#1223 The Mystery of the Oscars

Plus: Cookie Jars and Highlight Reels

In our last +1, we hung out with Goldilocks and set some goals that landed in the right spot on that Inverted U of ours—challenging but doable.

Today I’d like to go back to Ian Robertson and his great book The Winner Effect.

We’re going to talk about the fascinating neuroscience of winning an Oscar.

Ian tells us: “The biggest day-to-day stress for us humans is the threat to the self. For most celebrity actors, only as good as their last movie, the self is under constant evaluation, repeated threat. The same is true for international scientists, only as good as their last paper, their past achievements having set the bar at heights they have to exceed again and again. Or the salesperson, only as good as the last contract landed. After all, people do not compare the director’s new movie, the scientist’s new scientific paper or the businessman’s latest deal with his average achievement. They compare it with the most easily remembered previous movie/paper/deal—which is usually the best one.

And that is the proposed solution to the mystery of the Oscars—winning an Oscar may offer a powerful and near-everlasting ‘safety signal for self’—a sort of lifelong insurance policy that protects ‘me’ against the terrible stress of other people’s negative evaluations. Winning an Oscar may be one lifelong ‘all clear’ air-raid siren—a permanent safety signal that your self is secure. That is perhaps why winning an Oscar makes you live so much longer—by protecting your self, it defends your body.”

That’s from a fascinating chapter called “The Mystery of the Oscars” in which we explore the question: “Why do we want to win?”

(Note: Each of the core chapters in the book answers a different question—starting with “Are we born to win?” then moving on to “Is winning a matter of chance and circumstances?” then “What does power do to us?” and concluding with “Does winning have a downside?”

Short answers are: No. No. A lot. And, Yes. :)


The chapter about the Mystery of the Oscars is all about solving the riddle of why Oscar winners live, on average, an ASTONISHING “four years longer than, by all other measures, equally successful Oscar nominees.”

(btw: Four years is a long time. “In fact if such a four-year improvement in life expectancy were extrapolated to the whole population it would be equivalent to the result of curing all cancers.”)

As Ian walked us through the importance of protecting our sense of self, I thought of Navy SEAL David Goggins and his Oscar-like cookie jar. I also thought of my Yoda, Phil Stutz—who happens to coach a number of Hollywood’s elite including a bunch of Oscar-winning actors.

First, Goggins.

In Can’t Hurt Me he tells us that he has a “cookie jar” of past success he can go to whenever he needs some fuel.

He puts it this way: “That’s one reason I invented the Cookie Jar. We must create a system that constantly reminds us who … we are when we are at our best, because life is not going to pick us up when we fall. There will be forks in the road … mountains to climb, and we are only capable of living up to the image we create for ourselves.”

Note: He ALSO tells us that we need to discipline ourselves to BRING OUR BEST when we FEEL THE WORST.

He tells us: “Remember, visualization will never compensate for the work undone. You cannot visualize lies. All the strategies I employ to answer the simple questions and win the mind game are effective because I put in work. It’s a lot more than mind over matter. It takes relentless self-discipline to schedule suffering into your day, every day, but if you do, you’ll find that at the other end of that suffering is a whole other life just waiting for you.”

That’s a good one-two punch for antifragile confidence. Start by showing up and EARNING your own trust by doing what needs to get done whether you feel like it or not. Then, make sure you’ve got your cookie jar of you at your best filled up so you can get fueled by those past successes when you really need it.

Phil Stutz says basically the exact same thing.

He tells us that we need to have a “highlight reel” of past successes ready at hand that we can put on repeat when we’re feeling self-doubt.

And, as we’ve discussed countless times, he tells us that we need to cultivate our emotional stamina. Remember: “The worse I feel, the more committed I am to the protocol.”

He and I actually chatted about this Idea in our Coaching session the other day. I read him part of the blurb and asked him what he thought.

He told me he agreed.

Then said that the real challenge is: “How do you have the Oscar without having the Oscar?”

The true winner, he says, is not dependent on any outer event or object to feel like a winner. The metrics we measure ourselves against must be within our control. Ultimately, we’re competing against ourselves and we’re fiercely committed to embodying courage and love.

THAT’s what true winning is all about.

And, that’s Today’s +1.

Let’s fill up our Cookie Jars, play our highlight reels, and hand ourselves an Oscar.


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