I still remember the first time I learned how to ski. The wind whipping around my face, the uncertain wobble in my legs, and the white expanse of snow that seemed to descend endlessly toward an incredibly minuscule ski lodge at the bottom.
I started to point my feet downhill, and almost immediately, as if by instinct, I tilted my body back…. and landed on my rear with a thud. I repeated this countless times, certain that the answer to controlling my speed was leaning up the mountain. Only after my mother’s patient and persistent advice to “make the pizza slice” with my feet did I start to see its magic work: it consistently and easily slowed my speed, without throwing me to the ground, and even allowed me to make small but steady progress downhill. Soon I was actually leaning forward, trusting the “V” of skis, finally having mastered the “process of the pizza slice”. If I focused on that tiny lodge, I would have been lost. By focusing on the tips of my skis, I made it down, one inch at a time.
Five-time National Champion and Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban was recently asked what the secret to his success was, and he answered without hesitation - “The Process”:
Don't think about winning the SEC Championship. Don't think about the National Championship. Think about what you needed to do in this drill, on this play, in this moment. That's the process: Let's think about what we can do today, the task at hand.^
Simple advice that produces remarkable results. Saban has become a master at instilling in his coaches and players the ability to break down the seemingly insurmountable task of a national championship into first simply “winning” the next step that is in front of you.
For students, this mentality and approach is key for succeeding on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Let’s face it: If you start to think about the entire task - having to sit still for over four hours straight, answering countless questions you’ve never seen before, recalling the huge amount of necessary information, all before the bell rings - it would make even the most stoic of us to throw our hands up in despair! Then, of course, you have to make sure you get a high enough score, a good GPA, write an outstanding personal statement, have sufficient extracurriculars, get accepted into the college of your choice, ace your university classes, graduate summa cum laude and land your dream job!
But it all starts with the right triangle in front of you.
Ok. You know the Pythagorean Formula:
A2 + B2 = C2
Plug in the variables:
82 + 152 = x2 → 64 + 225 = 289 → x = 17
And your answer is 17.
In math, there are a series of basic steps that add up to a solution: Follow the steps, trust the process, and arrive at your destination. You simply follow the steps of the Pythagorean “process” and arrive at your answer. Then you’re off to the next question, with confidence and momentum.
In the same way that each problem is just a series of steps, the test is just a series of problems. It’s easy to get discouraged by the enormity of the whole task, but the reality is that you can only complete one question at a time anyway. So make it easy on yourself, and don’t waste time and energy thinking about any of the problems that you haven’t even seen yet! Trust that the process (formula, strategy, method) will work its magic, and then you can simply focus on taking each step perfectly. Be determined to master that one thing in front of you, and the results will take care of themselves. Soon, before you know it, you’ll be flying down the mountain!
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