The fascinating relationship between mind and testosterone

I know that the title sounds goofy, but it’s true, there is a powerful relationship, and it goes way beyond that study and TED talk about power postures. Besides that, this is the key that I see time and again, ignored by other books and programs about testosterone.

We saw in the testosterone book the fascinating relationship between mind, behavior and testosterone. The main conclusion was that alpha males had more testosterone (a logical conclusion indeed) but consciously becoming an alpha male gave us more testosterone too. That is, it’s a two way street and we can influence testosterone with the mindset and actions that we saw in the testosterone book. We are not doomed if we are not naturally gifted to be an alpha.

One of the main alpha traits that we saw was winning (you can insert a Charlie Sheen joke here). When you win, your testosterone is higher, an “alpha” is used to winning and, particularly, we talked about winning against others, but that’s not all.

Two studies here are the keys to uncover more intricate things about behavior, mindset and testosterone. One is called: “Testosterone, status, and mood in human males [1]”, the other is called “Winning, losing, mood, and testosterone [2]”, by Kevin McCaul and others.

The second study shows that individuals that won a “lottery” of 5$ saw higher testosterone than those who did not win (they saw better mood too), that conclusion reinforces the notion about winning and testosterone, and, in fact, shows that the hormone related to winning and losing is mainly testosterone (cortisol levels were unchanged) but the first study saw different results that open a new door, because it seems that winning is not necessarily everything, which is something that our parents tried to imprint in us, although life tends to laugh a lot at that notion.

Three main experiments went on in that study among human males.

In the first experiment, subjects played in doubles tennis matches, winners receiving prizes of $ 100 apiece.

Most winners of matches who had decisive victories showed subsequent rises in testosterone relative to losers of these matches. Nothing new so far according to what we saw in the testosterone book, but hang in there because the winners of one very close match, in which there was no clear cut triumph, did not show testosterone rises.

This is something new, it seems that not only winning influences testosterone, it’s a dominant winning, asserting dominance, what showed higher testosterone.

In the second experiment, subjects won $100 prizes, or not, depending on the random draw of a lottery. And this is how this study differs from the other we have seen about this because winners in this situation, where their fortunes came without any effort of their own, did not show subsequent testosterone rises which were greater than those who did not win.

The third experiment used the natural setting of a medical school graduation. Rises in testosterone were observed among new recipients of the M.D. Degree 1 and 2 days after the ceremony.

In all these experiments, changes in testosterone showed some relationship to subjects’ moods.

These results suggest that when a man achieves a rise in status through his own efforts, AND he has an elation of mood over the achievement, then he is likely to have a rise in testosterone (remember the dopamine part we saw in the testosterone companions? It influences mood, a lot, so better we optimize dopamine in order to reap this reward and have higher testosterone through accomplishments).

So it seems that the equation is not so simple, it’s true that Winning = more testosterone, but not every win is the same.

That’s very interesting, but we are practical people, you want to increase your testosterone and the question remains the same: “so what?”

These are the practical implications of this fascinating phenomenon.

1) Win or lose, put on a hell of a fight.

As we saw in the book, strive to win as much as you can, if you win you will see your testosterone increased, especially if you dominate, which is more likely to occur if you fight your heart out.

And if you lose, but you put on a fight, you won’t see so much difference with the testosterone levels of the winners, in fact some other studies hint that testosterone variations after losing and winning can be very related with coping strategies and mindset.

Remember that the winners that thought it was a fluke did not see their testosterone raised, it seems that believing that you gave it all in the effort helps with testosterone. So give it all.

2) It’s not only winning, it’s deserving to win.

Hard work pays. Incredible, I know. In this world of sudden fame, idiotic role models from reality shows and jerks with more undeserved money than brains, this seems like an old fashioned way of life, but it’s the «alpha way of life».

Remember the second experiment, if you win because you worked for it, your testosterone will rise, if you win because of pure chance… not so much.

Remember the testosterone book too, the winners that saw their testosterone raised were those who believed they deserved it. And what’s the best way of deserving something? Work for it.

We tend to value things according to the effort required to get those things. With no effort there is no satisfaction, no subjective value, no right mindset that raises testosterone, something linked to the final conclusion.

3) It’s not really about winning, it’s about accomplishing.

The third experiment shows this, it’s not about winning matches against others, it’s about accomplishing things that are important and come from our personal effort, like getting that school graduation.

So yes, a real «alpha» has goals, they are important to them, they want to achieve, they want to work for it and reap the deserved rewards, knowing that they came because they earned them.

Testosterone and mindset is not about winning against other people in competitions that include punching in the face (well, not only) it’s about having important goals, striving to reach them and putting a fight for them, believing and knowing that you are capable and that you deserve them, because mindset and mood, and not only results, are important, so important indeed that they deserve a section on their own.

4) Enjoy your victories and the advance in your goals.

The sense of accomplishment and worthiness is, in many ways, something subjective.

We are quick to dismiss our positive achievements, but when something bad happens or we encounter some negative criticism, we tend to think constantly about it and we give it a lot more importance.

What’s worse, these days nothing is more common than going goal after goal without stopping to enjoy the victories. When we achieve something we are thinking about what’s next, that’s not bad, the worst thing is how we never enjoy or rejoice in what we earned.

We need to stop and do that if we want to have some sense of accomplishment, because it’s not winning or achieving “per se” what gives us the boost of testosterone, it’s the subjective notion that we deserved it, that we earned it, that we advanced in our way and we are better than before. That entitlement is a way of thinking about ourselves.

But quickly dismissing the good and focusing on the negatives (the most common thing) is a testosterone-lowering recipe.

Remember the dopamine section from the Testosterone Companion

Dopamine influenced how happy we are when we accomplish something, so be sure to live a life of passion and the other strategies outlined in that section to ensure healthy levels of dopamine, if not, you will find difficult to feel rewarded by your accomplished goals and you will miss the testosterone boosting effects..

In fact, one of the main traits of the alpha males I’ve personally known is that they are a bit delusional in a positive sense.

I mean, when a girl shuts them down, for example, it’s not their fault. They rationalize thinking that she must have a bad day or she is simply rude and they are better without meeting someone like that, and they really believe that.

In fact, being a bit delusional in that sense is psychologically healthy and hormonally optimal.

So stop and smell the roses, in fact, reading this and putting it into practice is more than many people will do, we are putting on a fight where many people surrender (with excuses like “lower testosterone is unavoidable in time” while they eat another sugar coated donut) this is something to be proud of.

5) Replay your victories to see your testosterone increased.

We don’t even have to compete for something, just the mere fact of seeing ourselves in a competition raises testosterone levels.

In this study[3], elite hockey players that saw videos of previous matches that ended in victory saw an increase in testosterone. Maybe you don’t have videos of your victories, but try to relive them as vividly as you can.

Studies referenced


[1] Testosterone, status, and mood in human males☆
Allen Mazur, b, Theodore A Lamba, b
[2] Winning, losing, mood, and testosterone
Kevin D. McCaul , Brian A. Gladue, Margaret Joppa
[3] Carre, J.M. and Putnam, S.K. (2010) Watching a previous victory produces an increase in testosterone among elite hockey players.