Bulls’ Defeat, Martin Seligman’s Optimism

I just caught the end of the second game of the Bulls-Heat series.

From a 73-73 tie with less than five minutes to go, the Heat, led by the much-maligned LeBron James, took over down the stretch, eventually finishing with an 84-75 margin of victory.

As opposed to the first game, when the Bulls put the clamps on the Heat in the second half and their game and body language was fluid and controlled, this match saw Luol Deng, Kyle Korver and MVP Derrick Rose throw their hands in the air, grab towels as they left the floor and generally demonstrate frustration at their performance and the game’s outcome.

In many ways, the key to the rest of the series for the Bulls lies in how they interpret this setback, according to Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism.

Seligman studied the meaning sports teams gave to losses, finding that the ones who explained losses as situational, and thus temporary, tended to fare much better than those who either had no explanation for what happened, and thus were unable to correct the problem, or who saw the defeat as reflective of some inner inadequacy.

Of course, this type of analysis has a certain chicken-and-egg element, as some of the teams with the more pessimistic teams probably had substantial justification for feeling that way, while the more upbeat squads truly had just had a bad day.

This same point can be made about a section in the book where Seligman examines the political rhetoric of 34 senatorial campaigns in 1988.  In this case, he found that the more sunny speeches won nearly every single time. If I remember correctly, this study was done in a predictive manner.  In other words, he evaluated the speeches and then predicted the races’ outcomes.

He also did a retrospective analysis of the Dukakis-Bush race for president, asserting that Dukakis’ post-convention bounce was due in part to the presence of former Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorenson.

As the campaign progressed, though, Dukakis’ tone grew gradually more pessimistic-again, he was responding to his decreased prospects for victory-until the very end, when he embraced the liberal perspective he had shunned for much of the previous months.   Seligman maintains that this change to a final surge  that fell short, but that showed what could have been.

A little too clean?

Perhaps, and still I have to admit that I’ve found the approach that Seligman, considered by many to be one of the fathers of “positive psychology,” to be helpful in thinking about how to move forward from a momentary difficulty .

One of the keys is not pouring additional layers of meaning onto whatever the obstacle is, but rather figuring out how to learn and move forward.

I’m not saying I do it every time, and Seligman’s five-step method of how to change negative self-talk into a more reasoned attitude has been useful to me.

We’ll see what Coach Tom Thibodeau, D-Rose and the rest of the Bulls have to say, and how they respond.

Game Three is Sunday.


2 responses to “Bulls’ Defeat, Martin Seligman’s Optimism

  1. Hey Jeff,

    I didn’t watch the last quarter because I knew the Heat would win. How did I know? By watching the first five minutes it was clear to me that the cohesive Bulls of game 1 were not going to put it together in game 2.

    It wasn’t a good sign that jumpers and free throws were being missed at a too-high-rate, and D.Rose looked out of synch. For the Bulls to win in six or seven, they must integrate their collective talents consistently and at their highest level, because collectively they are a better team, but certainly not individually. Give the elites on the Heat any room, and Pow! a thunder dunk, or a long three.
    Will the Bulls have the minds to overcome their disadvantages? They certainly have the heart. If it is Bulls in seven, Rose will have to rise to superstar level (he isn’t there yet) by beating Wade and James. Tough, but not impossible, particularly with such a capable coach guiding the team.
    p.s. How much do you think Pat R. is secretly calling the coaching shots for the Heat? I bet his influence is considerable.
    My guess is

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Dano, for the analysis. I didn’t see too much, and it sounds like the Heat ratcheted up their defensive intensity at least two notches.

      Let’s talk soon!


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