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In Praise of (Some) Irrational Thinking

Everyone has heard of the sports star who has a favorite pre-game ritual or beloved talisman that he or she feels will bring good luck or enhance performance. Our rational minds know that this is scientific poppycock, yet our “lizard brains” also understand the need.

Such magical thinking, as irrational as it is, can produce an illusion of control, induce a sense of calm in a stressful situation. This can powerfully impact our self-confidence which, in turn, may meaningfully impact our performance.

While we should never indulge in dangerous delusions (I can fly!), some minor irrational thinking has been shown to improve performance. For example, customers at a miniature golf course given a ball that they were told was a specially-treated, lucky hole-in-wall ball, shot 30% better than a control group.

In life and in sports, believing you can win is no guarantee of winning, but it is a pretty sure fire guarantee of better performance. On the downside, believing you will lose is pretty much its own guarantee.

Closing quote:

“I told myself I was the best long before I ever was.” — Mohammed Ali

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