The final article summary of the year is about Giannis Antetokounmpo, a superstar in the NBA. His team, the Milwaukee Bucks, won the title last year yet lost in the second round of the playoffs two weeks ago.
The article written by a psychologist focuses on how Giannis responded to reporters right after his team’s disappointing seventh game loss.
As you’ll see, Giannis doesn’t dwell on negativity (what the author calls ‘white bears’); rather, he chooses to focus on positives (‘blues dolphins’).
I’m lucky that my personality naturally has me think of blue dolphins, not white bears. No matter what disappointments or hardships I’ve faced professionally and personally, I’ve always chosen to view them as learning opportunities. Since I was very young, life for me has always been about the process: deal with whatever happens by being thankful for the good and learning from the bad.
As we reach the end of the 2021-22 school year, there were—like any school year—inevitable peaks and valleys. Over the last two plus years the persistent irritant of Covid has tested the positivity of even the most optimistic. Nevertheless, I’ve remained continuously proud of how we individually and collectively dealt with these challenges and am thankful for the immense good we did for our students, one another, and ourselves.
At graduation rehearsal a few days ago as I listened to 6th graders (who were in 4th grade when Covid began in March 2020) they acknowledged the struggles and difficulties they faced in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, yet their memories of their school experiences were positive and they are deeply appreciative for all their teachers did for them. They were all about the blue dolphins!
I feel so fortunate to have discovered education as my career, particularly because the end of every school year and summer break afford me the opportunity to reflect on the year—the good, bad, and ugly—and set new goals (both short and long-term) for the upcoming school year and beyond. Certainly there were unusually big hurdles and obstacles over the past two years, yet throughout, like our 6th graders and Giannis, I made sure the blue dolphins overshadowed any whites bears.
Thanks to all of you for everything you’ve done the past two years—as Jackie Gleason used to say at the end of every Honeymooners episode, “You’re the greatest!” I wouldn’t want to be in any other school with any other group of colleagues!
Enjoy the summer. I hope you dream of countless blue dolphins and slay those pesky white bears!
There sat Giannis Antetokounmpo, patiently waiting for the first questions to trickle in from reporters. His team, the Milwaukee Bucks, had just lost game seven of a gritty, hard-fought playoff series with the Boston Celtics.
Antetokounmpo was a bit more somber than usual, a bit less joyful. But you couldn't describe him as heartbroken. He certainly wasn't depressed, or distressed, or even unhappy.
And although his team had just been defeated, Antetokounmpo wasn't defeated.
"At the end of the day, we were playing sports and there's a winner, there's a loser," said Antetokounmpo.
"This is the learning curve. Nobody promised you're going to get to the second round of the playoffs. There's people that have never been in the second round; there's people that have never been in the NBA finals. So, I'm not viewing it as, 'I lost.'"
"It was a learning experience, so hopefully, this moment, instead of thinking that we lost something, we can gain and learn in order for us to put ourselves in a position to win another championship."
There is a lot of wisdom in those words, which are rich in lessons for all of us chasing their version of success. This interview was a master class in emotional intelligence--because it gives a firsthand demonstration on how to use principles of psychology to control negative thinking and emotions, using something I like to refer to as the blue dolphin rule.
What's the blue dolphin rule? And how can it help you understand and manage your emotions, putting you one step closer to achieving your goals in life?
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand and manage emotional behavior. This ability allows you to keep your thoughts, emotions, and feelings in balance, so they aid you to successfully reach your goals, instead of hinder you from achieving them. This is why I like to describe EQ as making emotions work for you, instead of against you.
Consider Antetokounmpo's interview. How does an extremely accomplished NBA superstar deal with the failure of not winning a championship, and what can you learn from that?
When you work hard to achieve a specific goal, it's easy to get swallowed up by negative emotion when that goal doesn't come into fruition. Depending on where on the spectrum your personality falls when it comes to traits like extraversion and neuroticism, you may be prone to focusing on critical thoughts when this happens.
We could describe critical thoughts like these as white bears.
In psychology, the white bear problem states that as you attempt to suppress certain thoughts, you actually increase their frequency.
So, how do you stop the white bears of self-criticism and overwhelming failure?
Enter the blue dolphin.
The blue dolphin is a replacement thought, a different point of concentration. It's a go-to, something you can immediately switch your focus to if your white bear comes to mind.
We see Antetokounmpo use the blue dolphin technique when he's faced with tough questions from reporters:
Reporter: What stands out about coming up short in this series? Is it that you didn't shoot enough three point shots?
Antetokounmpo: Obviously, we didn't make enough threes. On the other hand, I couldn't be more proud of the guys and the effort they gave.
Reporter: Giannis, how do you digest the finality of the season? Do you watch the film, let that sink in
Antetokounmpo: Nah, it's over with. It's over with. No film for me. Just got to go back, get some break, and get on the court, start getting better, try to improve parts of my game. Hopefully I can come back healthy, in a good place, keep enjoying basketball.
See how it works?
You can do the same thing when you encounter negative thoughts about your own perceived failures in your life.
White bear: You're so behind. You should be months ahead of where you are right now. You're never going to make it.
Blue dolphin: Look back at what you've accomplished over the past six months. You're so much further ahead of where you were. Keep up the great work; good things will happen.
The next time you encounter what first feels like dismal failure, remember this little psychological trick--and the NBA superstar who showed you how to apply it.
Treat every failure, not as a loss, but as a gain--a learning experience that puts you one step closer to achieving your goal.