Sunday, April 23, 2017

Moving Beyond Positive Thinking | Big Think

Moving Beyond Positive Thinking | Big Think

This article nicely summaries the findings of Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg, in her book Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. Having read many “positive thinking” books over the years I know that most of these books tell us that we need to vividly visualize the goals that we want to achieve in order to attain them. However Oettingen’s research found that doing these visualizations can actually hamper our motivation!

“Positive thinking can make us feel better in the short term, but over the long term it saps our motivation, preventing us from achieving our wishes and goals, and leaving us feeling frustrated, stymied and stuck.”

In other words if we visualize our goals our mind doesn’t know the difference between the imagined outcome and the actual results! We end up having less motivation not more.

Does this mean Oettingen wants us to abandon positive thinking and become pessimists? No. Her research has shown we achieve more if we try to anticipate obstacles that stymie us and develop plans to deal with them using if-then statements. For instance, we might want to exercise first thing in the morning but we know that we repeatedly hit the snooze button. To deal with this we create the following implementation intention: “If I feel like hitting the snooze button, then I will immediately jump out of bed.”

This sounds too good to be true but studies have shown that this process works. In Oettingen’s studies 80% of those who applied the WOOP approach achieved their goals while only 30% of the control groups did.

Oettingen calls her approach WOOP, Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. You define what you wish to accomplish, determine the outcome, identify the likely obstacles then design a plan to overcome those obstacles.

Here are some links for additional information on this.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The real Super Bowl lesson wasn’t about revenge - The Boston Globe

The real Super Bowl lesson wasn’t about revenge - The Boston Globe

This article nicely captures my feelings about the New England Patriots' incredible come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. As a Pats fan it was sweet to have them win despite Brady's suspension for the first four games of the season due to allegations that the Pats lowered the pressure in their footballs.

But the satisfaction of getting this win (with properly inflated balls) pales to the spectacle of watching the Patriots methodically, relentlessly and calmly chipping away at the Falcons' lead. Meanwhile the Atlanta team could have easily added a field goal to put the game even further out of reach but succumbed to some head-scratching decisions. There easily were half a dozen or more plays that would have thwarted the Pats' comeback if any one of them had not worked in the Pats favor. 

It seems that everything is politicized these days. We know that Robert Kraft (the team owner), Bill Belichick (head coach) and Tom Brady (quarterback) are Trump supporters. We know that some of the players have said they will not attend the team meeting at the White House for political reasons. Yet it's great to see that both sides could set aside these differences (at least publicly) to work toward a common goal.

It was as if everything our parents, our teachers, our coaches had tried to teach us transpired in the last 18 minutes of this magnificent spectacle, this Super Bowl. In the end, it wasn’t about revenge. It was about not giving up, about perseverance, about not panicking, about having a backup plan if the original plan isn’t working, about believing in yourself and your ability and in one another.
The roots of the comeback were embedded in another of our parents’ mantras: that you lay the groundwork for success in ways you often can’t see, simply by persevering. Even after they had fallen behind by so much, the Patriots were controlling possession and running the Falcons defense ragged. In the fourth quarter, and especially during the winning drive in overtime, the Atlanta defenders were gassed, exhausted. 
So many of us had assumed that Tom Brady wanted to win this game so he could rub it in Goodell’s face. But it turns out he really wanted to win the game to put a smile on his mother’s face. There’s something much stronger, sweeter, and more satisfying than revenge. It’s called love.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Myth and Magic of Deliberate Practice | James Clear

I'm sure you've heard the saying that practice makes perfect, that the way to improve, say, our forehand in tennis, is to spend hours practicing our forehands. Yet we often don’t see the improvement we’re hoping for.

Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, knows why. We’re not using “deliberate practice,” a term he coined to describe how world-class performers practice. He compared the practice methods used by world-class performers versus lower level performers in areas such as swimming and playing the violin. He concluded that the top people in their fields practiced in a different way. He presented his conclusions in a paper titled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance and in a book written for the laymen, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. In a nutshell, “An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice or day-to-day activities, often paired with immediate coaching feedback. Another important feature of deliberate practice lies in continually practicing a skill at more challenging levels with the intention of mastering it.”

