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I recently wrote about post traumatic growth, the unexpected but positive outcome that can result from traumatic experiences.

Soon afterwards, I heard another NPR story about the power of positive perception (yes, I listen to a lot of NPR). Someone did a research study that measured how golfers think about the size of the hole they’re aiming for. The researchers discovered that golfers putt better if they imagine the hole is bigger than it really is.

The researcher said, “there’s a clear relationship between thinking you’ll do well and actually doing well.” Kind of like the Little Engine That Could saying “I think I can, I think I can.”

The bad news? It only applies to duffers. Professional golfers still have to train.

I must say, despite my normally sunny disposition (OK, you can stop laughing now) I get cranky when people start babbling about the power of positive thinking.

There’s nothing wrong with having a positive attitude; I’m all for it. But we’ve taken it too far. We teach our kids to think positively, to have high self esteem. We’ve forgotten to teach them that success is predicated on a whole lot more. It smacks of Professor Harold Hill’s “think system” of learning how to play musical instruments.

(Please don’t start writing an e-mail to me about visualization; I’m not talking about the practice of visualizing oneself doing something.  That’s a tool that many athletes and performers use as part of their training.)

Even worse, we give them kudos even if they haven’t earned it. As my friend and colleague Dave Abramowitz said in a recent rant (I’m a big fan of a good rant):

When I was a little tike, playing sports, the only team that got a trophy at the end of the year was the first place team. Period. We learned how to deal with not winning all the time. Now, all the kids/all the teams get trophies, pins, medals, etc. at the end of the season, regardless of how they did in the win/loss column, because we want to make everyone feel good. Utter and complete bullshit. I call it “The Wussification of our Children”. What exactly do the kids learn from this? Well, we used to tell them that winning isn’t everything as long as you try your best. Now it seems we’re saying winning isn’t everything, and neither is trying. Just show up and you get a prize.

This week, major league pitcher Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher to ever win a major league game at the ripe old age of 49 years, 150 days. He most definitely has a positive attitude, but that’s only a small part of it. The guy is no slacker. He’s on the field before anyone else and stays after they’re gone. He trains. And trains. And trains.

Here’s what he said after the big win: ”Today, for me, just like it’s been my previous two starts – going out and trying to give my best effort.”

A tried and true formula for success if I ever heard one. It worked for Moyer over a career that has stretched nearly a quarter century, 689 games, and 268 wins.

Congratulations, Jamie Moyer. You earned the right to think highly of yourself.

                       

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