Reactive arrogance

  • You’re a basketball player going up for a dunk…
  • You’re a world traveler looking for a cheap flight…
  • You’re a Communications student studying for an exam…

You get good at something, like to level 8, and then you take a break. You take a break for a day, a month, maybe even a few years. When you return, you assume, from memory, that you’ll be about a level 8.

Of course, smart as you are, you’ll know that your skills have atrophied. Your memory’ll tell you used to be at level 8, but you factor in the time off and assume, okay, level 7.

The truth is, though, you’ve moved all the way down to level 6 at most, probably even less at the very beginning of your return. You might be able to jump up to level 7 after a little practice with the skill, but that’s not the same as jumping back in at level 7. And it’s certainly not the same as returning at level 8, your previous level before you took the break.

Now here’s what happens. Your conscious mind knows you’ve lost some skill. But skills, the kinds you train for, aren’t primarily conscious. They’re skills because they’ve become somewhat second nature. You don’t think so much as you perform. You simply react.

The problem is that your reactive mind doesn’t know you’ve moved down to level 6. It takes on the challenge as though you’re still a level 8. As a result, you fail miserably, like way down at level 2.

Now, I’ve purposely kept this abstract in order to save the examples for the end. Here’s how it works in real life.

  • If your reactive mind knew you were at level 6, you’d simply lay the ball into the basket. It’s not as impressive as the dunk, but it still scores the point. Instead, reacting like a level 8, you go up for the dunk anyway. With only level 6 skill, though, the ball, followed by your wrist, jams into the front of the rim. You’ve broken skin, to say nothing of your pride, and you definitely haven’t scored the basket.
  • If your reactive mind knew you were at level 6, you’d compare the prices you find and select the lowest one of the bunch. That’s not as good as getting the best deal, but you do still end up with a ticket. Instead, reacting like a level 8, you hold out for the deal you were able to get before. With only level 6 skill, though, weeks go by, and you end up paying twice as much for the ticket, buying it the day before you have to leave.
  • If your reactive mind knew you were at level 6, it would study all the notes you took in class. It’s tedious and means you won’t get that free Sunday night before the exam, but you’ll know the material the next day. Instead, reacting like a level 8, you gloss over the topic because you knew it before the break. With only level 6 skill, though, you embarrass yourself the next day on the exam when that topic, and that topic alone, is the one you fail.

Your mind assumes level 8 skill when you only have level 6 skill, which leads to something like level 2 performance. Not cool, Reactive Arrogance.

And yes, the examples are all personal examples, with the only caveat being that I’ve never been able to dunk on a regulation basketball goal, just lowered rims, and these aren’t the worst I could come up with… nor the ones that made write this post in the first place.