What You Need to Know About the Science of Success

What if you could program your brain for success?

Psychologists have spent countless hours researching the science behind success and failure, and have found that, to some extent, we can predispose ourselves to success if we follow a certain set of behaviours. After all, there’s nothing random about doing great at work and in life. Sometimes people with every opportunity and luxury fail; other times, people who’ve undergone unimaginable hardships succeed. So what is the underlying factor that makes the difference between life’s winners and losers? It’s all in the brain.

Perhaps the biggest neurological determinant for success is dopamine, the brain’s famous pleasure-giving neurotransmitter. In our daily lives, we know dopamine as the responsible party for the pleasure response from a wide variety of factors, including food, sex, and games. When it comes to success, it’s the association between dopamine release and playing games that’s vitally important.

Dopamine release is associated with reward responses—in other words, when we win a game, we feel a huge rush of pleasure. If you’re familiar with the business trend of “gamifying” the workplace, you’ll start to see exactly why it’s such a brilliant idea. Our brains are hard-wired to feel amazing when we win at games, and “winning” at workplace challenges can elicit the exact same response. Not only is treating work like play a great idea for employee happiness, but it’s also a huge benefit for businesses.

That’s because when the brain releases dopamine, it actually makes employees smarter and more skilled at their work. The pleasure response thickens neural pathways, making it easier to keep up the pattern of success because the brain is literally changing to make employees better at the activity they’re performing. But all of this comes with a caveat: the more they win, the bigger each new success needs to be in order to provoke the pleasure response.

If you’re thinking that this sounds like addictive behavior, you’re right—people  develop an addiction of sorts to dopamine, and can therefore easily become addicted to success. Almost like a drug, each new success needs to be bigger and more meaningful in order to stimulate equivalent feelings of happiness and pleasure. What does this mean? In our workplaces and our lives, we need to keep setting the bar higher and higher for ourselves if we want to work at our optimal level and feel our best doing it.
Here’s how you can use the science of success to set yourself up for a series of amazing wins:

  1. Start small and build from there. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest tomorrow to start off on a the road to success. Take it one step at a time and build gradually so you’ll be driven to greater and greater wins over time.
  1. Never set the same goal twice. Repeat goals bring diminishing returns in terms of the pleasure response. Change up your goals frequently (or look at it from a new angle) and always be working toward something bigger to stay motivated.
  1. Aim to experience success, not learn from failure. While it’s true that we learn from failure, we also learn from success. And because success is addictive, the more you experience it, the closer you’ll get to your goals—and the more you’ll learn along the way.


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