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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

Carry On Anyway

Psychologist Adam Grant tweeted a quote from author Austin Kleon's book, Keep Going, the other night. So basically, Austin thought of something interesting, wrote about it, then Adam tweeted it, I subsequently thought it was worthy of a blog post, and now you're reading it. I guess that's how ideas spread.

Anyways, the tweet was a picture of what Kleon dubbed The Dunning-Kruger Prayer. It reads as follows:

"Let me be smart enough to know how dumb I am and give me the courage to carry on anyway."

It's in reference to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is the "cognitive bias hypothesis that people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability."

In my opinion, it's best explained by the following graph:


Source: Wikipedia

What drew my attention to the prayer was how acutely I feel it speaks to distance coaches, and in particular, the young ones (like me!). When you have success with an athlete or two, it's easy to think you've got it figured out. You think the specific programming decisions you made were the reason the athlete set a huge PR or won a big race. It was that chapter of Daniels you read, or the old workout from Bowerman that you resurrected at the right time that was the secret sauce, you believe.

Unfortunately, the more athletes you coach, the more you come to realize that your secret sauce isn't really much of a sauce. Nor is your sauce really a secret. Soon, you'll even have athletes who find success doing the complete opposite of that once all-powerful secret sauce.

What I've discovered thus far is that coaching is far more nuanced and complex that I could've ever imagined when I first started. To be honest, I don't think anyone ever gets it totally right in a career. But by practicing the Dunning-Kruger prayer, my guess is that accuracy in training prescription improves over time.

I think it takes the confidence to believe in what you know.

I think it takes the humility to know that what you believe might not work.

And I think it takes the "courage to carry on anyway."

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