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How to Win Like a "Type A" . . . Even When You're Not
You aren't imagining it: a few select people really are "natural winners."
But don't despair. In his new book, The Winner's Mind, Allen Fox explains
how you--yes, you--can transform your life by thinking like a champion.
Have you ever noticed that a few rare individuals seem to be natural winners? Think about it.
You may remember a guy who ruled the high school football field, graduated college summa
cum laude, and went on to start a thriving business or two. You may also conclude that such
people are sprinkled with some sort of magic success dust that's unavailable to the rest of us.
Author Allen Fox, Ph.D., says the bad news is that yes, Mr. Quarterback/Academic
Star/Entrepreneur Extraordinaire may well start out with a natural edge over you. The good
news is that he doesn't have to end up with one. You can learn his formula … and it all has
to do with how you think.
"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 (USRSA; 2005; ISBN: 0-972-27592-4; $17.95).
"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 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 (if somewhat controversial) 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."
He has evidence that people who have "Type A" personalities (aggressive, anxious, suspicious,
goal- and achievement-oriented), those who are classified as "mesomorphs" (strong, muscular body
types coupled with dominant, pugnacious temperaments)--the same people who 30,000 years ago
would have been likely to successfully hunt, acquire and defend their possessions, and pass on their
strong genes--have a natural advantage in sports and business. The drive to conquer others and possess
more territory still exists … only now, instead of fighting for the biggest cave, we fight for the CEO
parking space and the corner office.
But what if you're not a Type A mesomorph? What if you're a laid-back Type B endomorph who
just doesn't enjoy the fight? Do you have to settle for a crowded subway car and a tiny cubicle? 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 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:
Become 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.
For example, people who succeed in tennis figure out which shot provides the maximum payoff for the
minimum risk, and are ultimately able to select the best shot, over and over, for every situation. Makes
sense, right? Then why do so many players continue to take counterproductive risks by hitting too hard,
too close to the net, or too close to the lines? What blinds them?
Fox answers, "Constantly refining one's techniques takes mental effort as well as physical, and thinking is
hard work. When possible, people resist hard work. Plus, in tennis it's far less scary to just bang away at
the ball and leave the outcome to fortune than it is to, in a controlled and thoughtful manner, keep the ball
in your court. If you have a good day, you win; if you have a bad one, you lose--no emotional drama. By
contrast, playing consistently leads to long, stress-filled points, and that requires emotional discipline and
prolonged concentration. Unruly nerves and choking raise their ugly heads and must be overcome. None
of this is pleasant, so the average person dodges the situation. They don't look … and they lose."
The lesson for you, on the tennis court or in the office, 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 wary of a natural urge to discard those facts that
are at odds with your preconceived notions, that cause you to change your plans, or that 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 twenty-seven
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.
Let your intellect trump your emotions. Champions have control over their emotions rather than the other
way around. They respond to problems with their logic systems rather than their emotional systems.
Competitive situations in business and sport generate a host of strong emotions, some of which can hinder or
even demolish one's ability to reach one's goals. Fear of failure is the major culprit, accompanied, in many
cases, by its usual counterproductive cohorts--insecurity, discouragement, frustration, and urges to increase
one's importance and fortify one's fragile ego.
In sports, the losers become immersed in these emotions, are swept hither and yon, and their performance
deteriorates. If they are playing well, they feel good. If they are playing badly, they feel bad. This is an unstable
situation in that bad play generates bad emotions that, in turn, generate further bad play. When champions are
playing badly, they are practical and use their emotions to help them play better. Jimmy Connors, for example,
used to psych himself up when he got behind by thinking aggressive, positive, courageous thoughts to induce a
flow of adrenaline. He often gestured to the crowd to gain their support, which also created in him the emotions
he needed. This helped him to make his many famed comebacks.
Make sure you understand your own emotional inclinations, and be suspicious of your quick decisions if
emotions are involved. Emotions are often of short duration and changeable, and the facts may appear very
different with the passage of a day or two. Take your time and weigh the issues carefully before making
important decisions. Are your emotions mixing into the equation? If so, try to identify them and set them aside.
As best you can, work only with the real issues. If you can't do this by yourself (and most of us can't), discuss
your ideas with a friend or business associate to gain perspective.
