Headwinds and Tailwinds

The Head Winds / Tail Winds Asymmetry

Tom Gilovich and Shai Davidai


J Pers Soc Psychol. 2016 Dec;111(6):835-851.


“The idea should be familiar to anyone who cycles or runs for exercise. Sometimes you’re running or cycling into the wind, and it’s not pleasant. You’re aware of it the whole time. It’s retarding your progress and you can’t wait until the course changes so that you get the wind at your back. And when that happens you’re grateful for about a minute. And very quickly, you no longer notice the wind at your back that’s helping push you along. And what’s true when it comes to running or cycling is true of life generally … [Moreover, if we DO think about it, it’s tempting to believe we DESERVE to have the wind at our backs – it’s our truest Destiny!]

 … We have to pay attention to the barriers in front of us because we have to get over them, or get through them in some way. We have to overcome them. We don’t have to pay attention to those things that are boosting us along. We can just be boosted along. And that fundamental asymmetry in attention is the headwinds/tailwind asymmetry.

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LOUIS C.K. (clip from Conan O’Brien’s show): I was on an airplane and there was internet, high-speed internet on the airplane. That’s the newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go, “Open up your laptop, you can go on the internet.” And it’s fast and I’m watching YouTube clips. I’m on an airplane. Then it breaks down and they apologize. The internet’s not working. The guy next to me goes, “This is bullshit.” Like, how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only ten seconds ago.

GILOVICH: Psychologists refer to this as the hedonic treadmill. You run really hard to get something. The thing that you get, that you’re aiming for, feels good when you’ve got it. But then you adapt to it and you have to run ever faster to get more and more.”

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The selective blind spot we have in our understanding and appreciation of “tailwinds” starts early – from birth, at which time all of our wants and needs are addressed by significant others … ain’t life GRAND!   From birth to age 18, the “tailwinds” from both parents and civilization-at-large have an actual dollar value, amounting to approximately $300,000 in combined financial equivalents … that’s just over $15,000 per year or $41 a day.  But those tailwinds don’t last indefinitely!

In this blog entry, I’m going to suggest that full matriculation through life includes the creation of BOTH our own headwinds and tailwinds.  We need to keep pushing the boundaries of our capacities into the wind … with enough “wind in our face” to keep advancing our position.  We can even pedal against the wind going downhill [who would do THAT?], which will provide “tailwind” momentum going up the next hill or over the next barrier.

Momentum is the only thing that will break the standoff

between an irresistible force and an immovable object.”


But it’s even better than that!  The extraordinary thing about pushing ourselves through tough places and creating our own “headwind” is that it produces a “Bandwagon Effect” … drawing significant others into our quest.  Some of these may, in fact, act as “Slingshot Accelerators”, contributing substantial “Gravitational Leverage” toward exponentially advancing our position and helping direct our trajectory.

Another collateral benefit of taking on and creating our own headwinds is that we capacitize ourselves for taking on additional headwinds.

An easily overlooked fact is that headwinds provide LIFT.   [One could argue that the only reason for jet engines is to provide enough artificial head wind to get massive hunks of metal, plastic and cargo into the sky.]   It means our “wings” have to be “trimmed” to allow “lift” to happen, but if managed properly, it can allow one to SOAR!

So, headwinds are not all bad!

“The brick walls are not there to keep us out;

the brick walls are there to give us a chance

to show how badly we want something.”
Randy Pausch

The Last Lecture

Finally, even if you don’t happen to be a sailing enthusiast, you can take a page out of the “Seamanship and Piloting Manual” and become adept at “tacking” … maintaining forward momentum by adjusting your position and direction so that the headwind provides an angular boost with at least one vectored directional nudge toward your ultimate destination.


If you’re not experiencing your share of head winds, you’re not experiencing your share of LIFE!  Make some waves in the universe and carve out some head wind space daily in the direction of your Destiny.  Quartermaster

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