FIFA World Cup 2018
. Argentinean goalkeeper Willy Cabellaro narrowly misses a chip pass in the group match against Croatia. Instead of chipping over, the ball lands in front of the opponent – Croatian Ante Rebec – who promptly fires it to the back of the net. Spectators call Cabellaro’s mistake ‘error of the tournament’. As the game proceeds, the Croats score two more goals and win 3-0. After the match, in the press conference, Argentinean coach Jorge Sampaoli admits his side were “emotionally broken” after Cabellaro’s miss – and that led to the entire team’s underperformance during the remaining part of the match.
Humans, more than any other species, are gifted with the ability to revisit the past and learn from mistakes. But the flip side is, you sometimes get stranded in the memory lane, unable to get past your regrets – and you underperform in the present. This happens especially when the mistake was a slip-up, a careless one, but which had dire consequences.
If only had I read that question carefully, I would have cleared the entrance test easily; if only had I checked the news, I would have kept the stocks and earned millions; if only had I waited a day longer, I would have got the new car for cheaper.
The pain of these regrets is acute. Why? Because you are nagged by the thought that you lost something valuable – practically for free! Do you remember the last time you got something for free? When you lose something for free, you are as emotionally stimulated, except that you are morose rather than merry.
As a kid, I once went out shopping for t-shirts. I stumbled upon an offer – “Buy two and get one for free!” Excited, I bought the shirts. They lasted just two washes. I learnt my lesson, and now as an adult I am wary of free-gains. And especially on the internet I am extra alert: “Sign-up for free”, “download for free”, “upload for free” (and you lose your privacy for free).
Grown-ups usually turn-on rationality to gauge a get for free message; you are cautious because you know emotions are unreliable. You need a similar approach when the regret-mantra starts playing within: “I lost for free!”
According to the Bhagavad Gita, intelligence (buddhi) is a faculty distinct from the mind (mann). The mind is your emotional self that tends to operate in binary mode. If left unbridled, the mind drags you to extremes, and you find yourself either too depressed or too excited; too anxious or too carefree. So to get back to a balanced mental state, you have to turn on the intelligence’s functionality of rationality, forcibly.
When the regret-mantra “I lost for free!” starts playing within, turn to the following rational queries; the first two are practical, and the subsequent two more philosophical.
1. What I lost for free, was it really important?
As a kid out for shopping, when I saw the offer, ‘Buy two, get one for free,’ the first question I asked myself was, “Do I really need three T-shirts?” Usually, the answer to such a question is a “no”. But it’s just too hard to resist that euphoria of getting something for free. So you usually end up justifying, aided by your imagination. “If I get three shirts, I won’t have to buy another for another six months. The extra pocket money can then be used to buy Hot Wheels cars.” And once you start imagining, the free offer explodes in importance in your mind’s eye.
Something similar happens when you lose something for free. The trauma of a free-loss triggers off your imagination: If only had I read that question carefully, I would have cleared the entrance test easily; I would then get my dream job; I would then buy my dream house… and the more you imagine, the more the burden of the free-loss weighs on you.
Beware of this trap: withdraw yourself from the emotions and ask yourself critically, “What I lost, was it really important for me?”
2. What I lost for free, will it lose its importance?
Those T-shirts that I bought didn’t last long. Even if they lasted longer, how long could they last! Two months? Six months? One year? In any case, I wouldn’t be wearing them now, 30 years later. Time makes the biggest of things insignificant. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later.
Let’s revisit the ‘error of the tournament’ we began our discussion with. Now when we look back, how significant was the error really? Despite Caberello’s slip-up, Argentina managed to progress to the next round of the tournament. They failed to reach the quarter-finals, but that failure had nothing to do with the loss against Croatia. So Caberello’s miss, was it really the ‘error of the tournament’?
The lesson is, rather than overly mope over misses, just have patience. Watch Mrs.Time as she diminishes what you have lost into insignificance. And let’s hope she does that sooner, so that you can look back and say, “How significant was the free-loss really!”
3. Did I really lose for free?
In the modern world we all have an uncanny belief that – nothing really comes for free. We intrinsically know that even the most generous offer carries an asterisk (in most cases an invisible one). So we don’t get overly excited over free offers. Do we?
Take for example the experiment conducted at a big commercial center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by a group of social scientists. One lovely spring day they set up a booth there, above which was a large sign that read “Free Money”. Inside, on a table, $50 bills were stacked. The undergrad students who manned the booth were there – not as guards – but as facilitators. They told the visitors, “Help yourself! One to a customer.” How many people do you think actually stopped by to collect the free money? A meager 19%.
Just as we moderns are dead sure nothing comes for free, the ancient Indians had the uncanny belief that – nothing is lost for free either. When they lost something, they thought they deserved to lose it. This belief system they called the law of karma. Though the details of this law were intricate and only unraveled by the deeply philosophical, its principles made life simpler for one and all. So when the ancient Indians lost something for free – apparently – rather than brood over it, they went about their lives, after learning a lesson or two from the experience.
Maybe you too can adopt this simplistic attitude, and wonder, “Did I really lose for free!”
4. Did I really lose anything at all?
If only had I read that question carefully, I would have cleared the entrance test easily….
This regret mantra has played in the minds of hundreds – if not thousands – of students who have taken the admission test conducted by Stuyvesant High School
(known as “Stuy”) over the years.
Stuy is a free public high school in lower Manhatten, New York City, that’s ranked number one in the United States. If you get into this school today, you’ll likely find your way into Princeton or Harvard tomorrow. No wonder, each November approximately 27,000 New York youngsters sit for the admission exam to get into Stuy. The competition is brutal: only the top 5 percent, who score above a certain threshold, get through.
For some of those who just miss the cut-off, the regret haunts them for the rest of their lives.
But getting into Stuy, does it really make a hell of a lot of difference to your career? A team of economists from MIT and Duke set out to explore. To actually discern the ‘Stuy effect’ on a student’s future, they tracked the career of two groups. The first group consisted of students who just missed the cutoff by a question or two, and the second comprised students who just made the cut by a question or two. Now, there is little reason to suspect students on either side of the cutoff differ much in talent or drive. Only that one group narrowly missed, and the other narrowly gained; in other words, the first group were free losers and the second free gainers.
The stunning results of the study were published in a paper “Elite Illusion”. The researchers found that students on either side of the cutoff ended up with indistinguishable AP scores and indistinguishable SAT scores and attended indistinguishably prestigious universities. In other words, when you zoom out, the free-losers hadn’t really lost anything at all and the free-gainers hadn’t really gained anything at all.
This is often the case with all narrowly missed opportunities. In the long run they amount to nothing – unless you allow your regrets to disturb your performance in the present.
The nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed. – Bhagavad Gita