Ashley Merryman, The Science of Competition

If everyone gets a trophy, everyone wins, right? As harmless as it may seem, there comes a point when praising — regardless of performance or achievement — becomes destructive. Bestselling co-author Ashley Merryman feels strongly about the real danger in false praising and overpraising.

Ashley and Po Bronson’s newest book, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, discusses the science of competition and reveals why it’s important to experience defeat — on and off the field. Competition allows us to better gauge our abilities by identifying strengths and weaknesses, and reveals what needs improvement. Without the contrast of winning and losing, there’s no motivation to push to maximum potential.

You can find growth and opportunity in every loss if you position your mindset to learn from your mistakes. Listen in as Ashley and Jake discuss some of those powerful mindset shifts and approaches that can help you to be better than you were yesterday.


  • When finding an opponent, look for someone slightly above your skill level.
  • Use your competition as a tool to help you figure out where you are.
  • Observe where they’re better so you can learn from them.
  • Identify your weakness and focus on improving with small goals.


Chronic stress is unhealthy but acute stress response in the moment can aid performance. The key is to identify how you can use the stress in a productive way:

  • Think of your 5 best performances and your emotional state before, during, and after the competition.
  • Do the same for your worst appearances.
  • Find your “sweet spot” and figure out what you need emotionally to ensure you have the environment you need to do your best.
  • Interpret your butterflies in a positive way.


  • Challenge state: “Do I have the skills, resources, knowledge, and abilities to succeed?”
  • Threat state: You don’t have the skills, resources, knowledge, and ability to succeed (lacking).

Underlying physiological effects:

  • Challenge state: boost of testosterone vs cortisol, boost of adrenaline vs noradrenaline
  • Threat state: more cortisol vs testosterone, more noradrenaline vs adrenaline

“If you can succeed in a threat state, that’s the day you did it in spite of yourself.”-AM


  • Helped Olympians better perform under pressure
  • Co-authored two New York Times bestsellers, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children and Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing


  • Waking up and asking the question, “Is this a challenge or a threat?”
  • If you know you’re good at something, then your responsibility is to say ‘How do I use this talent? How do I contribute?’


  • Be inspired by your competitors to do more.
  • Focus on improvement rather than beating your competitors.
  • We learn more from other’s mistakes than successes.


“It’s not about constantly ratcheting up competition. It’s understanding when competition is valuable.”

“If you’re excited at the idea that ‘Wow, today I’m good but tomorrow I’m going to be better because of what I’m doing now’, there’s no reason to be stressed…You should always be excited. You should always be challenged.”

“You have to be aware of your competition. You want to use your awareness to catalyze your improvement. It’s not about tearing the other guy down but using him to help you push forward.”


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Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

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Episode 41