Be willing to work hard and long without immediate reward. For champions, success does not have to come
right away. They have the acuity to see past the plateau to the peak beyond, and even when no return is visible
on the near horizon, they can keep working with high intensity. Champions are not dependent on immediate
reinforcement to drive their efforts. By contrast, most people need tangible success relatively quickly, lest they
lose motivation, become disheartened, and stop working.
In The Winner's Mind, Fox describes a study done by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel on four-year-old
children. They were given a choice. They could have one marshmallow immediately, or, if they were willing to
wait twenty minutes, they could have two. The children who could sit at the table for twenty minutes--sometimes
hiding their eyes so they wouldn't have to look at the alluring treats--were clearly displaying the ability to delay
gratification. Twelve to fourteen years later, these children (now adolescents) were tracked down. The dramatic
result? The children who delayed gratification scored, on average, 210 points higher on their SATs than the ones
"Most bright, ambitious people entering a business are able to learn 95 percent of the necessary and available
information in the first year or two," says Fox. "After that, the work becomes largely routine and repetitious, the
pay level doesn't seem to be in any hurry to rise, and most aspirants begin to wonder if they are just wasting time
and going nowhere. What they don't realize is that the missing 5 percent of necessary information is where all the
significant money is made. And this 5 percent takes another five to ten years to gather and assimilate. The moral
of the story is this: when you're working toward a business goal, stick around for the final 5 percent. Stick around
for the extra marshmallows."
Still worried that you don't have the "right stuff," that you weren't born a winner, that you might have been one
of the "one marshmallow now" kids in the experiment? Don't be. Fox points out that those of us who are forced to
learn success strategies (as opposed to being born with them) are often better off than those genetic winners we
"It is not uncommon for individuals whom we identify as 'champions' in their chosen fields to be blindly and
excessively driven such that they neglect personal relationships and end up empty and unhappy," he writes.
"Single-minded focus poses its dangers. Yet people need some degree of success and achievement to feel good
about themselves. For this reason, one may be better off learning the strategies that bring success in competition
and achievement rather than being one of the born super-competitors and achievers who has never behaved in
any other way."
"Balance, perspective, and a thoughtful approach to all of life's difficulties provide the likely path to ultimate
fulfillment," he adds. "And getting a few more wins and the odd bit of extra success won't hurt the process either."
About the Author:
Allen Fox is a man of incredible versatility, having reached the highest levels in academia, sports, and business. He earned a B.A. in physics and a doctorate in psychology, both from UCLA, and later taught classes at Pepperdine University in psychology and at Long Beach State University in business statistics. At the same time, Dr. Fox was competing as a world-class tennis player. He won the NCAA singles, the Canadian Nationals, the U.S. National Hardcourts, reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and was a three-time member of the United States Davis Cup team, having been ranked as high as #4 in the United States.
After his tennis playing days ended, Dr. Fox went into business, working in the investment banking departments of two small New York Stock Exchange brokerage firms: Kleiner-Bell and Newberger-Loeb. From there he went on to manage Wyler Associates, a private investment company that owned and directly controlled a number of diverse businesses, among which were apartment building construction and management, cattle feeding, and international steel sales. Still later he was the owner and chief operating officer of several small private companies in the specialty food business.
But the energetic Dr. Fox did not stop there. He also coached the Pepperdine University tennis team, building it from a small, unknown program into a national powerhouse. His teams reached two NCAA finals and were ranked among the top five teams in the nation for ten straight years. Among the team members that Fox coached were Brad Gilbert, the renowned coach of Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, Kelly Jones, who now coaches Mardy Fish, and Martin Laurendeau, the captain of the Canadian Davis Cup team.
Dr. Fox is a past editor of Tennis Magazine and author of two classic tennis books, If I'm the Better Player, Why Can't I Win and Think to Win. He consults and works privately with athletes on the mental issues of competition, among them some of the most illustrious names in professional tennis, baseball, and other sports. Finally, he lectures on sports psychology at conventions and to tennis groups around the world. Dr. Fox lives in San Luis Obispo with his wife, Nancy, and his two boys, Evan and Charlie.
About the Book:
The Winner's Mind: A Competitor's Guide to Sports and Business Success (USRSA; 2005; ISBN: 0-972-27592-4; $17.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and major online booksellers.
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