My friend Scott Goldman is a sports psychologist in Arizona. We met recently at a sports medicine conference in Big Sky. This is an interesting piece he wrote on second place.
The costs of being too demanding on yourself: After the 1992 Summer
Olympics, scientists reviewed the emotional reactions of all the medalists.
They discovered some interesting results. It wasn’t a surprise that
the gold medal winners appeared the happiest and most content.
However, they didn’t anticipate that the bronze medal winners appeared happier than the silver medalists.
They concluded the bronze medal winners were happy merely because they medaled. Whereas the silver medalists appeared to feel worse because they saw themselves as “losers” and thought about “what might have been.” It is not uncommon in athletics to hear quotes like “second place
is the first loser” and “no one remembers who finishes second.”
However, these silver medalists forgot one very important point: For their event at that exact moment, they were better than the 6,707,376,502 other people on
this planet. Isn’t it interesting that they had tendency to focus on the one person who was
better that day than all the other people on this planet who they defeated?!
Being demanding on one’s self often leads to training hard, self-discipline and other
qualities for great performance. However, what happens when you are too hard on
yourself? What happens when you begin to demand only perfection? Often, athletes struggle when their system of pursuing perfection mutates into a demand for perfection. Let me clarify: pursuing perfection and trying to achieve greatness is healthy, whereas
demanding it only leads to fear, failure, and suffering. You may ask: “why is demanding so
much of myself such a bad thing when it has gotten me this far?”
Allow me to answer the question with a series of questions: What happens when you set
a standard that is unrealistic and fail? What happens when you don’t meet your
perfectionist standards? Do you punish yourself? Are you overly critical? Athletes
“lose” their way when they focus too much on criticizing themselves rather than thinking
about ways to improve. Similarly, athletes will focus too much on what they did wrong rather than what they achieved. Remember, the silver medalists quickly forgot how well
they did and instead focused on the one person who outperformed them.