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Top Dog

The Science of Winning and Losing

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

What sort of things cause a lot of stress? Study got novices to do three skydiving jumps in a day. Saliva tests showed stress response after first jump, but then with each successive leap, levels dropped by a quarter. By the last jump their levels were about the same as you get from driving in heavy traffic. They had habituated. Then compared it with competitive ballroom dancing. Found that stress levels often as high as novices on their first parachute jump. Yet dancing not life-threateningly dangerous, and dancers not novices - they'd been competing for years. But didn't matter how good they were or how long they'd been dancing, they never habituated to the stress.

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Being perfect at practice doesn't mean a thing. Competition brings a danger and an excitement all of its own. So what is it that makes people able to perform when you're under pressure?

Women choose to compete less than men do, but that's not because they're afraid of taking risks - it's because men tend to be over-confident of their abilities, and so blind to some of the risk.

Competition can enhance performance - find another gear. But this doesn't apply to everyone. 50%/25%/25%. Half benefit a lot from being made to compete. A quarter largely unaffected, and a quarter don't handle competition at all.

More books on Success

Studied SAT results: kids who sat exams in large halls with lots of other students, did worse than those who sat in smaller rooms. being reminded that you're competing with a lot of other kids is intimidating.

More books on School

Home advantage crucial. We know about it in sports, but also applies to business. If you can get the meeting held in your office, you are more likely to get your way. Even preschoolers playing a game are more likely to win if play in their own classroom. Seems humans have a deeply ingrained sense of territory, and we become more confident, more motivated and more aggressive defending it against an intruder. And happens very quickly. The first person into a meeting room has the advantage - late comers accept that they are visitors.

Got male and female students to make a presentation to senior staff. they were allowed to bring along support - friends or relatives. when measured stress levels, found men much calmer from having them there. But women the opposite - they felt more self-conscious and judged.

Performance of simple tasks improves under supervision. But the more complicated the job, the worse people perform when being monitored.

Divide people into Warriors or Worriers (based on which mutation of COMT enzyme you have). Warriors are good in threatening environments where need max performance despite threat or pain. Worriers are capable of more complex planning and thinking ahead. Societies in the past have needed both types to survive.

You would expect that the best pilots would be the ones with the Warrior gene, bc best at responding to emergencies. So they put both airline pilots and recreational fliers into simulators and gave them some crises to deal with. Those with the Warrior gene did in fact handle the stressful situations well, whether airline or rec pilots. And the rec pilots with the Worrier gene flunked badly. But the trained airline pilots with the Worrier gene were the best performers of all. And it all came down to length of service - the longest serving pilots were the best. So experience and training can negate the effects of stress.

More books on Work

Competition to get into charter schools (So much demand that have lottery for places), bc they perceived as being best chance to get into top college. Two reasons why these schools succeed - they have better teachers, and the competition from other top students pushes individuals. And for girls, it works - they are more likely to get into a good college. Both factors help them. But for boys, turns out that ones who miss out actually have better success rate. For them, the constant competition (and defeat), wears down their motivation.

Only children much more co-operative and willing to share. They have never had to compete - there was always another piece of cake if they wanted one - they'd never experienced a scarcity of resources. They didn't mind lending a Barbie, because they didn't understand that it might come back missing an arm or a leg.

Penalty goal attempts in soccer shootouts. If missing the goal will cause your team to lose, strikers succeed 62% of time. It's the paradox of playing to avoid losing - trying not to make a mistake often leads to mistakes. But when getting the goal means the team will win, kickers go for it, with a 92% success rate. It's the difference between a threat and a challenge. When we face a threat our amygdala starts running the show. We start worrying about the risks and how to avoid harm. But a challenge activates the brain's reward centers and overrides the fears.

More books on Sport

Bonuses are usually structured "Do this basic work, and if you do more you'll get ..... reward." But it turns out that it's more effective to say "This is the bonus I'm going to give you, but I'll deduct ..... for every ..... below target."

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