Picture: Brian Snyder / Reuters
The London 2012 Olympics are still underway, and today I read an interesting article on NPR about happiness of Olympic medal winners.
Although top athletes are, of course, not a 100% comparable to us language learners or students in general when they prepare for a test or exam, I feel that the findings are relevant as they’re rather revealing when it comes to how humans take success, stay motivated and deal with what we might see as defeat.
The gold medal winners naturally feel a high degree of happiness and satisfaction as all their hard work has paid off (maybe even literally). Of course they do, they are the best in the world, at that moment in time.
Pretty much like the best in class or in a year. If you manage to deal with the pressure you’ll feel a great level of satisfaction when you achieve your goal.
The researchers found the reactions of the silver and bronze medal winners more interesting however. It may be a little surprising that the bronze medalists tend to show the happier faces.
The silver medalists seem to think about what they did wrong. If only I…They feel they lost gold and not to have won silver.
I mean, they’re the best in the world, behind one single other person! Shouldn’t they feel great about being so good instead of comparing themselves constantly with the first and thus potentially never getting over the nagging feeling of a defeat?
Contrary to them, the bronze medal winners seem to be genuinely happy. Lucky that they’ve won a medal and not coming in fourth! They tend to compare themselves less or not at all with the two people who came in before them or scored better than them but to be happy with what they’ve achieved.
And I think here’s the point we can truly learn.
Needless to say that whether we look at the situation from the teacher’s perspective or a student perspective we should try to be the best, always give our best and persevere, but in some cases this will not lead to (the greatest) success, we’ll fail if you want to call it like that or we simply have to accept that someone else is better than we are (in a certain aspect at least) .
I’m a pretty competitive person in almost any aspect of my life. As a former swimmer or blogger or learner I hate to lose. I want to win, make an impact on people, want to learn faster, speak better etc. and I compare myself with others which provoked some pretty frustrating experiences as one person cannot be the best in everything.
Don’t get me wrong, I think being competitive is a good thing in general. I’m never lacking motivation for instance. It gets tricky when it makes you unhappy, when you cannot acknowledge other people’s achievements anymore.
I still get frustrated at times, but thinking of the bronze medal or being the lucky third has helped me a great deal to focus on myself and my objectives and also what I have achieved already and compare less with maybe the one person or a handful of people who might have an edge over me or who are momentarily more successful. It also has a positive effect on the people around me and how I deal with them and my expectations.
I hope that sharing this and some personal insights will also help you when faced with a difficult situation or result, may it be as a learner or a teaching professional.
Read more about the research and interviews with Olympic medalists at NPR.