Monday, May 10, 2010

Down vs. Up

Using a sports analogy, looking at a situation in a way that makes you think you're down helps you to stay motivated. Looking at a situation in a way that makes you think you're up helps you to stay calm and confident. They're two mental hacks that are both widely advocated.

Here's Ben Casnocha on being down:
NCAA basketball teams that are behind by one point at halftime are more likely to win than teams that are one point ahead.
That's the fascinating finding of two professors who studied more than 6,000 games. The results are the same even when taking into account homecourt advantage, the team winning percentages and which team got the ball to start the second half.
So what may be driving this pattern? The reason is motivation. Being behind by a little leads to victory because it increases effort. Not only do teams down by a point at the break score more than their opponents in the second half, they do so in a particular way. They come out of the locker room fired up and make up for most of the point deficit in the first few minutes of the second half.
And Josh Kaufman on being up:
An ideal isn’t an ideal unless you haven’t accomplished it yet. Our real achievements are rapidly consumed by the hedonic treadmill. Living in an oceanside villa or driving a brand new car is rapturous for a week or two. After a month, it’s old hat – you barely notice, in the same way your nose quickly acclimates to even the finest perfume after a few minutes.
Whenever you get closer to an ideal, your ideal moves to compensate. If you never take the time to be mindful of your achievements, your vision will forever be on the horizon – even the most successful people are quick to tell you how their lives could be better. If your happiness and life satisfaction are contingent on reaching your ideals, you’ll be miserable for a long time to come.
To illustrate this point, let's say that for the sake of argument we can agree that this is an accurate representation of the nebulous characteristic, "blog quality":
Taking the first road, you change your view of the spectrum so that it looks like you're up on the rest:


Or you look at it in a way that makes you think you're down:



Those are two different ways of looking at the same spectrum. And each one is useful to achieve a certain end. But both have side effects. If you always think you're ahead, you become complacent. If you always think you're behind, it seems like you're not ever getting anywhere- even though you've accomplished all this stuff, you're still behind.

To me they seem mutually exclusive- how do you reconcile the two opposing heuristics?  The easy answer is to think like you're one behind most of the time but schedule time for reflection every so often. I'm not sure it's that simple and as easy as it sounds. Maybe the best thing to do is just to look at it is simply as it is.

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