Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.
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Expecting the best - not the worst
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I was phoned this afternoon and asked to write 500 words for a paper on how the Scots should prepare themselves for defeat in tomorrow’s game against Italy.
There’s something very Scottish about being asked to write a piece on how we should prepare ourselves for defeat. It’s assuming we should be putting a damper on our aspirations, getting things in perspective by remembering it’s Scotland, the minnow, who’ll be competing against Italy.
If I were a typical Scottish pessimist then I’d say ‘let’s expect the worst to happen’. Let’s assume we’ll lose and then we’ll avoid being on an emotional roller-coaster – all high and positive one minute and down in the dumps the next. If we’re negative and we win then it’ll be a great bonus.
The spectre of Argentina still hangs over the nation. All that stuff about Ally’s army and Scotland winning the world cup was so embarrassing given our subsequent performance. That’s why many still believe that, for our dignity, it’s much better to keep aspirations in check. Then when we lose we’ll have the comfort of saying: ‘We were right. We knew we would get beat.’
The problem with pessimists’ logic is that it becomes irrefutable. If you think you’re not going to win you won’t – pessimism is self-fulfilling. Research shows that optimists are less affected by stress – if they miss a shot or don’t perform well they don’t collapse under pressure. They keep believing they can turn things round.
Positive emotion is energising and motivating. When we feel positive we get on with other people and work better in teams. Positive emotions are infectious: that’s why the energy and spirit of the crowd can have such a profound effect on the players.
What Scotland needs in Hampden is a team who believe they can win and fans charged up with positive, optimistic energy. In truth, we don’t have to sustain our optimism with unrealistic positive thinking. We simply need to remember some key facts: Scotland has won all its recent qualifiers at Hampden – even against France. Italy has never won at Hampden. Scotland lost the last game against Georgia but with a weakened team. In the game against Italy we are fielding our best players.
Of course optimism is not enough on its own to win a match – skill, flair, luck all matter . Scotland may lose. This is the point at which we should adjust our thinking. Even then what we need to do is put a positive spin on the facts. Five years ago would anyone have predicted that Scotland would have performed as well in the Group of Death? We’re doing well and we can keep getting better. It may be a slower process than we want but we’re moving in the right direction.
Finally, if we do lose we need to keep the result in perspective. Our worth as a nation is not based on the performance of the Scottish team. As Scots we have so much to be proud of.
You won’t actually be reading any of this in the newspaper. I got to work right away and turned out the words you’ve just read. Then I was phoned up and asked if I could cut it down to 200. ‘No’ was the resounding reply. If they had used anything from me it would have ended up with looking like it was me who want to talk about how Scotland would lose and how we need to prepare for it rather than it being their suggestion.
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