The Myth of ‘Just Do It’

The New York Times:

Yogi Berra, the former Major League baseball catcher and coach, once remarked that you can’t hit and think at the same time. Of course, since he also reportedly said, “I really didn’t say everything I said,” it is not clear we should take his statements at face value. Nonetheless, a widespread view — in both academic journals and the popular press — is that thinking about what you are doing, as you are doing it, interferes with performance. The idea is that once you have developed the ability to play an arpeggio on the piano, putt a golf ball or parallel park, attention to what you are doing leads to inaccuracies, blunders and sometimes even utter paralysis. As the great choreographer George Balanchine would say to his dancers, “Don’t think, dear; just do.”

A classic study by Timothy Wilson and Jonathan Schooler is frequently cited in support of the notion that experts, when performing at their best, act intuitively and automatically and don’t think about what they are doing as they are doing it, but just do it. The study divided subjects, who were college students, into two groups. In both groups, participants were asked to rank five brands of jam from best to worst. In one group they were asked to also explain their reasons for their rankings. The group whose sole task was to rank the jams ended up with fairly consistent judgments both among themselves and in comparison with the judgments of expert food tasters, as recorded in Consumer Reports. The rankings of the other group, however, went haywire, with subjects’ preferences neither in line with one another’s nor in line with the preferences of the experts. Why should this be? The researchers posit that when subjects explained their choices, they thought more about them.

Read the whole story: The New York Times

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