse is true with losing. You can tell a losing lobster when you see him. He shuffles and slouches. He scuttles out of the way when the champ walks by.
Nature wants us to feel good when we succeed, and so it gives us a reward system. That way, we’ll be motivated to keep doing whatever it took to succeed. This is good for us, and for everyone around us (except our enemies).
But experience tells us that the feelings associated with winning and losing – hope, or dejection – are actually a terrible predictor of the future.
Sulla and Marius both lost elections along their road to power. Abraham Lincoln did too. How many people know the names of their “successful” opponents today?
The best predictor of long term success is whether you are able to get over the initial rush of feeling after a win or loss, and get back to work.
This quality can be trained. How? We have to get our beliefs correct.
One way is to follow the maxim of Epictetus: “If you enquire of me what is man’s good, I can tell you nothing other than that it is a certain moral purpose (prohairesis).”
We should direct our attention to our “purpose,” and make sure it’s a good and true one. This will give us the confidence and clarity we need in order to avoid pressing our advantage too hard, or to get up and get back in the ring after we get knocked down.
If our candidates deserve to win, they will have this quality too.