Sunday, February 28, 2021
A golfer is staring down a putt to win the tournament. His mind races to everything he could have done to prepare for that moment. He wonders, "did I do enough?" Moments before the gun sounds, the sprinter's mind wanders "did I prepare hard enough?" The list could be endless. Notable sports psychologists say one of the top fears of athletes is the fear of not doing enough and not being good enough. The fear permeates minds moments before an event and can distract from performance.
Athletes aren't alone. Law students fear the same thing every November/December and April/May. They wonder if they read enough, studied enough, or completed enough practice problems. Some wonder if they met with professors enough. Enough becomes the amorphous standard to measure past actions mere moments before performance.
The enough standard poses a few problems. The standard is too vague to reasonably measure, and it is different for every person. Students then proceed to say last semester's actions were or were not enough based on final grades. Grades are a poor measure of "enough." Enough connotes quantity, and sometimes, students do study enough. They just studied the wrong way or wrong material.
The more significant problem with enough is it breeds perfectionism. Athletes don't know whether they are training enough while training, and without that feedback, they could always do more. The golfer could practice 100 more 5 foot putts, and the 5 footer to win would be easier. The swimmer could stay in the pool an hour longer or lift weights 1 more time. One mistake and they didn't do enough. Perfectionism and drive produces elite athletes. Google athlete quotes and you will be inundated with statements about working harder than everyone else. I highly encourage working hard, but perfectionism significantly increases mental health problems. Britain's "Victoria Pendleton (Britain’s most successful female Olympian), middle-distance runner Kelly Holmes (double gold winner at the Athens Olympics), boxer Frank Bruno (heavyweight champion of the world) and cricketer Marcus Trescothick (hero of the 2005 Ashes)" all suffered from depression.1 Their mental health deteriorated from perfectionism.
The same phenomenon happens to law students. They worry about every mistake and whether the semester was enough. We can continue to help students worrying whether they did enough.
The same phenomenon happens to ASPers as well. Maybe it was just me, but my mind raced last week at the bar exam. Did I hold enough programs? Did I contact students enough? Did I do as much as I could in a virtual environment? Did I respond to email quickly enough? I cheered on students while worrying if I could have prepared them better.
Enough is a terrible standard for all of us. I want all of us to help both law students and each other overcome the worry of doing "enough." I tell my students that all I care about is whether they can walk out of the exam and say they did everything they could reasonably do in their circumstances. Everyone's circumstances are different, and I only want them to do what they reasonably can. I want to tell all ASPers the same thing during this trying time. Enough is doing what you reasonably can in your circumstances. Don't let it reach perfectionism.