The most simple view of results in competition is that there are winners and there are losers. If you are a competitive person you want to be a winner but not everyone can be a winner. There are actually very few people who win consistently. That is the nature of competition.
The question every competitive person asks themselves is, what is the difference between most people who don’t win and the few who do? I’ve asked myself this question often and the more I want to win the harder I search for the answer.
I believe there are a number of factors which contribute to this but if you don’t have the slightest idea where to begin I would suggest looking at your approach to learning.
In the book the Art Of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, he presents evidence from a leading researcher in the field of developmental psychology, Dr. Carol Dweck. She talks about the difference between entity and incremental theories of intelligence.
Basically, people who see their intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline as a fixed set of gifts and abilities are in the entity classification. They think that they are meant for a specific task and that they cannot evolve or change. They feel they are naturally better at certain things than other people and that they have weaknesses in other areas that they cannot change.
What an entity person may say or think.
Incremental or learning theorists are people who say they got it because they worked hard at it. These people have a sense that no matter what it is, if they work hard at it, it can be mastered.
There are a number of studies that suggest that, despite level of intelligence, the entity theorists tend to have a much more difficult time stacking up against the incremental theorists when it comes to challenging problems. The entity people crack and give up, thinking it just isn’t their thing and never develop the skills to solve that problem or situation, where as the incremental people push on until they find a solution.
As a Taekwon – Do practitioner I can definitely vouch for this point. Some of the most gifted athletes are terrible under pressure and have a very hard time facing a loss.
As long as you are persevering in something that actually does have a solution then being an incremental theorist means you will eventually rise to the occasion.
What an incremental person may think or say...
These ways of learning are programmed into us at a young age. I can remember my parents saying to me that if I keep trying I’ll get it. My father would take me golfing at a young age. I remember being so frustrated with my bad shots but that one good one would keep me coming back. He would see that shot and in the moment say, “See! You can hit that shot. You just have to keep practicing.” That language created my incremental attitude.
I see parents in Taekwon – Do tell their children things like, sparring is their thing, you were made to do patterns, or criticize and ask them, “Why can’t you do that kick?”
These statements are very subtle but make the difference in learning styles especially during the developmental phase. As young adults we may do the same thing to ourselves through positive or negative self talk. Maybe even be lucky or unlucky enough to have a coach to comment in one of those ways.
How does this affect our lives as athletes or as people in general. Simply put, people who relate to the entity theory will have a much more difficult time stepping out of their comfort zone. When asked to do a task within their range of capabilities they will show confidence and calmness. When asked to do something beyond their natural talents it is hard for them to comprehend a process of problem solving and more importantly, to demonstrate that confidence in a time of adaptation.
On the other hand, people who relate to incremental learning will not only be at ease with the difficult task or failing the first time, they will find a way to solve the problem, learn, adapt and develop new confidence.
In time incremental theorists are almost always the winners.
Art Of Adaptation: Try to identify your style of intelligence and what language was used by your parents and instructors. Do they still talk to you that way? Do you still talk to yourself that way? Ask them to be conscious of speaking to you with that language and teach others so that they develop into people who learn incrementally.