What I learned in boating school is…

October 9th, 2014


How did you fare on the last test you took?


If I’m dredging up bad memories by asking, consider the reasons why that might be a negative memory for you, instead of a positive one. Consider the time you put in to studying. If pangs of guilt are creeping into your mind, don’t be afraid. You’re surely not alone.


More often than not, I find myself associating the words “quiz” or “test” with “hope for the best” or “re-test.” While at times, this is just my lousy attempt to make an even lousier joke, I’d be lying if I said I always give my best effort. But why, if I don’t give my best effort on every assignment,  do I still experience a sinking feeling when I don’t get an outstanding grade?


Therein lies the most important question that needs answering.


I’m focusing on schoolwork to emphasize my point here, but the underlying theme cuts across many facets of life. If you bear with me, I’ll try to show you what I mean.


On Tuesday, I experienced something that, while I never want to go through it again, I certainly learned a lot from. That experience, for me, demonstrated a problem that so many of us clearly don’t have the answer to. More often than not, people find themselves expecting the best out of situations, even if they might not have worked towards making that a reality. This strangely contradictory situation is actually a natural inclination for many.


Throughout history, many different people have thought about this quirky phenomenon. More recently, this notion of believing in outcomes that, in all likelihood, will not come to fruition, is referred to as positive self-deception.


When you buy into a result that seems unlikely, you’re literally deceiving yourself. You’re effectively choosing to be delusional, even as your mind screams at you that you’re mistaken.


If you can identify with this sort of mental process, don’t be alarmed quite yet. Some scientists and psychologists argue that positive self-deception is not only completely normal, but also very useful.


Other scientists, of course, have different thoughts. But, consider this: if you believe something crazy and you’re motivated enough to work towards it, you might just be crazy enough to see it happen.


In a philosophy class I took freshman year, our professor explained that the rest of the week would be spent exploring the difference between optimism and hope. Upon hearing this, I immediately rolled my eyes and assumed we would be wasting our time discussing two synonyms.


In that one short week, I ate my words and went back for a second helping. I began our first class on the topic by only half-listening, but by the end of that class, I was hooked. Optimism, our professor explained, is a generalized “fingers crossed” mentality about the future. While you might be really wishing for some thing to happen, you don’t take action to make that belief a reality.


Hope, on the other hand, is the belief that buries itself deep down in your stomach and forces you to work to make that belief come true. So, the difference between the two is clear: optimism is passive and hope is active.


Think back to my earlier question: if I didn’t give my best effort, why would I ever expect the best result? It’s simple, I shouldn’t. And, neither should you.


Don’t simply just wish and pray something will happen. Adopting that approach isn’t just delusional, it’s outrageous.


If a piano is plummeting towards you from 50 feet in the air, being optimistic that it won’t hit you is certainly not enough to keep yourself from becoming street graffiti. Hope, however, increases your chances of living long enough to sue the person who dropped the piano.


It’s simple, really. Unless you’re committed to rolling up your sleeves to turn your goals into realities, stay at home.


At this juncture in your life, every opportunity in the world is within your reach. Nothing could be more exhilarating than the realization of that fact. As long as you commit yourself to your goals through active effort, you’ll find yourself breaking new ground that you didn’t think possible.