When watching TV a couple of days ago, I zapped into a match of the Chicago White Sox vs. Detroit during the bottom half of the 7th inning. The White Sox were leading by 11 runs to 1, so obviously the winner of that match was decided already. I started to wonder what it must be like to step into the batter’s box late in the game when you’re down like this. How do you feel? How do you approach you duty?
Yes, you could hope for a miracle to happen (it didn’t this time, Detroit lost the game by 10 runs), but most professionals are realistic enough to see that the probability is pretty low. So do you just swing your bat at any random pitch to get out of the situation as quick as possible? Do you take the extremely big swings, trying to hit the longest homer ever or look like a fool in case you don’t hit the ball? Do you start complaining about everything just to make the victory less enjoyable for your opponents?
Or what about other sports? Do you cease running when you’re down 0-4 in soccer? Do you stop playing aggressive defense in (American) football when trailing by five touchdowns?
What to do when you’re down?
American author Gretchen Rubin spent a year finding out what happiness really is and how to reach it. The book her research resulted in, “The Happiness Project“, was a #1 New York Times bestseller, so obviously not only professional baseball players trailing in the final innings of a game are looking for an answer to that question.
Just a few hours after watching that White Sox vs. Tigers game, I coincidentally read one of Rubin’s recent blog entry called “5 Common Happiness Mistakes: ‘Boosters’ That Do More Harm Than Good“. The summary in brief: All of the options of how to tackle a large deficit at the end of a game I gave above – unsurprisingly – most probably won’t make you happy.
In a little more detail, Rubin recommends not to comfort yourself with a “treat” when you’re down, as that will only work for a very short time and make you feel guilty afterwards. Neither should you express your negative emotions as studies show that it would only enhance your anger. She also recommends not to retreat to your sofa or stay in your pajamas all day, she basically sums it up when recommending not to let yourself off the hook. The example Rubin uses is that you should not skip going to the gym on a bad day, as after going there you can comfort yourself saying “at least I went there”.
Translated to our example: When you step up to the plate in a practically lost game, get yourself together, concentrate and try to deliver a good at-bat. I like that recommendation a lot and as probably most of us I have to admit I did not live up to it at every occasion so far.
When you have to deliver a paper on a topic that you don’t find interesting at all, you can complain about it, eat chocolate all day long or surf the internet instead of writing the paper – no matter what, you’ll have to write the paper anyway. And if you write it anyway, why not do it the right way from the beginning on?
I’ve seen some people that were only given those topics to work on that nobody else was fighting for. No matter what the history is that brought them into this position (in most cases it probably wasn’t even their fault), it was impressive to see how they delivered anyway, how they worked on that topic with full determination and how they were happier with their respective situation than many of those working on the “good” projects but complaining all day long about the heavy work load.
Another example: What about people that lose their job: Who do you think will be happier on the long run – the one getting up at 6 a.m. the next morning to fight for a new job or the one that takes a ten day time out in bed and loses all his energy and drive?
Carrying on anyway is a question of dignity, a question of self-confidence, a question of not losing momentum. The longer I think about it, the fewer alternatives I see.
Detroit did exactly that. In the remaining two innings after I switched on the match, they had three of the eight hits and scored one of their two runs. Yes, they lost the game anyway, but they didn’t let themselves off the hook. The game was the first of a double header. The second game later that day Detroit won 7 to 1 after scoring five runs in the first two innings.