Armchair philosopher

Duelling crickets, Copernicus, and self actualisation

Successful people aren't born that way, they learn it

In the early 1960s, an interesting series of experiments showed how dominance hierarchies develop among common field crickets. These experiments showed that when an individual cricket won a fight, the likelihood of that cricket winning consecutive fights increased. The opposite was also true—a cricket that lost a fight was less likely to be as aggressive in later fights, would avoid harm, and would tend to lose. This results in crickets forming a clear linear dominance hierarchy when kept together in groups.

What's interesting about these experiments is that the confidence of a cricket was easy to manipulate when the fights were rigged. The experimenters created a scenario in which crickets would fight a model cricket—one in which the aggressiveness could be controlled to manipulate the outcome of a fight. Sometimes the model cricket would win, sometimes the model cricket would lose. They observed that crickets became increasingly submissive when they lost a fight to the model, and increasing aggressive and opportunistic when they won.

This showed that the determining factor in whether a cricket was confident or timid when facing a new challenger had little to do with who the challenger was, and everything to do with how the cricket perceived itself.

Even when the fights were randomly concluded, the resulting win or loss would impact the crickets in such a way as to set them up for a future success or a future fail, and determine where they would ultimately land in the hierarchy.

A similar effect can be observed in other animals, including birds and primates. Although human brains possess far more complex processes for interpretation than a cricket brain, the same underlying mechanisms of victory and defeat shaping our confidence are there—and they have a profound effect on how we perceive the world, and who we ultimately become.

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus changed the world by demonstrating that the Earth revolves around the sun. Until then, most people in Europe believed the opposite was true, and this shaped how they viewed and perceived the Universe. Copernicus's discovery didn't change the nature of the Universe itself in any way, he only changed how we view it—but this change has had a marked effect on science, religion, and philosophy, the perceptions of mankind, ever since.

Whenever we hear about or see someone who's particularly successful, we tend to talk about their success being a result of their intrinsic motivation and drive, an innate trait that they seem to have that defines them as different from us. But this thinking is backwards—we confuse cause and effect. Personal successes, in whatever aspect of life, makes us more confident in that domain and drives us to become more motivated, which in turn, allows us to have more personal successes.

Once you start to see your life from this perspective, you can start to regain control over your own course. By setting yourself up for small, easy victories, you can become increasingly more confident until the momentum is self-perpetuating. Most good teachers know this.

It all begins with making one, tiny step in the right direction. Kaizen.

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