Episode 1 - Always Overestimate Yourself
There is a scene in the movie Dhoni, where Sushant Singh Rajput (who played MSD) describes a match his state lost against a team which had the already established star, Yuvraj Singh. He attributed it to the players having lost the match even before entering the field.
Most students lose the battle even before they enter the CAT examination centre. Irrespective of one's ability and the hours of practice put in, the most fundamental ingredient for winning the CAT race is belief.
I would go to the extent and say that people who are slightly less prepared but have more belief have a higher chance of cracking the CAT than those who have been perfectly prepared.
What is the genesis of this belief?
- Preparation - Good preparation gives one confidence. In cricket parlance, net practice and practice matches are important. There is no substitute for hard work and practice. This might seem contradictory to my statements above. However, there is a difference between hope and belief. Without good preparation, all your belief is just a hope for dollops of good fortune.
- Mental Approach - This is the most important ingredient and a clear differentiator between those who make it big and those who never really achieve their true potential. Very few people pay attention to it consciously. It is only now that we may have started noticing the importance that elite sportsmen and top CEOs have started ascribing to it. There are mental conditioning coaches and psychotherapists that many Olympic teams employ. The Indian Cricket team started working with Sandy Gordon in 2003 just before the World Cup which was a successful experiment. In 2011, Paddy Upton was an important part of the coaching staff that helped India lift the World Cup. The Australian sporting system has had modules on mental skills for school and state-level athletes for decades now. Executive Coaching for CEOs and CXOs is now a multi-million dollar industry in the west. (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt - all three had coaches.)
Ultimately, whether you crack CAT is dependent on your performance on the day. It is no different from playing competitive sport. The runs in practice matches don't count. The goals scored during training don't count. You have to be up for an elite performance on the day.
How do you do it?
You cannot achieve something you desperately want without being optimistic. You have to approach it with a positive frame of mind. Assuming you are content with your preparation, you should actively work towards building positivity in your daily life. Just to be clear, I am not saying become overexcited and become unnaturally bullish about your future. You still need to be calm and at peace. But you need to cultivate a strong positive bias when you think.
I will recommend developing a bit of overconfidence. When trying to achieve something big, I recommend you overestimate your ability to be able to do it. I believe people should make it part of their daily mental approach to everything they do professionally. Just to be absolutely clear again, I'm not asking you to build castles in the air. For e.g. if you have never played the guitar before in front of even ten people, it is unwise to 'believe' and 'overestimate' your ability to play well in front of thousands of people in a concert. The overconfidence can only be developed in an area of some basic expertise, practice, learning or deep thought.
At this stage, you need to stop thinking about the reasons why things can go wrong. Only focus on what if things go right. Visualize a fantastic outcome. What should I do to give myself the best chance to get that outcome?
I highly recommend this latest essay by Paul Graham titled Early Work. Although it explores why a lot of people never start on ambitious projects, it deals with the bit around overconfidence beautifully.
If you are scoring 92-95 percentile consistently in your mocks, you should enter the final month of your CAT preparation believing you will score 99% plus on the day. Try posting a fake CAT Scorecard with your desired percentile in each section and look at it every day. (I hate to say this to you but it is unlikely to happen if you are in the mid-70s at this stage. I haven't come across anyone who has managed to do that. Of course, jumping from mid-70s to 90 is possible but 99 is tough).
One of my favourite stories is that of Jim Carrey. When he was a struggling actor in the late 1980s he wrote himself a cheque of 10 Million dollars for 'acting services rendered' for motivation and visualisation. For someone who probably didn't have even 10k dollars at the time, it was an extreme act of overestimating himself based on belief in his talent and hard work. In 1995 he achieved it with Dumb and Dumber.
There is always deep-seated self-doubt in all of us. A lot of it could be because of something someone has said to us during our growing up years. There is always someone who has pinned us down and told us why we aren't good enough. Every time we go out and try to perform, this doubt creeps upon us. You require a conscious effort to keep it away.
Believe in yourself and the quality of your preparation. Eliminate interaction with every individual who tells you why something is not possible. There are few people who have a tendency to complain about life in general almost all the time. Avoid meeting them until CAT is over.
Try to recollect all those times when you have been successful. Remind yourself about those times when you did well. One good way is to write those things down. Think about why you did well at that time. Try to recreate an environment similar to that. What was your mindset then? What were the enabling factors at that time? Can you rebuild that this time again?
My own experience with CAT has been similar. My best CAT performance was the actual test in 2008 - 99.68%ile - I had never seen that number before in any of my mocks over 2 years. Also, one day before CAT I was almost certain I was going to crack it. It took a while to build that belief. I don't think I studied more as compared to my 2007 attempt but made adjustments to my mental approach. Also, I did follow everything mentioned above that I am asking you to follow :-)
- There is no substitute for preparation and hard work. It is hygiene.
- Build a mental muscle to be overconfident and overestimate your ability.
- Doggedly visualize the best-case scenario. Remember the fake CAT Scorecard exercise.
- Shun away thoughts that tell you why things could go wrong.
- Recollect the times when you have done well. Try to recreate the same environment.
- Avoid people who bring any form of negativity or life ranting until CAT is over.
- Come back to this note every time you drift towards a negative frame of mind. Remember Jim Carrey. Think about what SSR (MS Dhoni) said in the movie.
Curated Story for the Day
It is US Election season and my story for the day revolves around this. One of the greatest stories of the 2000s is the story of Barack Obama. It is unimaginable even today that a Black man was in the White House for 8 years. Without commenting on the quality or effectiveness of his presidency, you have to salute the sheer ambition of an African American to even dream of becoming a US President. Every time I watch his acceptance speech, I am convinced he had visualized that day clearly. I think if you are looking for inspiration for someone who has done the unthinkable and then followed that up with a memorable speech - this is where you go. It’s an 18 Min masterclass on public speaking. I do think it is worth your time if you are looking for motivation. Put in the work and anything is possible.
(There is also a 2004 speech of his that put him on the US map for the first time. If you have the time watch that here.)
Today is the first episode so I have no questions. But I do hope to receive a lot of questions from you which I will answer tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Do send in your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org!
The mental conditioning required for one of the toughest exams in the world comes with practice, knowledge and presence of mind. But there is one central idea to all three of these; self-belief.
To that end, I will send one curated piece of reading or video every day. I will also answer one subscriber question answered every day. With CAT 2020 knocking at your door, I will talk about concepts and frameworks that you can apply immediately to gain that confidence and self-believe.
You will find a new growth story every day in your mailbox for the next 30 days. The first 5 stories will be free for everyone. You need to subscribe to get the 6th story and beyond i.e. 5th November onwards.
We will also have 4 Growth meets (for subscribers) where we will all meet online to discuss issues, ideas and do a Q&A.
What’s in it for you in the Growth Stories with Ankit Doshi:
- Mental Models for Analyzing CAT Prep
- Notes for Self-Reflection
- High-Quality Curated Content & their Summaries
- Motivation to turn Intent to Action