Tailwinds and Headwinds
how to best use your tailwinds in life
We all experience the headwinds and tailwinds of life.
Not sure what I'm referring to?
Imagine yourself going for a jog on a windy day.
During the course of your journey you experience times when the wind is at your back boosting you along (tailwind) and times when the wind is in your face inhibiting your efforts (headwind).
So it is with life.
We experience our own metaphoric headwinds and tailwinds that either hinder or ease our journey.
Psychologists Tom Gilovich and Shai Davidai recently studied this phenomenon and determined that we tend to overemphasize our headwinds (challenges) and deemphasize our tailwinds (benefits).
In accounting for this phenomenon, it seems that our headwinds (challenges) carry more psychological and emotional weight than our tailwinds (benefits) thereby creating an asymmetry of perception that feels quite real.
And this makes sense when you think about it, non?
Experiences that create difficulties (headwinds) require not only our attention to resolve, but also evoke deep emotional responses. As such, they loom large within our memories and readily shape our world view. For example, the loss of a job could be considered a headwind.
When we are boosted along in life, however, by the benefit of privilege or opportunity or luck (tailwind), we tend to overlook its impact due to its relative invisibility and our limited emotional response to it. For example, going out to dinner on a whim could be considered a tailwind.
In essence, we tend to efficiently and innocently adapt and absorb our tailwinds whilst stewing and stalling in our headwinds.
In other words, our minds become heady with thought when we experience headwinds and remain relatively clear when we experience tailwinds.
Let's go back to jogging.
Imagine a fierce wind whips up and pushes itself directly in your path. Suddenly you become acutely aware of the additional effort required to move forward. Every muscle - both physical and mental is engaged in your effort as you struggle along.
Now imagine the wind suddenly shifts and is at your back boosting you along. Relieved of the struggle, your physical and mental muscles relax once again. You are grateful...for about a minute. Soon enough, however, you've adapted to this 'new normal' and the once recognized benefit becomes invisible once more with little regard or appreciation.
Can you see it now?
Our ability to quickly adapt and dismiss such invisible benefits is brilliantly captured by the comedian Louis C.K. as he recounts an incident on a plane:
"I was on an airplane and there was high speed internet on the plane - the newest thing that I know exists - I'm on an airplane and this exists- I'm watching youtube, and then the wifi breaks down and the pilot comes on and apologizes and the guy next to me goes, "Pshst...this is BULLSHIT!" Like - how quickly the world owed him something that he only knew existed 10 seconds ago."
As Louis C.K. explains, "everything is amazing and no one cares."
So, how do we rebalance the scales, given our tendency to give greater attention and thought to our headwinds?
As with most things related to our mind and wellbeing, awareness is a good first step; when we become aware of our predispositions and our thinking, we can more easily disengage and observe without further attachment and entrenchment.
With awareness also comes the opportunity for new thought.
And in the case of our headwinds and tailwinds, it begins by asking a simple question:
What are some of the tailwinds in your life?