How to Stop the Microwave Mentality

Happy Monday! Many of you have just begun competing and had your first tournament experience this past weekend or the one before. Are you happy with your tournament performance? If you are, that’s great! Keep up the great work! If you’re not, however, maybe the single biggest thing you need to consider is shedding the “microwave mentality.” What do we mean by that?

Lifehack recently published an article describing how, in the “instant” age, it can be hard to wait for what we really want or need even though those things may be impossible to get instantly. Charlene Tops explains how this hurts performance,Too late - conceptual alarm clock showing that you are too late

In today’s society, when everything is running at lightning speed, it is easy for us to pick up this mentality and begin to get frustrated at the time it actually takes to become successful in whatever area you are working. It’s time to re-train the brain. “Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” is a Hunter S. Thompson quote that my grandmother used to say to me. There is truth in that statement. How can we train our brains to understand this concept and keep from being frustrated? To begin with, realize the fact that everything needs to be built on a strong, lasting foundation. A house being built is not finished overnight. The builders will begin with a foundation. The foundation is key in everything you do. In order to have anything of lasting value it must be started on a strong footing. The groundwork may take time, yet it is essential for quality to be prevalent. This is true in our lives as well. Via Lifehack.

The whole article is excellent and worth a read (find it here) but this is a lesson that can (and should) be applied to debate. Especially at the beginning of the season. Especially when you’re frustrated. Here’s why:

1. Debate is hard and should be hard. It’s so much more than knowing how to research and knowing how to argue. You need to learn to research in a specific way and argue in a very particular language. You also have to do all of that at a pace that’s faster than you’re used to while simultaneously developing the time management skills of a superhero. If that isn’t hard enough, arguments and theories are always changing so you may not even know the rules from year to year. That isn’t an easy thing to do, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to know how to do it all, all at once. Developing these skills takes time and practice. You chose an activity that’s hard, but that’s what makes it fun. If it was easy, everyone would do it and winning wouldn’t mean anything. It would be boring to compete because there would be one “right” answer and everyone would be equally good at every event. You’re giving up instant gratification in exchange for the possibility that, when you do get really good at debate, it’ll mean a lot more to you and it will have been much more interesting along the way.

2. Improvement requires you to do the wrong thing. The reason practice makes us better is because it teaches us all the different ways of getting it wrong. Each time we practice, we shed a bad habit, find a more efficient way of doing things, eliminate uncertainty, etc. If you didn’t make these mistakes, you wouldn’t have a concrete sense of why to avoid them. If you lose a debate, the momentary disappointment is so much less important than the lessons you learned. Understand your losses as contributing to future wins and be patient. If you don’t think about getting better as a process, you’ll be too stubborn to understand why you were wrong and continue to make the same mistakes. In a way, it’s ironic – patience makes you better faster than being in a rush.

3. There are no shortcuts. Rushing causes mistakes. It compromises quality. It forces you to lean on buzzwords and depend on the work of others instead of figuring out for yourself what the topic means. You can borrow a politics disadvantage or an affirmative case for a tournament or two. You can even copy the phrasing of some really good debater’s blocks. To really learn, though, you have to figure out how to write a politics disadvantage for yourself, to understand what distinguishes a good one from a bad one, etc. You need to understand why saying certain things in a theory debate is more persuasive than saying other things. That all comes with experience. The debaters that are relying on everyone else tend to have inconsistent results and really suffer whenever their research/argument connection falls through. The ones who steadily build their expertise have built themselves a firm foundation. So ask questions. It’s liberating to accept that you don’t know everything and the resulting humility makes it so much easier to learn the lessons that judges and coaches have to teach you. Wanting to be the best overnight prevents you from doing that because it requires you to convince yourself that you already know everything that you need to know and are just waiting for the judges to catch up.

So: If you’re not winning, don’t quit. Just tell yourself you’re not winning yet. Turn off the microwave (mentality). Happy Monday, and good luck.


About Lauren Sabino

Lauren Sabino is the Director of Youth Programs at the National Center for Policy Analysis. She currently administrates Debate Central, the largest free online debate resource.
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