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The winner effect

A mouse when asked to fight another mouse for a piece of food has a fifty percent probability of winning the fight. However, if the same mouse is asked to fight against a drugged mouse first, it will win this first fight easily because the drugged mouse can't fight back. Now, when it fights a normal mouse the next time, it has a seventy percent probability of winning that fight, assuming of course that the second mouse hasn't had a similar fake win to bank on.

This is called the winner effect. It is when somebody that wins has a much higher propensity to keep on winning. And the opposite, the loser effect, one where somebody that loses has a much higher propensity to keep on losing, is also true.

This is an effect that managers of football teams use as well. Somebody that is returning from an injury, is usually sent out to play for the reserve team or for the under 21's team, where, being a stronger senior team member, they will experience the equivalent of fighting against a drugged mouse, and come out far more confident than if they were directly asked to play in a high stakes game for the senior team. 

I often get myself into the loser spiral. When I haven't written for three days in a row, it is much harder to write on the fourth day than if I had been writing regularly. And it is much easier to write on the fourth day if I had been writing every day for the past three days. Here too, the winner effect and the loser effect are in play.

It happens everywhere from performing stand-up comedy to striking up a conversation with a stranger to waking up at the time we set the alarm to. 

When I find myself in a rut like that and spiraling down the loser effect, I try to hack the winner effect by giving myself a small win. If I haven't written for three days, I define the win as writing a draft rather than publishing something as the goal. If I haven't been waking up to the alarm three days in a row, I go to sleep a couple of hours earlier than usual the next night. 

In other words, I play against the reserve team, or fight against the sedated mouse. 

And then I can get the winner effect in motion. 

When you're out of form, when you feel stuck, when you are struggling to make progress, just lower the bar. And then climb up again from there.

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