Monday, December 20, 2010

Ice Skates, Inputs and Grace

Lately, I've been paging through David R. Henderson and Charles L. Hooper's Making Great Decisions in Business and Life, a dippy-sounding title that nevertheless has proven quite fascinating in its approach of applying game theory and statistical analysis to everyday situations. This morning I read a fascinating section about Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno:
Apolo Anton Ohno thrilled Americans with his short-track skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Reporters who interviewed Ohno held great hope that he would win four gold medals. He won "only" one gold and a silver medal because he had a few disasters along the way. ... Interestingly, [Ohno] insisted that he never thought about winning medals. "I think that's what makes me a good skater," he said. "I'm just trying to give my best and walk off the ice with no regrets."

An athlete thinking of winning the gold medal is thinking of the outcome he wants. Although thinking about outcomes helps guide his strategy and objectives, when he competes he doesn't have direct control over winning the event. The only thing he controls is his actions. ... During an event, focusing on the final outcome, in this case a gold, silver, or bronze medal, is a distraction that takes his attention away from the things he can control. In other words, no one offers Ohno the alternative labeled "Gold Medal." He can't decide, therefore, to win the gold. The only things he can decide are how to control his body and mind before and during an event -- and, his demeanor after the event, win or lose.
The application of this principle to the fiction writer's efforts couldn't be more obvious if it decided to perform Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair" in the middle of I-95 during rush hour. (Seriously, even if you haven't seen it, don't click that link. It'll lower your faith in the human potential. Trust me, trust me, trust me.) Those of us actively trying to get published know we're working in an incredibly crowded market, one in which many established authors have begun giving away their work or parting with it for a pittance. There's little we can do about it. But focusing on the inputs we can control -- skill of the craft, fomenting original ideas, examining important themes -- provides an antidote to both despair and jealousy. Succeed or not, we choose the best options available to us and handle the rest with grace.

(Picture: CC 2009 by


B. Nagel said...

I . . .

I clicked through to the video.

My words button is stuck in thr off position.

Loren Eaton said...


dolorah said...

Awesome analogy, and so true for myself. If I concentrate on getting published too much, the story suffers.

I didn't watch the video, but only cuz I gotta get started on the shared story, and I'm not sure what I'll find there. I may have to come back later and watch it though - I'm sure curiosity will overwhelm me.


Unknown said...

That idea really works with anythinh we do but it is especially important in writing. It helps us ignore all those 'helpful' rules and focus on listening to the story.

Loren Eaton said...


The video left me a gibbering shell of a man, clinging to the last few scraps of my tattered sanity.

Thou art warned.

Loren Eaton said...


I agree wholeheartedly. Focusing on the inputs we can actually do something about simplifies any situation immensely, but especially writing. If we aim for outcomes, we're asking for heartbreak. Also, possibly social alienation and cirrhosis of the liver.