The article referenced in the title of this post is by James Clear in which he criticizes the idea of "deliberate practice." Clear challenges the idea that we can accomplish anything we want if we use deliberate practice. “The myth of deliberate practice is that you can fashion yourself into anything with enough work and effort. While human beings do possess a remarkable ability to develop their skills, there are limits to how far any individual can go. Your genes set a boundary around what is possible.” He shows that top baseball players have better than 20/20 vision or that tennis players like Steffi Graf who when “tested against other elite tennis players as a teenager, she not only scored the highest on physical attributes like lung capacity and motor skills, but also on competitive desire. She was that once-in-a-generation talent who was both the most-gifted and the most-driven person on the court.”

This to me this has the hallmarks of debates (such as nature versus nurture) where neither side is 100% right. I’m sure it’s true that top athletes or other performers benefit from genes that give them a permanent edge on the rest of us who don’t have these genes expressed as strongly. Clear and others who have questioned deliberate practice hold that there are inherent differences that separate those who sit at the lofty peak of performance from us weekend warriors. I think we’re being presented with a false alternative. Yes, our genes can prevent us from aspiring to win a Gold Olympic medal in the slalom. On the other hand we can still apply the principles of deliberate practice to get us to perform better than we would by just blindly practicing without a plan. We might not be able to become the best in the world but we can become the best we can be.

Speaking from my own experience, I’ve applied deliberate practice to my tennis game, to skiing and even to my work-related presentations. I know my performance in all three areas has improved. My tennis game has improved more in the last five years while using deliberate practice than I did before applying deliberate practice.

Here is an article that presents both sides: A top psychologist says there's only one way to become the best in your field — but not everyone agrees

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Resilence and Choking: Federer vs. Cilic Wimbledon Match

Yesterday Roger Federer narrowly avoided being eliminated from Wimbledon at the hands of Marin Cilic. He was down two sets to none and even had a couple match points against him. Yet he prevailed. We think that Roger has nerves of steel and therefore never chokes but he did shank several balls, revealing that, yes, even Roger is human. In fact, I read a book on Federer recently that reveals he was very temperamental as a junior player. He had temper tantrums that made John McEnroe look mild. If he lost a match he would cry and pout for a while afterwards. Roger made a conscious decision to change his ways and become more Stoic.

This post by Allen Fox talks about how Roger handled choking by not panicking.

I should add that if there was anything to learn from this match it was that you can choke and still win as long as you don’t get rattled about it. And the topic of “courage” comes up when people think about choking. In my opinion, it doesn’t show courage to not be nervous and make the big shot on the big point. It takes courage to choke on the big point, not get upset about it; fight your way to another big point; and finally come through, either by making a good shot or your opponent missing.
Fox's point can apply to other situations beyond sports. That it's OK to tighten up under pressure as long as you recognize it and keep trying to do your best.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Late To The Ball: Tennis and Relationships

I just finished reading Late To The Ball by Gerald Marzorati, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine, in which he tells his story about taking up tennis in his early 60s and the lessons he learned, both in terms of technique/tactics and lessons about himself. I liked his book (and the clever title) very much. He started playing singles competitively but toward the end of the book he shifted to play doubles. He quotes an email from his wife on the differences between singles and doubles that I like.

“Singles is a fearsome struggle for independence at best; at worst it is a denial of the other’s humanity. But doubles is different. A devoted team can help each other grow so much. You’re talking about fellowship, and the delicate, intricate, wondrous balance between autonomy and dependency.”

I think her description of the dynamics of doubles actually applies to relationships in general whether it’s friendships, family or marriages.

I also think her depiction of singles is a bit harsh. I’m sure many people who play competitive singles do indeed want to impose their will on their opponent. I lean more toward Tim Gallwey’s idea that a goal of playing tennis, whether it’s singles or doubles, is to bring out the best in yourself. To do that you need the best from your opponent. Therefore playing ultimately is a cooperative exercise. I figure if you’re playing on the professional circuit your goal is strictly to win, rise in the rankings and make enough money to survive, without being concerned how your opponent feels about losing. The same for playing in USTA amateur leagues and tournaments. Yet, I noticed at the very top of the pro ranks (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray) there is mutual respect and appreciation for a well-played match. Even in the mixed doubles USTA matches I played this winter (for the first time in my tennis career at the age of 65!), there usually is mutual respect. Most of my opponents were fair and friendly. A few resorted to gamesmanship in an attempt to get into my head. (Good luck finding anything in there!) But overall all four of us on the court were looking for a competitive, well-fought match.

