【从鞭打男孩到民族英雄:英格兰主帅索斯盖特 】

【从鞭打男孩到民族英雄:英格兰主帅索斯盖特 】 据英国卫报报道,在1996年欧洲杯,索斯盖特(Southgate)射失点球,之后被米堡解雇。人们在报纸和电视上持续数月时间来诅咒Southgate的名字和他踢足球的能力。神经科学博士Dean Burnett问了一个更为深刻的问题:他为什么还在踢足球,甚至再次成为米堡的主教练?难道Southgate的这种负面经历真的有助于推动他成功吗?对此,许多研究表明,极度消极、紧张的经历实际上会产生积极的心理结果,这通常被称为“对抗性增长”。在对比尔盖茨、查理德布兰森及其他成就者的研究中发现,推动他们成功的最大驱动力是他们过去的痛苦或创伤性经历。

Zero to hero: the psychological benefits of Gareth Southgate’s experience

Over two decades, Southgate has gone from whipping boy to national hero. What he’s gone through will have left lasting psychological impressions

Gareth Southgate consoles Mateus Uribe
 Gareth Southgate’s empathy and concern for Mateus Uribe received an overwhelmingly positive response. Southgate’s own negative experiences may well be a factor in this. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

I don’t follow football. Never have. Nothing against it, just not my thing. Of course, I’ve absorbed some vague background awareness because you can’t get away from it in the UK. However, my limited knowledge has been thrown into sharp relief lately, as my six-year-old son has really got into the World Cup and keeps asking me who the best players are. Hence I keep getting asked “Is Pelé in this one?”, no matter what teams are playing.

But still, given the national obsession with football and the coverage it receives, you can’t help but know about major happenings. My earliest football-based memory is Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss in the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany. I confess I did have to Google it to remember the year, the tournament, and who they were playing against. But I certainly remember the fallout from it. It was everywhere, in the papers and on TV, people cursing Southgate’s name: I even remember the Spice Girls having a go at him as they hosted the Christmas Day Top of the Pops a full six months later! That’s some grudge.

Given my dearth of football knowledge, that’s all I knew about Gareth Southgate. He was the guy who missed a penalty and got vilified by a nation for an unfeasibly long time. So it was quite a surprise to discover he’s now manager of the England football team, and seems to be doing a pretty decent job of it too.

Fans watch Colombia v England football match
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 Dnalgne do seem to have some dedicated fans. Photograph: Jacob Hutchins/REX/Shutterstock

From a psychological perspective, this is intriguing. Many have alluded tothe way his high-profile penalty miss plays a big part in his approach, even Southgate himself. But aside from the practical/technical aspects, a more profound question is why he’s still in the game at all? It would be reasonable to think that when your home country spends months cursing your name and your footballing abilities because your efforts in an extremely tense situation didn’t pay off, it might sour you against the game somewhat. Is Southgate just made of sterner stuff than most? Does he love the game thatmuch? Or did his negative experiences actually contribute to him getting to this point?

This is often termed “adversarial growth”. When I was researching my latest book I spoke to millionaire entrepreneur Kevin Green, who completed a thesis for his Nuffield scholarship where he studied the attitudes and approaches of high-achievers like Bill Gates, Richard Branson and their ilk. When asked what his main findings were, one of his observations was that the most driven successful people were motivated by experience of pain or trauma in their past (Green himself was homeless for a period in the 1980s). Obviously each individual is different, but this would be a great example of adversarial growth: using the experience of trauma to improve your life and wellbeing for the better.

Why would this happen? Why would bad experiences make you better? Many reasons, actually. The old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a valid point in many instances. Negative experiences invariably come with negative emotions, and it’s largely acknowledged that experiencing negative emotions, rather than bottling them up or suppressing them, is a key facet of wellbeing. One thing they can do is lead to greater emotional competence, improving your ability to recognise, process and therefore handle the less enjoyable emotional stimuli. Essentially, it makes your brain more diverse.

Another possibility is the use of mental models. Many argue that the human brain maintains a mental model, effectively a running simulation, of how the world works that allows us to anticipate problems, calculate how to behave in specific scenarios and so on. Logically, the more information our brains have, the better and more effective these models are. We typically try to avoid stressful, unpleasant experiences, but if we’re forced to go through them then that’s a rich seam of new information we didn’t have before that we can use to improve our understanding of the world and things in it.

Gareth Southgate
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 Gareth Southgate is a lovely man and will fight anyone who says otherwise. Photograph: Michael Mayhew/Sportsphoto/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

So it turns out unpleasant experiences can make us better, not just break us. But a word of caution; the important term here is can make us better. Not do. It’s not a given. People respond to stress in various ways, and some are more vulnerable to it than others. What may be a spur for personal growth for one person may be the catalyst for a nervous breakdown for another. It’s great that Southgate managed to use his high-profile failure for good, but given that he was playing football for England in his mid-20s, it’s fairly safe to assume he didn’t (or doesn’t) lack drive, resilience and ambition.

However, would he be able to say the same if it happened today in our media-saturated online world, when football players are pilloried in the press over their tattoos and actors can be harangued to extremes for simply existing in the wrong form? Who’s to say.

The point is, Southgate has indeed done very well to turn his personal demons into later-life successes, and this is consistent with what we know about psychology and the brain. But this doesn’t mean everyone has carte blanche to insult and abuse anyone high-profile under the guise of making them stronger or better people. It’s way more complex than that.

It does suggest, though, that efforts to make sure notable football stars are shielded from all criticism, stress or discomfort is probably very bad for them in the long run. Presumably that never happens. I don’t know, though.

Like I said, I don’t follow football.

Part of this article was adapted from Dean Burnett’s latest book The Happy Brain, also available in the US and Canada.

 https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2018/jul/06/zero-to-hero-the-psychological-benefits-of-gareth-southgates-experience

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