Friday, March 03, 2006

If at first you don't succeed, what a relief.

If I had just read this e-mail exchange between Malcolm Gladwell and ESPN's Bill Simmons a couple of years ago, I could have spent all those therapy fees on a new car. Writes Gladwell:
This is actually a question I'm obsessed with: Why don't people work hard when it's in their best interest to do so? Why does Eddy Curry come to camp every year overweight?

The (short) answer is that it's really risky to work hard, because then if you fail you can no longer say that you failed because you didn't work hard. It's a form of self-protection. I swear that's why Mickelson has that almost absurdly calm demeanor. If he loses, he can always say: Well, I could have practiced more, and maybe next year I will and I'll win then. When Tiger loses, what does he tell himself? He worked as hard as he possibly could. He prepared like no one else in the game and he still lost. That has to be devastating, and dealing with that kind of conclusion takes a very special and rare kind of resilience. Most of the psychological research on this is focused on why some kids don't study for tests -- which is a much more serious version of the same problem. If you get drunk the night before an exam instead of studying and you fail, then the problem is that you got drunk. If you do study and you fail, the problem is that you're stupid -- and stupid, for a student, is a death sentence. The point is that it is far more psychologically dangerous and difficult to prepare for a task than not to prepare.
Well, that explains why I'm such a terminal procrastinator. I wouldn't get drunk before exams (though I know a couple of people reading this blog who have done just that), but I would frequently not do any of the readings and skip class all semester and then try to teach myself the entire course material the day before the exam...

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