Getting back to Marzorati book, you could also take the title to mean arriving late to a ball as in a formal dance party. Whether or not this double meaning was intentional I’d say the second meaning of the “ball” is appropriate too. Playing tennis can be thought of as a dance.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How I Lost 25 Pounds in 30 Months

Yes, you read that correctly. 30 months. Not 30 days. Not 30 weeks. 30 months. It's not very exciting, is it? It isn't. In fact, at times the rate of weight loss has been excruciating. But the weight has stayed off! When I decided to lose the weight on January 1, 2014 I weighed 208 pounds. This morning I was 183. Over the weekend when I played tennis three times and refereed a U11 girls soccer game I was as low as 182.5.

How did I do it? I've lost weight before using a variety of diets but always put the weight back on once I hit my target number. I also made the mistake of no longer weighing myself. I fooled myself into thinking I'd notice weight gain when my clothes started to get tight again or had to use loosen my belt. This time I decided to use a different method influenced by Gary Taube's Why We Get Fat and The 8-Hour Diet by David Zinczenko. As a result I changed what I ate, when I ate and what I didn't eat. I won't go into the details of why. The books I cited explain that.

What did I eat? Foods with low glycemic load. Food with high protein content. Fruits and veggies. Nuts. If I want snacks instead of munching on chips or cookies I'll have cocoa dusted almonds or Atkins chocolate coated almonds.

What did I avoid? Carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cereals and cookies. Also watched my sugar intake. Notice I didn't say “eliminate carbohydrates.” I limit them. For instance over the weekend my wife and I went out to dinner with friends. I had the obligatory pre-meal piece of bread and my main course had risotto in it.

When did I eat? Between noon and 8:00 p.m. A form of intermittent fasting. The idea is that restricting calorie intake to 8 hours allows my system to burn other calories stored in my body.

A typical lunch consists of: Greek yogurt, carrots with dip, cheese sticks and an apple, pear or banana. Dinner is the usual: chicken and veggies, home-made soup, or microwave dinners by Weight Watchers or Kashi. (The ones with the lowest sodium content. Some have an astonishing amount of sodium! Some have close to 1,000 mg!) No seconds! And for dessert a Weight Watchers frozen treat.

It's been working! What's nice about this approach is that I'm not obsessed on counting calories. I do keep rough track of the total so that it stays below 1,500 calories a day, preferably 1,200. What's not so nice is that it takes a while to notice a change in weight. It has required steadfast patience and resisting the urge to give up in despair and dive into a bag of chips or cookies. At first I was averaging a pound a month. I've hit a plateau around 187 for several months before starting to nudge downwards again recently. At least it's not trending back up! And it's not going to.

Of course there have been some nice benefits such as looser clothes, being able to play more tennis, ski or referee soccer with fewer pounds to pound on my knees and just feeling better. My cholesterol numbers have dropped dramatically too.

I've also made it a point not to call what I'm doing “dieting.” Instead I prefer to think of it is a permanent change in what I eat and when I eat. It's a new and permanent regimen.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How To Ace A Job Interview: 7 Research-Backed Tips

The tips in this article are aimed at helping you interview better but a number of them apply to relationships and communication too. Be sure to follow the links to other sources. In particular look at these steps:

Be Similar To The Interviewer. This touches on mirroring the other person.

Frame The Conversation. “Optimize first impressions from the outset by framing the conversation with a few well-rehearsed sentences regarding how you want to be perceived.”

Feel Powerful. “People who felt powerful before going in to an interview performed better. … How can you make sure you feel powerful? Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy recommends doing a “power pose” in private before the interview.” Cuddy’s research showed that people who used a “power pose” before an important meeting performed better than those who didn’t. I’ve tried it and believe it works.