.table of ontents

a look at how humans think and see
3) Human Achievement
by David Rudd Cycleback

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Humans use conceits, biases and artificial environments to reach higher levels of achievement. This achievement can range from an artist composing a great symphony to a ten year old dramatically improving her math scores.

Humans do not have the capacity to effectively focus on a variety of tasks simultaneously. To reach higher levels of achievement in an area, the human must put most to all of its focus on that area. Humans must eliminate or stabilize (make a non factor) areas that will distract from the needed focus.

This is comparable to a water kettle with four equal sized holes in the top. When water is boiled inside, steam will rise a height from the holes. If three of the holes are sealed, the steam will rise much higher from the remaining hole.


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The following are everyday examples of manipulating one's mental and physical environment to produce achievement:

* While background music or others' chitchat may be fine while browsing a magazine, many of us will cover our ears in order to comprehend a difficult passage or perform a math problem.

* To study for an exam a student often literally changes the scene by going to a library. She may know that she won't study well with her roommates around and the temptation of the television set and personal computer.

* To expand one's mind by meditation someone will focus on a repeated mundane and often arbitrary task, such as following one's breath or the repetition of a word.

* To improve the team's horrid free throw percentage, the junior high basketball coach may teach the players to focus on the basket and their shooting motion and to ignore the crowd, cheerleaders and other distractions. He will have them practice by ignoring an imaginary crowd.

* Many with a fear of speaking will reduce their nervousness during a speech by imagining that the audience is only wearing their underwear. They will mentally create a false environment.


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The Rituals of Baseball

1940s-50s batting legend Ted Williams

Many consider hitting a baseball to be the most difficult feat in sport. The batter swings a long stick to try and hit a small ball. The thrown ball can reach speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Early 1900s player Ty Cobb holds the record for the highest career batting average in Major League history. His batting average was .367, translating to an average of 3.67 hits per every 10 turns at bat. Even the greatest hitters fail more than they succeeded. Enough to give anyone a complex.

Baseball hitters, and baseball players in general, are notorious for their strange conceits. Players often wear the same unwashed undershirt and socks during a hitting streak. Most players don't step on the white foul lines when entering and leaving the field. Pitcher Turk Wendell waved to left field every time he entered or left a game. When coming up to bat, Nomar Garciaparra goes through a ritual of pulling at his shirt, opening and closing the Velcro straps on his batting gloves and tapping the toes of his shoes. Lucky charms, bracelets, necklaces, gum brands abound. Five time batting champion Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game. U.L Washington batted with a toothpick in his mouth. After parents complained that kids might emulate the unsafe habit, he switched to a q-tip. However after a slump, U.L. was back to the toothpick

Though many of the rituals are comical, they can aid the player's game performance. Hitting requires a calm and focused mind and exceptional mind body coordination, all while the player is surrounded by television cameras, tens of thousands of screaming fans and the other pressures of being a professional athlete. If wearing the lucky undershirt or repeating an odd ritual eases the batter's mind and gives him confidence, it can increase the player's batting average. U.L.'s reason for switching back to a toothpick was because it made feel more comfortable when batting. While a toothpick as aid may seem nonsensical, the desire to be comfortable is understandable.


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For a conceit to aid performance, the person has to have faith in the conceit. At least faith that the conceit helps.

During a meditation session, one must accept that the thing of mental focus is worthy of focus (breath, mantra, stone, other). Whether the thing was carefully chosen by an instructor or picked in a rush (a random pebbled grabbed from a yard), meditation requires meditator to focus as much as is possible only on that thing. If one is fretting about whether or not the mantra was the best pick this very fretting will make the meditation session less effective.

The lucky blue undershirt will only help calm the baseball player and give him confidence when he believes the blue shirt lucky. If the blue undershirt is deemed lucky because he had a great game the first time he wore it, this illustrates the essential arbitrariness in conceits. If before that big game he pulled his grey undershirt from the undershirt drawer, it would be the grey undershirt that is considered lucky.



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Positive achievement is often based on false beliefs

There are regular cases where positve achievement is based on a false belief. Believing the false is a technique we all use to remove or stabilize distracting thoughts. The following are two examples.

* A placebo helps when the patient falsely believes it is medicine. When the patient knows what it is, a placebo won't help.

* A freshman at the University of Iowa, Jessica is entering final exam week before winter break. Unknown to her, her beloved 17 year old cat Tiger just died back home in Georgia. The night before her first test she has her weekly telephone conversation with her parents back home. Jessica asks how Tiger is doing. Her mother says Tiger is doing just fine, adding that the cat is playing with a ball of yarn on the couch as she speaks. After hanging up the phone, Jessica's mother feels bad about lying, but thinks it best considering the exams. After a productive exam week, Jessica flies home to Georgia where her parents break the news about Tiger and explain why they delayed the news. Jessica understands, agreeing that if they had told her about Tiger in that phone conversation she would have had troubles focusing on her studies.

In both these cases it was a clearly false belief rather than knowledge of the truth that lead to the desired achievement. In both cases, knowledge of the truth would have hindered the achievement.

This shows that postive achievement arrising from a belief is not proof that the belief is correct.

Patients who get better after taking a placebo they falsely believed was medicine will often swear the pill had to be medicine as they got better after taking it. To them, getting better afterwords is the proof that it was medicine. Even when the doctor informs them it was a plecebo, some of the patients will continue to beleive it was medicine because they got better afterwards.

A sincere faith involves an emotional and psychological attachment to the belief. This psychological aspect is both what helped the placebo-taking patient get better (Most doctors believe positive 'I am getting better' thinking is important to recovery from an illness or injury) and what prevented him from accepting his beleif as false even confronted with the facts. This psychological attachment had both a positive and a negative result.


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Olympic psychology

For world class Olympic athletes, the general rule is that one must believe one is going to win in order to win. Paraphrasing a top speed skater interviewed the day before an Olympic race, "You shouldn't just think you will win, you must know you will win." In a track, swim or bike race, the difference between first and fourth may be a fraction of a second, and the psychology can mean the difference between a win and loss. Of course most who are sure they will win not win, and those who win do not win every time. Even when the belief turns out to be wrong, it may better the athlete from, say, fifth to third or third to second.


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This points to the fascinating relationships humans have with facts. A human cannot function as it sees desirable without the distortion and suppression of the information. Even a search for the truth requires lies.


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Whether the idolized is a sports coach, historical leader or artist, most worshipers of a human being worship an unreal representation of the person. Much of the misrepresentation is intentional, followers embellishing good qualities and suppressing bad.

At first it's curious that groups would intentionally misrepresent the person they claim to follow. However, similar to sweeping absolute mentioned in the first chapter, the representations aren't only about accuracy. They are also about things like gaining and maintaining members' loyalty and spirit, group self importance and gaining power versus other groups.

It should not surprise that during a political election supporters put their candidate in the best light and their competitor in the worst. Their representation of the candidates isn't about accuracy, it's about winning the election. If you ask a campaign manager why he doesn't include bad facts about his candidate in the television ads and campaign literature, he'll look at you as if you are crazy.

cycleback.com.................table of ontents

(c) david rudd cycleback, cyclback.com all rights reserved


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