In my last blog post, entitled Absolute Must, I mentioned an important by-product of setting Objectives; the Endowment Effect.  It seems there is more to setting future plans for ourselves than just making a list of things we want to accomplish and then figuring out how to get there.  Additionally, when we take ownership of an idea, there is a host of chemical reactions that take place inside us, that make us more likely to continue in our personal endeavors than you might be aware of.  Likewise, a lack of these chemicals may explain why we get side-tracked or often fall short in achieving the results we seek in our lives.  This brain chemistry I am referring to is a central component of your personal Operational System that allows you to tie your strategic plans to your daily tactics.  As part of Warrior Life Coaching, I focus on this phenomenon to help you develop the best Operational System for you.  Understanding how to foster the optimum environment for your body to produce these chemicals will be the subject of future posts, but for now, let's delve into the science of owning our aspirations.

A bird in the hand

I first learned about the Endowment Effect from Dustin Wax, a writer with Stepcase Lifehack, a site dedicated to increasing productivity.  Wax writes that, "Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves."

Wax further elucidates the beginnings of this idea by telling a story about a famous experiment at Cornell University.  It seems that researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few students were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate.  

This may seem like no big deal, but when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, researchers found that now, very few students were interested in the mugs. Apparently, the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

That is why this phenomenon is called the “Endowment Effect”, as people have created a connection through attaining something they did not have before. Wax again reminds us that "in a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity."

Interestingly, researchers have shown that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation (this is why your Objectives must be an Absoulte Must) of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us.  


A great example would be the loss felt when attempting to buy a home.  You make an offer on a house that you just love and later find out that someone has offered a higher price.  Although you never owned the house, you had a connection with it, based on the expectations of it becoming yours.  If you want to see the endowment effect in full swing, go to a local mall this Holiday season and watch the long list of children waiting to tell Santa Claus what they want for Christmas.  This explains the absolute joy on their faces as they unwrap the present they have dreamed about getting or it explains the tears and frustration they experience when it is not under the tree.

The Chemistry of Success

So what does this have to do with brain chemistry, you might still be wondering?  As many of you know, our brains function as a series of interconnected electrical connections and specialized chemicals.  These chemicals are commonly called neurotransmitters.  There are over a hundred different neurotransmitters in our bodies and science is just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding them.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that gets a lot of attention these days and is probably the most widely known.  For today's post; however, I want to talk about the role of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that facilitates goal-oriented behavior, motivation, and is tied to the regions of your brain that signal movement.  It is the cause for the emotions and feelings that flood your body when you accomplish your goals and Objectives.  One easy way to realease dopamine is to exercise.  Another way is to create a list of tasks that you need to accomplish and check off the tasks as you accomplish them.  As a side note; how many of you readers have ever used a checklist and crossed off the tasks you accomplished and then realized you have accomplished a task not on your list?  What do we do?  We put the accomplished task on the list and then immediately check it off, right?  We do that to get the feeling associated with accomplishment.

There is a growing consensus that dopamine networks in our brain influence everyday behaviors, especially on a subconscious level.  Richard Depue, Ph.D., a professor of human development at Cornell University states, "when our dopamine system is active, we are more positive, excited, and eager to go after goals and rewards."  If you believe this is true (and know there is a ton of research to support its existence) then why wouldn't you organize your life as a planned and synchronized movement, loaded with continuous reward, to achieve the objectives you set for yourself?

Take Away

Set Objectives in your life, visualize accomplishing them to engage an endowment effect,  break them down into smaller, attainable steps to increase not only your success rate, but to sustain your dopamine supply line.  In my next post, we'll tackle the use of visualization and how it can enhance your success.

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