The brain truly is a strange organism. For example, here’s something you perhaps didn’t know about your brain—it’s not going to try and look out for what’s best for you.
Ever chow down on something unhealthy that you know you shouldn’t eat? Ever indulge in some activity that you know you shouldn’t waste time doing? Ever say something that you know you shouldn’t say, but you say it anyways?
As modern-day human beings, we have a unique kind of superpower. We have consciousness. We have the ability to view ourselves as two separate selves— there’s “us,” and then there’s the brain that controls us, organizing everything, pulling all of strings, and conducting the entire orchestra. There’s the person you see staring back at you in the mirror each day, and then there’s the brain that resides within that person.
The reality is that your brain is not really looking out for “you”—it’s looking out for itself. It’s trying to do what it wants to do and have what it wants to have. The analogy I always use is to think of your brain as a small child. Yes, the “child” is yours and you can both control and dictate what that “child” does to a large extent. But that “child” is still going to attempt to do what it wants to do and try to gain the things it wants to have.
Your brain can trick you. It can fool you. It can perpetuate unwarranted fears that are completely irrational. It can spin false beliefs that have no basis in functional reality. And it can produce fallacious ways of thinking that can stifle your ability to improve and make meaningful, positive progress. It’s precisely this that we’re going to begin discussing with today’s article—learning about and understanding psychological fallacies.
This article is the first in a series where I’ll being discussing a total of four psychological fallacies, all of which can apply 100% to competitive Magic. Perhaps you’ll discover that you’re guilty of using some or all of them. Perhaps you won’t. In either case, by the end of this series, you’ll have learned enough about them to either begin working on dismissing them, or understand them enough to start looking out for them so you don’t fall prey to them in the future. Let’s take a look at today’s psychological fallacy: the Appeal to Accomplishment fallacy.
Appeal To Accomplishment Fallacy
What is the Appeal to Accomplishment fallacy? The Appeal to Accomplishment fallacy is when you attribute your success in something to a faulty strategy or method, and then consider that strategy or method to be true, correct, or beneficial, simply because you happen to win using it. I’ll give a few examples.
You’re playing in a major tournament, and for the first time in your career, you’re in a position to Top 8 a major tournament. You’re playing your win-and-in match. Win, and you Top 8. Lose, and you’re out. During game 3 of that match, you make a critical mistake early in the game that swings the momentum firmly in your opponent’s direction. Perhaps you played the wrong land, or perhaps you did your combat math incorrectly and attacked with too many creatures. In either case, because of this error, you get extremely upset, frustrated, and angry. Essentially, you tilt off.
But despite being frustrated, angry, and completely tilted, you still manage to win the game and the match, securing your first ever Top 8 finish at a major tournament. As a consequence of that experience, you unconsciously tie your success to getting frustrated, angry, and tilted when making a mistake. Because you managed to still win despite indulging in those destructive emotions, you interpret that to mean that those emotions are actually good to use after making a mistake during play.
This is a classic example of the Appeal to Accomplishment fallacy. Why is it a fallacy? It’s simple—you didn’t win that game because you got frustrated, angry, and titled when you made a mistake. You won the game despite that. Your frustration, anger, and tilt didn’t help you to win. You simply managed to win despite being handicapped by destructive emotions. You could have won that game just the same had you not indulged in those emotions, and it would have been far easier to do so. You made winning that game more difficult and stressful than it needed to be.
Now, you’re playing in the Top 8. Because you’re playing in your first Top 8 of a major tournament, you’re nervous, stressed, and anxious. You’re sweating profusely and constantly rocking back and forth in your chair. You can barely sit still or hold a clear thought in your head in each of your matches. You think to yourself that there’s no way you can win, and that every player you go against is just so much better than you that you don’t have a shot at actually winning. But… you guessed it… you still manage to win the entire tournament, despite being a nervous wreck who thought you had zero chance of winning.
As a consequence of that experience, just like when you won after getting frustrated, angry, and titled when making a mistake, you attribute your success of winning all of your matches in the Top 8 to being nervous, stressed out, and tense. Because you managed to succeed in that state, you interpreted that to mean those traits are helpful when playing high stakes matches.
This is yet another classic example of the Appeal to Accomplishment fallacy. Nervousness, stress, and tension are awful for performance. They produce fear-responses, cloud your ability to think clearly, and muddle your decision-making capabilities. You didn’t win all of your Top 8 matches because you were a nervous wreck. You won all of your Top 8 matches despite that. You were playing with a handicap the entire time, and you could have won all of those matches just the same by being calm, relaxed, and having fun, and it would have made winning those matches much easier to do. Winning was made much more difficult than it needed to be.
Let’s say you’re playing Infect at a Modern tournament. You’re in your first main phase before going into combat. Before entering combat, you decide to cast all your pump spells onto your Blighted Agent in your main phase instead of your combat phase. You enter into combat and attack. Your opponent has no response and you kill your opponent with that attack. Thinking that was the correct play simply because you managed to win by casting all your pump spells in your main phase is another form of the Appeal to Accomplishment fallacy. You didn’t win because you used a bad line of play. You won despite using a bad line of play.
When using specific strategies or methods, whether they be mental or technical in nature, don’t allow the results you get from those strategies or methods to be the determining factor as to whether or not they’re true, correct, or beneficial. Results never tell the whole story. The true marker of whether a specific strategy or method is actually correct, rather than a fallacy, is based on whether over a consistent period of time, the potential upsides of that strategy or method are outweighed by its downsides.
Do you know of any other Appeal to Accomplishment fallacies you’d like to share? Sound off in the comment section! There’s a lot of them and it’s fun to talk about.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the second fallacy next week!