Sorry! I saw the Toronto Maple Leafs give up a three goal lead to lose in overtime last night, and I’ve been informed that it was probably my fault. I jinxed them, apparently. Whatever your theories might be on Reimer’s rebound control, lack thereof, or Toronto’s unique talent for giving away leads at the last minute, put it all to bed; it was me.
Sports are full of superstitions. So are the arts. Some athletes wear the same item during every game, regardless of whether it brought them a win or loss in the previous game. Actors will curse you if you say “Macbeth” backstage at a play, even if the play they’re performing is Macbeth. It’s a strange world out there, full of strange beliefs.
Interestingly, today I read an article in Scientific American about the power of rituals. The article points out that according to a few recent studies, rituals work. And they work regardless of whether you believe they will. Now, when I say “work”, I don’t mean they make the impossible possible, but they have an effect on the people who do them.
And why shouldn’t they? So many unconscious processes affect us all the time that we really can have only a vague idea why we succeed at some things we attempt and not others. Many of our unconscious processes contradict our conscious intentions, so we often manufacture failure for ourselves without realizing it. If we can perform some ritual to prime our unconscious, to let that invisible brat know it’s game time, we might find our performance enhanced.
I know from experience that the best plays and the most outstanding goals usually don’t spring out of a conscious plan. They happen when the player’s conscious mind gets lost in the chaos of the game and the instinctual unconscious takes action. This is why “beginner’s luck” exists. A new golfer might hit a hole in one while a veteran may wait his or her entire life and still never get one. Beginners don’t out-think their unconscious intent because they haven’t had all the lessons, haven’t heard all the ways their swing is incorrect.
On the other hand, there is a popular theory that we can become an expert at just about anything by accumulating 10 000 hours of practice. This makes sense too because the repetitive conscious practice drills the desired behaviors into our unconscious through muscle memory and long-term potentiation in the brain. When you’ve racked up that much time doing anything, you don’t need to think about it a whole lot to have success. Just let the invisible brat do it.
But make sure you don’t piss the invisible brat off. There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “If you want to see God laugh, tell Him your plans.” The brat loves to mess with conscious intent, and it has the mentality of a four year old. So don’t talk about your goalie’s shutout or your pitcher’s no-hitter until the game is over. I keep my important plans silent so God doesn’t know what to think.