Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Debating to Build Mental Strength: Part Two

by Dr. Sarah T. Partlow Lefevre

In part one of this series, I introduced an article written by Paul Hudson called 20 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.  I applied his first five suggestions to the debate context.  In part two, I examine practices 6-10 that mentally strong people should avoid.  They are: 
6. Letting Others Make Decisions For Them
7. Getting Jealous Over The Successes Of Others
8. Thinking About The High Possibility Of Failure
9. Feeling Sorry For Themselves
10. Focusing On Their Weaknesses (Hudson, 2014)
Again, I apply each suggestion in the context of debate to see how debaters can use the activity to build mental strength and resilience.   Debaters who develop such habits can use them to become more successful throughout their lives.
                6.  Debaters develop decision making abilities.
Debaters learn to consider the advice of others, while relying on their decision making abilities in every debate.  Often, a coach may discuss a strategy with a debater prior to a debate.  However, debaters must develop the ability to implement such strategies in context, to choose between a variety of strategies, and to develop strategies on their own.  As debaters learn to engage in high level strategic thinking, they are more and more able to make the decisions they are called upon to make in the heat of the moment.  Wise debaters listen to their coaches.  But, they also listen to themselves. 
Debaters also learn to research options and investigate possibilities by considering a wide variety of evidence from many sources.  Not only are debaters taught to analyze the quality of the available evidence, they learn to synthesize it into a coherent perspective.  Debaters learn the tools for decision making in a variety of contexts.  They can consistently and fairly engage in cost benefit analysis to weigh competing merits of different approaches.  In the long run, good debaters develop the ability to address a problem by gathering evidence, analyzing it, and deciding for themselves. 

                7. Debaters celebrate others’ successes.
It takes a debater who is truly confident in him or herself to celebrate others’ successes.  Strong debaters should revel in the process of debate and reach out to others –win or lose.  As one who has been around the debate community for many years, I know that team success works in cycles.  But, it is always true that when one team wins accolades and respect, debate as an activity wins.  Mentally strong debaters should remember to be proud of the other members of the debate community and to celebrate their successes.  Trophies are only a small part of the debate experience.  More than any individual win or loss, debate is nothing without individuals contributing to and building the community.  Resilient debaters reach out to others and build bridges without regard to competitive concerns.  Often, debaters develop extensive networks of friends all over the country.  Such deep bonds last well beyond a single tournament, a specific season, or even a debate career.  These bonds last a lifetime.

                8. Debaters accept guaranteed failure.
Because debate tournaments involve a series of debates and, therefore, a series of wins and losses, even tournament champions rarely emerge undefeated.  In debate, losing is inevitable.  All debaters lose debates.  Losses can help debaters to refine strategy and improve their arguments.  A loss can identify weaknesses in an argument that need to be addressed.  Losses can inspire debaters to do more research, practice more, or to try harder in the next debate.  Ultimately, losing in debate teaches mentally strong debaters that loss is a part of life.  Using the experience of failure to refine one’s approach and to try again another day marks debaters’ progress.  Resilient debaters learn how to take failure in stride while still progressing in life and in debate.  In this way, failure in debate leads to success in life as individuals learn to accept the inevitability of defeat and to respond constructively.

               9. Debaters do not pity themselves.  Instead, they make themselves better.
After accepting that loss is inevitable, debaters are free to use losing as an exercise in self-improvement. Mentally strong debaters learn from their losses rather than engaging in self-pity.  Debaters should embrace the experience of debate and dialogue while seeking to improve their skills.  Enjoying the process ensures an attitude that allows for personal growth and development.

10. Debaters capitalize on their strengths.
To succeed, debaters must recognize and use their strengths as speakers, strategists, or researchers.  Tough debaters recognize that nurturing strength will make them stronger and more successful.  Most debaters also work on improving in weak areas.  But, the ability to identify areas of excellence and refine them is what makes a great debater. 

Part three can be found here.  I hope you are enjoying the series so far.  Comments and suggestions are welcome.