Athletes of ideas: lessons of sport for innovation from D. Kahneman books

The mental “settings” of high-performance competitors can be applied to everyday life and creative processes; New findings from the cognitive sciences became best sellers.

In one of the tales published in Nada del otro mundo (1987), Roberto Fontanarrosa imagined a professional sprinter, Lauven Vogelio, who used all sorts of unusual details to win thousandths in a race, such as injecting cheetah hormones or transplanting more bones Light and hollow. In the end, Vogelio runs so fast in the Bolivian altiplano that he ends up spraying in the air, before the astonished look of his team of 15 coaches and scientists.

The career of innovation in high performance sports can have lessons more edifying than the history of Vogelio for creativity, personal productivity and well-being in everyday life. Two recent best sellers have thoroughly analyzed the “mental settings” that superattacks use to make a difference, to see which of them are applicable to daily life. Both essays rely on new findings from the cognitive sciences and go one step beyond the commonplace motivational harangues of ex-businessmen, who often emphasize teamwork, “follow your passion,” and so on.

“There is a lot to learn from super-athletes, although it is difficult to make a short list with ‘tricks’ of universal application,” says Brad Stulberg, author of the new book Peak Performance and a regular contributor to the Science of Us site. Often publish articles on how changes in mental focus, which may be simple, help to modify our behavior. The interaction between the physical and the cognitive is the constant in the book of Stulberg and the Rasmus Ankersen, The effect gold mine ( The Gold Mine Effect , not yet translated), where the author delves into “factories super -attractors “to try to extract lessons applicable to other areas.

When he was researching for his book, Stulberg talked to world surfing champion Nic Lamb, who told him that one of his mental cues was to learn to “feel comfortable in discomfort.” This area is not naturally pleasant to anyone, but you can train yourself by “stretching” the sports routine beyond preconceptions, “choosing to say ‘yes’ when your body and mind say ‘no’,” Lamb says. “There is a lot of scientific evidence in psychology that shows how self-control can be exercised as a muscle, and that this can start with the physical routine, but it moves directly to our cognitive work,” explains the author of Peak Performance .

Stulberg also calls to focus more on processes than on results. “Achievement is often a motivational fuel, but we often put too much emphasis on it-which may include a significant chance-and not on the incremental steps involved in the process,” he says. This leads to better toleration of failure and keeping passions in a state of harmony rather than obsessively. The high-level expert believes that the first ones – which are healthy passions – are dynamized by intrinsic motivations, while the latter depend on external validation, and are therefore much more fragile to failure.

In Peak Performance there is a very direct analogy between the sport of high competition and the creative process. Stulberg tells us that it has to do with an equation in which the sum of one lapse of stress and demand and another of rest and recovery give rise to results. “In sports science, it has been shown that to improve a muscle or a skill you have to challenge it, adding intensity and duration over a period. Then comes a recovery stage that is just as important as the previous one. Repetition and consistency are key to achieving results. “

Students of creative processes distinguish, similarly, a stage of immersion – with focus and commitment to a certain subject or problem to be solved -, a second incubation or maturation of the idea, where the mind relaxes and works the unconscious, and finally An “Eureka moment” or “aha!”, The epiphany that can arrive at the least predicted instant.

Star factories

In his best-selling book Fast Thinking, Thinking Slowly , Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman points out that on the road to any goal we set out to – to climb a mountain, start a business or lose 10 kilos – there is always a “blind spot” To do with all things that can go wrong, and which are usually seen ex post , when a project fails.

Kahneman, who like many behavioral economists are fed by countless examples of sport, says that this progression does not make sense, and that he thinks ex ante about all things that can go wrong – in a pre-mortem analysis ‘, Rather than’ post-mortem ‘- serves to prepare for inclement weather ahead. “The best athletes in the world are a cult of this practice, and when something does not go according to plan, they do not despair or are off guard, because they are trained to face the unexpected,” says Stulberg.

Other “stylized facts” that the author of the book on athletes of the physical and cognitive arena see among high-performance athletes are that they see challenges in a positive light (as an opportunity for growth), pursue their own interests What they tell them the others), they aim to outdo themselves, they are involved in lasting mentoring relationships and their parents support them along the way. In relation to real interest, it is studied that the top players of the NFL USA. Are those who practiced other children’s sports, and who later came to football because they liked it and not by imposition of parents.

Ankersen talks about innovation and applied science to high-performance sports, but believes – just like Stulberg – that these factors do not define the status of a super-athlete: “The key lies in his mental muscle, in his way of seeing World, “he says. There is no genetic charge that predisposes runners in some African countries to be mega-stars of marathons, but a lot of work, effort and conviction – from small ones – that if people they know win gold medals at the Olympic Games, It is a possible achievement.

On-site study on the origin of super-athletes

Rasmus Ankersen (author of The Gold Mine Effect ) settled for months in towns or small towns from which a disproportionate number of super-athletes emerge. She visited women’s golf academies in Seoul, South Korea, where 137 of the 500 best players in the world come from; The MVP Track Club of Kingston, Jamaica, where the best sprinters come from; The city of Iten in Kenya, home of elite marathon runners; Rio de Janeiro football schools and a tennis club on the outskirts of Moscow, which in recent years has trained more Grand Slam tournament winners than the USA. And England summed up.

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