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Why Entrepreneurs Are Animals—And How That Can Help You Get Ahead

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aggressive businessman

Ever regretted a business decision you made in the heat of the moment?

Most of us have. And most of us have felt the urge to yelp with excitement when we win a big success, too.

That’s your inner animal at work. Literally at work; you don’t leave it behind when you’re taking care of business!

You might like to think you’re a cool, clear-headed entrepreneur making rational decisions, but what’s really going on underneath is a bit… messier. Whether you know it or not, you’re acting and reacting just like an animal.

Here’s why:

Why Entrepreneurs Are Animals

Your business decisions are strongly influenced by your hormonal state. Yep, even if you’re a man. In fact, the effect is typically stronger in men, because a lot of it is testosterone-based.

John Coates, a Wall Street trader turned neuroscientist, found that fluctuating testosterone and cortisol levels have a massive influence on the decisions we make. He’s seen the effects first-hand on the trading floor, and his research shows that we’re no different than other animals in our hormonal behavior.

Testosterone is released into your bloodstream during a victory, a risk or a competition. It’s like a chemical battle cry that echoes through your blood, your brain and your body.

In times of stress and uncertainty, your body produces cortisol, which has the opposite effect. It’s calming in small amounts, but too much leaves you feeling exhausted, anxious and depressed.

What does this all mean for your professional life? Well, if everyone’s decisions are influenced by their hormonal state, you can use that knowledge to further your ambitions.

Understand Your Inner Animal to Get Ahead

Coates calls it the “winner effect”: the excitement of competition and success prompts your body to produce testosterone. That influences your brain to make riskier decisions, and for a while you keep winning bigger and bigger, smashing through targets like a charging rhino.

In the end, of course, overconfidence turns one of those optimistic gambles into a failure. You kick yourself (how did you fail to see it coming?) as cortisol floods into your bloodstream, making you anxious and miserable.

You try to protect yourself by avoiding further risk, which means you miss out on worthwhile opportunities until your hormones level out and you regain your confidence. If this had a name, I guess it would be the “loser effect.” But don’t worry; you can turn it around!

Once you know how your hormones affect your judgement, you can consciously correct for these effects and keep your business decisions on a more even keel:

  • When you’re feeling cortisol-stuffed and risk-averse, remind yourself to look rationally at any trade-offs you’re considering. If the benefit is high and the risk is small, maybe you should give it a chance!
  • Remember that asking for help when you need it is a sign of professional strength, not weakness. Don’t let a cortisol downer isolate you from your support network.
  • Understand that a little bit of testosterone and risk does you good, making you more productive and successful at work—as long as you’re not overdoing it.
  • When you’re feeling on top of the world with a testosterone high, remember that it’s a long way down! Rein in your risk-taking urges a little and consult with colleagues or friends to find out if they think your plans are genius or just plain nuts.
  • Notice when your hormones are being manipulated to influence your decisions. Brands like The Sales Lion and Shark Tank, for example, aren’t named after large predatory animals by sheer chance; they’re designed to appeal to the testosterone in an ambitious entrepreneur like you!

Learn to Tame the Animal in Others

You aren’t the only one who gets hormonal, you know. It’s every single one of us.

We get angry, tearful, euphoric or nervous because our hormones overrule rational thought. Every business meeting or transaction is influenced by these biological factors, so let’s learn to work with that.

If you know a contact or colleague has just suffered a setback in their business or personal life, remember that cortisol will make them less interested in opportunities that carry any kind of risk. You might want to offer brief, friendly condolences and wait a while before bringing them your latest proposal. Or perhaps you can frame your idea as a risk reduction. “Let me take responsibility for X and you’ll never have to worry that it’s been overlooked again” could work pretty well at a time like this.

The flip side of this is to press your advantage when you know someone’s on a testosterone roll. They’ll be feeling exuberant and generous in victory, so make the most of it. In other words, ask for a raise or promotion the day your boss wins an award, and you’re more likely to get your wish!

Whatever your ambition, understanding our animal biochemistry will help you to achieve it. Armed with this knowledge, you can survive even the worst moments of your career with dignity and take full advantage of the best.

You’re an animal. Recognizing that gives you power. Use it wisely, and you’ll be unstoppable!

Sophie Lizard is a freelance blogger and copywriter on a mission to help entrepreneurs boost their income and professional reputation by blogging for hire. Download her free Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs to get started with 45 blogs that pay $50 or more!

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=374518769280876 Leanne Regalla | Make Creativity Pay

    Wow, Sophie… really never thought of it this way. Thanks for the insight, I think it will come in very handy. ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=718381983 Sophie Lizard

      Thanks Leanne! Yep, things are never as rational as they seem…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000299498042 Wayne Hsu

    Great post Sophie, interesting way of thinking about how emotion affects judgement. I enjoyed your suggestions on how to control the inner animal, thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=718381983 Sophie Lizard

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Wayne, glad you enjoyed it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552148080 Laure Cohen van Delft

    Love your angle Sophie Lizard! We can use fancy words like the biological factors or clock or temperaments but you make a good point: men and women are still animals! I’ve been using the Myers Briggs classification – just an other way to talk about animals!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=718381983 Sophie Lizard

      Thanks, Laure! I think it’s good for us all to remember that we’re biological creatures, with the mess and moods and instincts to match… and that doesn’t stop just because we’re at work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1008642725 JoAnn Griffin Schlicker

    Grrr. Rahr!

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