The first swallow of the day brought a sense of foreboding. A sandpaper throat accompanied sharp head pains as I moved from the pillow. Flashes of blue zigzagged across my vision.
Of all the influences in my life, this was a most critical one. This one threatened my lungs.
Two days later I called the doctor, “We have no appointments available at all,” said the Medical Assistant. “He’s been on vacation, he’s just back and is overwhelmed. If it’s an emergency, you’ll have to go to the Hospital.”
Living on the preventative side of health was going to be a challenge.
“Because my lungs are vulnerable,” I said, “I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to look after them. I don’t want this to get worse.” The dread of having to fight for breath put my hiker determination into overdrive. “I’m too healthy to live gasping for air.”
She lowered her voice and said, “Amy, he’s going to be the doctor-on-call at Emergency on Sunday. You could see him then.” Tuesday to Sunday…five days.
Who would dream a foggy brain could be a positive influence? It gave me an excellent chance to exercise my powers of concentration. With each chore, I stayed present. I waited for my fire to catch so I could make sure the door to the stove was shut tight. I stayed with, and enhanced, the pot of homemade soup until it came to a boil so I’d remember to turn the burner to simmer. I used a timer repeatedly to bring my wandering mind back to “now”.
I decided to see how this slowed brain would influence my university studies. I started the lesson that was waiting on the Internet. The material was in written and video form. I re-read some text that simply wasn’t making sense. I thought of real life examples to help make it clear. I replayed some of the videos. I referred back to my notes frequently. I worked hard to grab concepts and find ways to “make the knowledge mine”.
Ironically, this course is about “Thinking” (including dealing with myths). Besides learning how to think critically by using scientific principles and
questioning, we were taught proven methods for effective learning and long-term memory. I was applying those techniques and “making those concepts mine”.
At the end of the session, I considered doing the exam later when I felt better, but I wanted to be finished. I so I began the test. The questions were not a request to simply recall details in the course material. They required a bridging of the new knowledge onto other situations. I had to predict outcomes and rationale. I took twice as long as usual to finish.
The result? I aced it. 100%. This taste of glory made me wonder if I could continue doing this well.
This thought required the use of my new knowledge. I’d have to consider various influences. Did I think/work differently due to being under the weather? Was it just good luck? Was I creating a new trend line for myself? Or could I possibly be exemplary and avoid the “regression to the mean” reality?
My foggy brain influenced well by forcing me to work hard. Having to work hard overcomes “fluency” which is a state whereby materials are laid out so well that students understand easily and think they’ve “got it”. Not so! Science has proven that the harder we have to work at learning, the stronger the guarantee of better results and longer retention. That’s why I strive to “make it mine”.
However, I have to face the fact that “regression to the mean” exists and I’ll not be staying at the 100% level. If I’m typical, I will do less well on subsequent exams. These “lumps of glories” iron out in the long run. We head towards average because “in the long run, things balance out”, quotes The Prof. Our lumps of huge success or fame eventually move towards an average. Isn’t “regression to the mean” another description of mediocrity?
Well, it is a good explanation for beginner’s luck.
To feel better, I reread examples of situations that express “smoothing out the lumps” – heading toward the “mean”:
- a new star athlete makes the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine – then doesn’t keep up the level of performance and slips back towards mediocrity.
- a golfer shoots 5 under par one day and makes par the next.
- a musical band sells 2 million copies of their first album. Sales diminish with each subsequent album.
- a team on top of the standings at mid season is more likely to drop in standings than remain on top.
- a camera left at a site where many accident happens seems to bring down the number of accidents.
The course says, “If a researcher gave a large group of people a test of some sort and selected the top-performing 5%, these people would be likely to score worse, on average, if re-tested. Similarly, the bottom 5% would be likely to score better on a retest. In either case, the extremes of the distribution are likely to “regress to the mean” due to simple luck and natural random variation in the results.”
You may not want to believe those findings. I don’t blame you. People want to believe there is a pattern in gambling. We want to believe that a smaller class size improves student grades. We want alternative medicines to be effective. And we don’t want our opinions changed by some myth-busting scientist who has conducted hundreds of tests to prove that this information is not fact.
Ever the optimist, maybe I can shoot for High Average. Maybe I can demonstrate the skills, abilities and consistency of a Wayne Gretzky who managed to stay high in his standings in hockey. It doesn’t matter – if I have to face a significant sliding back toward the mean, there’ll be claw marks in the air as I’m forced to let go of 100%.
After all, who wants to be mediocre? I’ll swallow that as happily as I would swallow sour grapes with a sandpaper throat.
(Wellness Report: I’m still not at my usual level of good health. I did go to Emergency at which time my Doc put me on antibiotics. He thinks I had pneumonia and came through with Bronchitis, but he had no test results at that time to back his diagnosis. I have a follow-up appointment in a week.)