What Distinguishes Winners From Losers?

Around 2015, my therapist said to me, “I wonder if you are so radical in your politics because you are so passive in your life.”

It was a great point. Since then, I’ve noticed that as I become more successful, I’m less interested in radical causes. As I thrive within the system, I’m less interested in overthrowing the system.

When I look at radical movements, I notice that they rarely contain happy successful people. Rather, marginalized movements attract marginalized people. Crazy conspiracy theories, for example, are most attractive to people who are losing at life, while those who are winning (meaning that they are thriving in their work and family lives) rarely believe in things like QAnon.

If you know somebody is into Glenn Beck or Alex Jones or Fox News, you can be sure you’re not talking to a winner.

According to the 2014 book (by two academics) American Conspiracy Theories:

* …conspiracy theories are essentially alarm systems and coping mechanisms to help deal with foreign threat and domestic power centers. Thus, they tend to resonate when groups are suffering from loss, weakness, or disunity. But nothing fails like success, and ascending groups trigger dynamics that check and eventually reverse the advance of conspiracy theories. In short, because defeat and exclusion are their biggest inducements, conspiracy theories are for “losers,” though sooner or later everyone must play the loser. In short, successful conspiracy theories conform to a strategic logic based on threat perception.

* Talk show host Glenn Beck routinely traffics in conspiratorial rhetoric, divining who is secretly working with whom (usually communists) and why (usually to spread communism). Beck realizes that repetitively linking actors and events to pinkish puppet masters might strike some in his audience as obsessive-compulsive conspiracy mongering. To ward off the hurtful slur of conspiracy theorist, Beck invokes yet another conspiracy theory. “Why is it a concentrated effort now to label me a conspiracy theorist?” he inquired of himself on his radio show. His answer: “[Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Cass Sunstein] said the government should call anyone who stands against them a conspiracy theorist. . . . This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is what he wrote about. This was his way for the government—and he said, ‘Even if it turns out to be true, you have to label people a conspiracy theorist because it isolates them.’”

* “There seems to be a curious American tendency to search, at all times, for a single external center of evil to which all our troubles can be attributed, rather than to recognize that there might be multiple sources of resistance to our purposes and undertakings, and that these sources might be relatively independent of each other.”
—George F. Kennan

* Sharing conspiracy theories provides a way for groups falling in the pecking order to revamp and recoup from losses, close ranks, staunch losses, overcome collective action problems, and sensitize minds to vulnerabilities. Emerging groups, minor groups, and social movements will turn to conspiracy talk for similar reasons.

* Conspiracy talk provides a unifying narrative of a terrifying enemy. Communicating conspiracy theories heightens alertness to avert tragedy. The tendency of conspiracy theorists to scapegoat, however reprehensible, channels anger, avoids internecine recriminations, and aims at redemption.

* Victory being a lax disciplinarian, large winning groups feel less anxiety, more in control, and less need for conspiracy theories. But losses may be cumulative, and conspiracy talk is most likely to issue from domestic groups who fail to achieve power, objectives, or resources.

* Americans find living with power asymmetry more uncomfortable as time goes on. Anecdotally, 9/11 Truther theories began to strongly resonate not immediately after 9/11/2001, but in the beginning of Bush’s second term.

* What is curious about radical conspiratorial writings is that they are only
a more intense version of mundane political discourse. Where regular politicians highlight problems, advocate solutions, and call for concerted action soon, conspiracy theorists highlight an abysmal state of affairs, advocate titanic policies, and call for concerted action right now.

* …third parties and political movements have more need for conspiratorial rhetoric than do major parties because they are consummate losers—they never win. Those groups that achieve goals and overcome rivals, regardless of their size, may have less need for conspiracy theories. The more losses one suffers, the more tempting conspiracy theories become…

So how do you spot winners and losers? I did a Google search and here are some things I found that resonated with me:

From Weidel on Winning:

You Have to be Fussy to be Excellent

We spend most of our time with people who are slow to learn, and we wind up having to repeat ourselves and explain things over and over again just so they will get it…

A winner is somebody who comes in bright-eyed, full of energy, and asks a lot of questions. You give them a few answers and off to the races they go…

Good Employees Learn Fast

They can’t even imagine doing something in a half-hearted, haphazard way.

