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Science and the Truth + Trust Your Training

November 8, 2017


Interesting Thought: Science and the Truth

Science isn't necessarily the truth. It's a way of thinking; a search to get closer to the truth. It's the best tool we have, no doubt. But that doesn't mean the findings of every new study should be taken as certain. 

I write this in the midst of a major replication crisis that plagues not only
psychological science, but also the "harder" sciences, like biology. While there are definitely modifiable culprits underlying the replication crisis—like the constant pressure for researchers to publish and a strong bias toward positive findings—another driver is simply that the world is complex and highly uncertain, and figuring stuff out happens incrementally and over time. 

There are very few things we know to be true: Exercise is good for you. Drinking too much alcohol is bad for you. Smoking is bad for you. Vaccines prevent disease. Sanitation prevents disease. Social connection and belonging is important for health and happiness. Maintaining a healthy weight is linked to increased functional quality and quantity of life. The climate is warming. Beyond this list (and probably a few others I forgot to include) we are still very much in search mode. Some areas of inquiry have more evidence than others, and thus are more apt to be "true." But it's still a game of probabilities, of likelihoods. 

This doesn't mean we should throw out science, or even be overly skeptical. But it does mean that when new research findings are published, we shouldn't evaluate them as stand-alone and unequivocal answers. Rather, we should view them as data points in a longer trend line on a topic. We should look at what prior studies have said. We should look for patterns in other domains. We should look back at history, and even to art. 

We all want certainty. We all want to see things as black or white, this or that. But the truth is often highly complex, uncertain, and not easily put into neat categories. Science should inform our thinking—again, it's the best tool we have—but most of the time we still have to think.

Science tells us how to think as much as it tells us what to think. And we need to be OK with the fact that the answer to most questions is still often "it depends."


Coaching Corner: Trust Your Training

When Lance McCullers took the mound for the Houston Astros in game 7 of the world series, he hadn't thrown a single curveball since he stepped off the mound 5 days earlier after game 3 of the series.  To McCullers, the curveball isn't just another pitch, it's his signature one. He throws it more than any other pitcher in baseball; an astonishing 47 percent of all the pitches McCullers throws are the curve. Yet, according to broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, McCullers didn't practice throwing the curve during his practice sessions between games, or even his warm-ups.  McCullers knows how to throw the curve. He has confidence in it.

When I heard this story while watching the World Series, I couldn't help but think of the story internationally-acclaimed drummer Matt Billingslea told us for our book,
Peak Performance. When Billingslea warms up and prepares to perform, he gets his body and mind firing on all cylinders, but doesn't play the drums. That's because he already knows how to do that. 

What both of these examples show is that high performers have trust in their preparation. Too often, before a major presentation or competition, we second guess our preparation. We spend the last few moments before a speech ruffling through our notes. Or perhaps the minutes before our big test are spent cramming more facts into our brain. Or on the starting line of a race, we perform endless strides, jumps, and stretches to try to get our legs feeling like they are ready to race. (Or even worse, we do a real hard workout during a taper to feel confident, all the while leaving our "race" effort in that meaningless training session.) These are all telltale signs of insecurity. We don't quite fully trust that we are prepared for what we are about to encounter. These nervous iterations act to appease our concerns, acting as a safety crutch.

Instead of fidgeting or cramming our way to success, we need to learn from McCullers or Billingslea. There's not much we can do in the final moments leading up to a performance that is going to transform us from ill-prepared to prepared. Instead, we need to accept that we are as ready as we are going to be in that moment. And like McCullers pitching in the World Series, we need to realize that the years of practice leading to this moment are what carries us through, not the final few days or even the last warm-up toss before our big game occurs. In other words: trust your training.


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