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by Dr. Beverly Potter

It's elementary:
Winning increases performance;
losing decreases performance.


Positive Win

What we most commonly think of as a positive outcome involves turning on something good in our lives- getting a "win." Examples are when someone compliments you  - "Hey, George, what a great idea!", getting a bonus, feeling satisfied. You are likely to repeat whatever you did that gets you the win.

Negative Win

Another kind of positive outcome is less obvious but equally powerful and potentially sinister. Such an outcome occurs in situations in which your actions result in something negative being removed.
A story
First Man is banging his head.

Second Man asks, Why are you banging your head?

First Man replies, Because it feels for good when I stop!

You are likely to repeat anything you do that turns off pain.
Suppose you have a headache and take an aspirin. If the pain goes away, you have experienced a "negative win" and you will probably an another aspirin the next time you have a headache. We all want to have as little pain as possible. Any time we can avoid it, we usually try to do so.
Warning:Whatever you do to turn off "bummers," you're likely to do so again and again until it becomes an engrained habit, whether or not danger of the bummer continues to exist. Each time you escape the discomfort, you feel better momentarily. You may have averted a bummer or have been lashing out at windmills! Either way, the result is the same: You feel better because the threat, real or imagined, has been averted.
Pay close attention to anything you do
that turns off pain, and anxiety in particular.

Avoidance Cycle

It is extremely difficult to break a cycle of avoidance once established.  If your avoidance involves a self-destructive behavior, you can be in trouble. For example, if you have a couple of drinks to relieve anxiety you can run the risk of becoming an alcoholic.


There are two types of negative outcomes.  We usually respond to negative outcomes anxiety and fear and are inclined not to repeat actions that meet with negative outcomes.

Something unpleasant is turned on.
Being slapped or criticized, experiencing pain or anxiety are examples.
Something pleasant is taken away.
Having your pay docked or a friend give you the cold shoulder are examples.

No Outcome

No outcome at all: Nothing happens.
Actions that have bring you nothing are typically not repeated. Psychologists call this extinction. But if you think about it, it is rare that "nothing" happens, because everything is relative.


If you expect a win (you complete a report early and expect your boss to be impressed but get only silence instead), you may get no outcome but it feels negative because something you expect is withheld.  In this case, this would actually be a form of punishment in which something you were hoping for was withheld.

Copyright © 1980, 1993, 1998: Beverly A. Potter, from "Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work", Ronin.  All Rights Reserved. This article man be down loaded for person use.  Any other use requires written permission from docpotter.

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