Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Optimistic Skateboarding

Traditionally, one's ability to succeed in an endeavour was seen a convergence of ability and motivation. If a person is highly motivated but lacks ability, his chances of success are limited. Similarly, when one has the ability but lacks the motivation. For optimal performance one must have both ability and motivation.

One of the fathers of 'Positive Psychology', Martin Seligman PhD, has shown that there is a third factor at play: optimism level. Seligman illustrates this with animal experiments where after a few failed attempts at something, dogs become 'helpeless' and give up. Then, even when the experimenter creates the conditions where the animal could easily obtain what it initially failed at, they remain mistakenly passive and disinterested. Seligman refers to this as 'learned helplesseness'. This phenomenon is clearly widespread among people.

However, some individuals are especially prone to feel helpless and others who are almost immune to it. What accounts for the difference? Seligman explains that there are three ways of thinking about one's failings that significantly determine the degree to which failure results in helplessness:

1. Pervasiveness: When a pessimist fails at a specific task, he generalizes the failure to other aspects of his self, and, in the extreme views his failure as a reflection of his entire being. In contrast, the optimist limits failure to the specific task at hand.

For example: After failing to land a tail slide, the pessimist thinks: 'I'm a lousy skater'. In contrast, the optimist thinks: 'I find it hard to perform tail slides.' (General Vs Specific)

2. Permanence: The pessimist assumes that his inability to do something will last forever, while the optimist believes that it is only temporary. (Permanent Vs Temporary)

Back to the failed tail slide. The pessimist thinks, 'I'm never going to learn to tail slide!'. Whereas the optimist thinks, 'With practice, I'll eventually be able to tail slide.'

3. Personalisation: The pessimist is also inclined to attribute failings to his own inadequacies, while the optimist largely attributes them to external factors. (Internal Vs External)

The pessimist: 'I lack the skills to perform a tail slide'; the optimist:
'I didn't get enough sleep last night and am finding it hard to concentrate on this trick.'

Seligman stresses that through self-awareness and practice at countering and replacing one's pessimistic style of explaining failures with an optimistic one, one can become more buoyant and resilient and thereby greatly improve one's rate of progress in skateboarding.

Seligman's formula:   Skateboarding Success = Aptitude + Motivation + Optimism...   

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