Honorable Failure: The Difference Between Choking and Panicking
Choking is honorable failure and panicking is dishonorable failure. It’s important to maintain a line between those two things.
Malcolm Gladwell has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine since 1996. His 1999 profile of Ron Popeil won a National Magazine Award, and in 2005 he was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. He is the author of four books, including "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference," (2000) , "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" (2005), and "Outliers: The Story of Success" (2008) all of which were number one New York Times bestsellers. His latest book, "What the Dog Saw" (2009) is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker.
From 1987 to 1996, he was a reporter with the Washington Post, where he covered business, science, and then served as the newspaper's New York City bureau chief. He graduated from the University of Toronto, Trinity College, with a degree in history. He was born in England, grew up in rural Ontario, and now lives in New York City.
Choking is the kind of failure that results from thinking too much. I know I've mastered a task so well that I do it without thinking. I hit a tennis ball. I'm a great tennis player. When I hit my forehand I don’t even think about it, I just hit my forehand. But then I'm at match point against this ferocious competitor and all the pressure in the world is on me and all of a sudden when I go to hit my forehand I think about it and that sort of takes me out of that unconscious zone that is necessary for excellence and I fail and we see it again and again with athletes.
With the game on the line in basketball and you’re doing the foul shot, all the sudden something you’ve done a thousand times in your life, you kind of unconsciously think about every single moment of it and you can’t do it that way.
Panicking is the opposite. It’s the kind of failure that comes from an absence of knowledge. I'm in a tight spot and I don’t know what to do. I've never practiced it. I’m driving down the road and my car slips on the ice and I have absolutely no clue about how to correct a slide. It's never happened to me before. I'm 17 years old. What happens? I panic.
You’re in the water and you’re not a strong swimmer and all of the sudden you’re wearing clothes and you’re weighted down and the waves are choppy and you panic. So those are at opposite ends of the spectrum of failure. One is the kind of failure that afflicts people who are good at what they do and the other is the kind of failure that afflicts people who are inexperienced, who are not good at what they do. Sometimes I think we conflate these two things and we accuse the person who chokes of being a novice, of not having prepared, but in fact, no, no, no, they’re prepared.
In fact, they’ve prepared so well that when they’re outside of that kind of unconscious zone they’re lost, whereas the person who is panicking can be accused of a lack of preparation. They haven’t gone through the necessary training and experience to be able to handle this sort of tight situation.
So choking is honorable failure and panicking is dishonorable failure. I think it’s important to maintain a line between those two things.
Giving our solar system a "slap in the face"
- A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
- It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
- Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think
The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.
Once again, our circadian rhythm points the way.
- Seven individuals were locked inside a windowless, internetless room for 37 days.
- While at rest, they burned 130 more calories at 5 p.m. than at 5 a.m.
- Morning time again shown not to be the best time to eat.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.