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May 24, 2017

Creating a Reality Distortion Field For Coaching

You might be a fan of Steve Jobs. Or maybe you’ve heard of Apple.

Today, we unpack the cognitive science behind Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field. Then we discuss how to use it for coaching.

Confirmation Bias Time Bombs

Science says that our brains are delusion generators.

The most fun delusion that we are faced with is Confirmation Bias because it works something like this: We have believe something – then we search for evidence that confirms our belief. At the same time, we reject evidence that contradicts our belief.

You might not think that you are susceptible to confirmation bias. That’s the fun part. Literally, no one can tell the difference between confirmation bias and truth. So you’ll never really know if you’re right or just in confirmation bias.

Of course, the idea of science is to remove confirmation bias. And it does do that to a certain degree. But not completely.

And coaching is not much of a science.

How it works in coaching

Here’s how confirmation bias usually works in coaching:

A player gets the reputation for being a skilled stud. The coach sees evidence of this when the stud dangles and scores. The coach sees unfortunate bounces when the player messes up.

A player gets the reputation for being a dud. The coach sees evidence of this when the dud turns the puck over and acts without confidence. The coach sees a lucky game when the player scores.

The Anchor

Let’s say that a player a playmaker – loves to pass first. But someone tells the coach that the kid is a “shoot first” player with a great shot. What happens next?

The coach puts the player in a position to shoot. When the player doesn’t shoot, the coach asks why the player isn’t shooting. When the player feels like he is expected to shoot, he starts shooting more. When the first few don’t go in, the coach is patient since the coach “knows” that the player is just getting warmed up.

Eventually the player scores. This is proof that the player is a shoot first player with a great shot.

You might think this is too simple to be true. But the simplest explanation is usually right. Or it at least sounds right. I can’t tell the difference.

Choosing the Anchor

So what if you could choose the anchor? What if you could choose how a coach saw a player. That’s the key to the reality distortion field.

Choosing an anchor is about directing focus. So if you tell a coach “this kid has a great shot” – you direct attention to the shot.

It is important to choose an anchor carefully. Choose an anchor that a coach can easily “notice” as time goes on. Hence the “time bomb” component.

Reality Distortion

Parents who are delusional about their kids abilities are great. But the ones who get upset about it are losers.

The ones who carefully craft confirmation bias time bombs will see their kids succeed at a higher level. Whatever that means to you.

Let’s say that you want to plant the idea in your coaches head that your kid is a great stickhandler. Don’t explicitly tell your coach that kid is a great stickhandler. Especially if the kid is not a great stickhandler. That is a bad idea.

Instead, ask the coach if you notice “how much my son/daughter’s stickhandling is improving?”

Do you see what we did there?

Every kid gets better at stickhandling over time. Duh.

So, every time the coach “notices” this … bing bing bing: confirmation bias.


Over time, the coach begins to notice how much the player’s stickhandling “is improving”. The coach might start to show the player new tips and techniques for stickhandling – “knowing” that the player is good at learning stickhandling. And this leads to more improved stickhandling.

The virtuous cycle continues.

Cognitive Dissonance

Some readers may not believe me when I say that this stuff works. They probably don’t care much for cognitive science. They’ll go into “cognitive dissonance”.

The rest of you might have just had a truly enlightening experience.

If you liked this article, please let me know at [email protected] or check out my social media channels @train2point0 on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.