David and Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath, continues his excellent tradition of presenting psychological science in a way that is interesting and accessible. Admittedly, I appreciate that Gladwell makes psychology “popular,” though in this case the science is fairly light and the emphasis more on storytelling. Gladwell takes on the topic of why and how underdogs beat the favorites more than we think they should. He examines three aspects: 1) the advantages of disadvantages, 2) desirable difficulty, and 3) the limits of power.

An interesting idea from the advantages of disadvantages essentially revolved around the idea that people/teams that aren’t good enough are more willing to do difficult things that can become advantageous for them. For example, Rick Pitino was able to convince teams lacking talent (relatively speaking, of course) to be in great condition and then utilize a full court press to make their opponents uncomfortable and tired.

Tellingly, when other coaches come to learn Pitino’s techniques, they often leave knowing that they will not be able to get their teams to practice as hard as is necessary to be in shape to make the system work. The problem: their teams are just good enough to not be desperate to try anything. They’d rather be comfortable and good than get out of their comfort zone for a chance to be better.

What difficult (and, often, creative) thing could you do that would turn your disadvantage into an advantage?

Just Tell Me I Can’t

Jamie Moyer’s career served as inspiration for many people, and his memoir, Just Tell Me I Can’t, illustrates why this was so. Moyer’s modesty prevented the book from being a true autobiography, and it reads more as a conversation between Moyer and his sport psychology mentor, Harvey Dorfman, on the mental aspects of pitching.

Among many gems from Dorfman, one of my favorites was, “Good learners risk doing things badly in order to find out how to do things well” (p. 125). While seemingly simple, I have seen many people (and certainly been guilty of it myself) stop improving because they were afraid to look foolish once having achieved a certain level of comfort at a particular task. As Dorfman said, it is the truly great learners who do not worry about how others perceive them, and continue putting themselves in uncomfortable situations such that they can learn and grow.

The entire book provides many strategies, tips, and insights into the process of learning and growing and the benefits of hard work and effort. While the stories and anecdotes are all shared in the context of baseball and pitching, they are easily applied to any realm of performance – including the performance of your life.

Inspiration: Perspiration

There are times all of us feel something less than inspired. During these times, we often wait for inspiration to find us. There are two problems with this: 1) it draws our attention to external sources, and 2) while we wait we miss out on lots of opportunities to create inspiration.

Regarding the first point, as discussed earlier, inspiration comes from personal values, purpose, and meaning. Values are choices we make about the life we want to live. While they may be influenced by external sources, ultimately it is an internal process of deciding what we want our lives to stand for. This is why the energy and positive feelings that come from motivational speakers tend to be so fleeting: they are not connected to values, and if they are it is not our values, but rather those of the speaker. So, the next time you are waiting for inspiration, look internally about what you value and who you would like to be.

And after you do that, do something about it! We miss out on opportunities to be inspired by feeling trapped by our jobs, our relationships, our circumstances, etc. While all of these things may make it more difficult to pursue our dreams, they seldom (if ever) make it impossible to do so. Building on the concept of Have Fun First, rather than waiting for inspiration start doing something that you enjoy. For example, if you are working a job that pays well, supports your family, but does not leave you fulfilled, set aside time to pursue something you enjoy. Many a successful career has started as a trivial hobby.

Wondering where you will find the time? How about starting with the time you spend saying how much you dislike your job? Most people find when they start putting time and energy into something they enjoy, they find they have more time and energy to be present with family and other important aspects of their life.

By doing more, working harder at something you enjoy, and having fun, you’ll discover your inspiration.