Denial: It ain’t just a river in Egypt (how to fail, part 2c)

Note: This article is part of a series on How to Fail in Basketball and Life.

Part 1: How to Fail in Basketball and in Life
Part 2a: Self-Deception: Success’s TRUE Nemesis
Part 2b: Unawareness: Success’s Blind Side
Part 2c: Denial: It ain’t just a river in Egypt (this article)

How to Fail in Basketball and in Life:
2Denial

The title of this article comes from a Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Michael Jordan that I saw as a young man (see below). It was the first time I ever heard that phrase and I laughed quite hard when I heard it.

Denial is a lot like unawareness, but much more deliberate. Usually when we are denying truth it is because on some level we don’t really want it to be true, so we look for alternate, possible, and more palatable explanations to believe in.

On April 22, 2012, Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest, a.k.a. Metta World Peace, infamously gave Oklahoma City Thunder reserve guard, James Harden, a concussion with a vicious elbow to the head. The act was obviously spontaneous, but it was also without question deliberate.

Ron Artest’s so-called apology reeked of self-deception.

“… it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unintentional elbow.”
(–Metta World Peace).

Artest Elbow

 

Artest / World Peace deceived only himself, and was accordingly suspended 7 games for that act. The missed games include 6 playoff games, thus hurting his team when it needed him most.

When Metta World Peace returned to the Lakers on Saturday May 12, 2012, TNT’s Craig Sager talked with World Peace. Sager reported that Metta claims that he never elbowed James Harden; instead Harden ran into World Peace then flopped. TNT’s analyst crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal all laughed at the report, and Ernie Johnson quipped,”I guess Harden got that concussion from flopping,” prompting further laughter.

Even 20 days after the incident, with countless opportunities for him to have watched video and to have seen for himself how the incident looks to the world, Metta World Peace still stubbornly choose to see the incident in his own personal way.

In this case, Metta World Peace chose denial to keep from facing a reality he didn’t want to face.

Sometimes though, we use denial to keep from facing a reality we suspect might be true, that we may even want to be true, but lack the faith to believe is true, as the following video clip shows.

 

I first saw this clip as it originally aired while on vacation in Europe. The whole family was so hooked by the story of Paul Potts that worked watching the show into our vacation schedule. “Let’s see, today we have Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye and the next episode of Britain’s Got Talent.”

It so compelling precisely because the world got to witness someone overcome his denial in pursuit of his goals. Something about that speaks to us and our own situation.

There are other ways, of course, that denial manifests itself. Specifically…

I would like to talk specifically about having a positive attitude.

I know plenty of people who, when they experience a failure or a setback, choose to be positive and tell themselves it isn’t a setback. Often people around them admire them for their sunny outlook and praise and applaud them for it.

I guess I’m not one of those people.

From cartoonstock.com

From cartoonstock.com

To me, there is no value in saying it isn’t raining when it clearly is.

To me, the healthier way to approach failure is to see it for what it is, eschew self-deception, embrace the reality, and then find a way to make something good of it.

Yes, it is raining. Rather than deny that truth for the sake of being positive, let’s do what nature wants us to do anyway: let the negative attract a positive. Instead of the picnic we had planned, let’s set up a tent in the living room and play board games. Who knows, this might even turn out better than the afternoon we originally wanted.

In Part One of this series, I said if airline pilots flew like coaches coached, then “They would ignore the fuel gauges and set goals oblivious of their actual capacity to reach them.”

When I find that our team is mired in an unquestionably losing cause, I try not indulge in denial — not even for the sake of “being positive.” I do not tell my teams we can still win so give more effort. Not only do I think such an approach would strain my credibility with my players, but even if they did believe me, someone might get injured trying to win an unwinable game and we’d be even worse off.

When I realize the plane doesn’t have the fuel I wish it did, I accept the reality and change our destination.

From cartoonstock.com

From cartoonstock.com

Instead of stubbornly setting our sites on winning, in complete denial of how futile that goal is, I give my players a new challenge to work for.

  • “Guys, don’t worry about winning: out rebound these guys from now until the end of the game and I’ll get y’all Cold Stone ice cream after the game.”
  • “Guys, I’m afraid we are not going to be able to pull this one out of the fire, so let’s just see if we can hold them to less points in the 4th quarter than they’ve got any other quarter. Do it, and next practice will be all scrimmage and no drills.”
  • “Okay, these guys have our number this time, so let’s use the rest of this game as a practice and see if we can improve our pick and roll offense. Let’s see if we can get 8 points off the pick and roll against their defense before the game ends.”
  •  “We’ve dug ourselves too big of a hole now to get out of with the time we have left, so let’s not worry about winning anymore. Instead, if we can get to 60 points before the final buzzer, pizza’s on me!”

By changing the destination to something within their reach, I see my players re-energize, stretch and grow in ways that they wouldn’t have had I left them in a hopeless situation, ways that will make our team more competitive next game, and that’s a win too.
By changing the destination to something within their reach, I see my players re-energize, stretch and grow in ways that they wouldn’t have had I left them in a hopeless situation, ways that will make our team more competitive next game, and that’s a win too.

Oh, I admit there is something admirable about a person who refuses to see a setback as a setback because he wants to be positive, however it is still self-deception.

Rather than have others admire you for being delusional — but delusional in a positive way — go for being respected because you always find ways to make a negative attract a positive.

Paul, from the New Testament, calls out faith, hope and charity as being 3 highly desirable qualities for a person to have. I’ve always thought it was interesting that “hope” made his “big 3.”

What is hope? Hope is deciding to believe that something good can still come of a tough situation or circumstance.

If your “positive attitude” causes you to see every happening as only good, then you have no need of hope, right? I mean, why should you hope for something better if everything is just fine?

Hope is much better than merely having a positive attitude, because hope acknowledges the reality that sometimes things don’t look so good, but likewise embraces the rest of the truth: that things will look up — particularly if you make good choices now.
Hope is much better than merely having a positive attitude, because hope acknowledges the reality that sometimes things don’t look so good, but hope likewise embraces the rest of the truth: that things will look up — particularly if you make good choices now.

Pippen helps Jordan with flu

Having a positive attitude may be a good thing, but having hope is certainly best. Hope is like being positive without the self-deception.

In Metta World Peace’s defense, it is difficult for a great many people to realize it when we are in denial. But contrast his willingness to deceive himself to Michael Jordan’s refusal to make or accept excuses.

Michael is legend today because he was good enough, he was smart enough, and doggone it, people like him.

Oh, and because of a few other things as well which we will talk about in the next post:

Part 2d: How excuses, blaming and complaining undermine mental toughness.

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