Jeff Boss writes:

Winning is focusing on what’s important, such as leaving work early to take care of family issues to take and not worrying what your coworkers think.

More than anything winning is about the people with whom you surround yourself.

Trump’s description of Jeb Bush as “low energy” was devastating. A large part of Trump’s success stems from the energy and excitement he creates.

Here are traits I associate with losers:

* Passive
* Listless
* Bored
* Cultivate victimhood and conspiracy theories
* Isolated. Robin Dunbar writes in his 2021 book Friends: “Loneliness is… an evolutionary alarm signal that something is wrong – a prompt that you need to do something about your life, and fast. Even just the perception of being socially isolated can be enough to disrupt your physiology, with adverse consequences for your immune system, as well as your psychological wellbeing, that, if unchecked, lead to a downward spiral and early death.”
* I feel bad when I’m around them
* Frantic
* Vague
* Idea deflection
* Create drama
* Compulsive need to prove
* Cling to useless possessions
* Give away their time
* Fixate on their hurts.
* Discordant
* Takers
* Take long hits of Copium
* Say “please clap.”
* Wear medals to work.

Here are traits I associate with winners:

* Energy
* Drive
* Passion
* Positive
* Good friends
* Busy
* I feel good when I’m around them
* Calm
* Admirable lifestyle
* Tracking. Winners track their time and finances, and if necessary, their food.
* Open to new ideas
* Purpose
* Clear priorities
* Quickly separate themselves from those who are bad for them
* Welcome feedback and quickly discard that which is not helpful.
* Congruent
* Winners rarely need to announce their boundaries. They’re so formidable, you’d never even consider abusing them.
* Givers

My favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys, was destroyed by the Green Bay Packers yesterday 48-32. Once my team went down 27-0, I started laughing about it to my friends. When you can be amused by the life outside of your control rather than devastated, that’s a winning approach.

Nicolas Cole writes: “A winner only spends time with other winners.”

From MindGym:

People feel most engaged when performing tasks that stretch them to the limits of their ability…

Energy is infectious…

Cedric Webb writes:

Winners don’t look for excuses…

The priority must always be the priority. If something is important enough to you, it will take precedence. If it is not important enough, it will take a back seat.

When a winner finds another winner, they want to be around them more… The old proverb goes, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Wasting time means wasting energy. Knowing what to invest your time in is key to maximizing time. As Stephen Covey said, “The key is not spending time, but investing in it.” Invest your time in the right people, processes, and purposes.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Kevin Daum writes:

1. Winners get in the game.
2. Winners boldly ask for what they want.
3. Winners understand their sphere of influence.
4. Winners gratefully leverage the strengths of others.
Winners invest their time and energy in the things that excite them.

Bedros Keuilian writes:

#1: They show up even when they don’t feel like it.
#6: They keep their actions congruent with their goals.

Giovanni Azael writes: “There is no man, except that who is unwise, who starts a building project, for instance, without counting the project’s cost to the last penny. Winning in life is the cumulative series of successive wins, and for every win, there are distinctive prices to be paid.”

A friend says: “The single biggest thing is if a person is forward thinking and planning and action toward some future goal, or living in the past.”

I’ve long defined happiness as looking forward to the day ahead.

As people get older, they might naturally spend less time planning and more time reminiscing. If you can look back with ease and joy and gratitude, that strikes me as winning. If you look back with bitterness and rage, that strikes me as losing.

We all lose (jobs, friendships, communities, status, opportunities). We all will go through bitterness and anger and depression after a significant loss. Winners get through this phase more adaptively than losers. Adaptive depression is grieving what you lost, noticing where you might have gone wrong, considering plans for the future, working out various scenarios for going forward in your life, and then after an appropriate time retreating from life, you then push forward with plans that will likely advance your interests. Maladaptive depression means getting stuck in depression. Denial means denying the significance of your loss and just pushing forward with gritted teeth.

Depression and anger are adaptive responses at times. We never graduate from being human, we never stop cycling through feelings of competence, dependence, loneliness, grandiosity, and humiliation.

Winners build healthy connections while losers try to manipulate their way through life. For example, a winning employee makes his employer’s priorities his priorities while a losing employee ignores his employer’s mission in favor of his own proclivities. A winning friend is open to assisting his friends achieve their healthy goals while a loser doesn’t want his friends to excel him. Winners get good things done while losers complain and blame.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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