Irrational Windsurfing: Timing Effects How We Interpret Our Experience


It is no secret that we humans are frequently irrational or that we are irrational in ways we rarely appreciate at the time. When doing our best and expending considerable effort, we can temporarily overcome some of our limitations in this area; however, this does not seem to be our usual state. I recently found myself thinking about how important something as simple as timing can be when it comes to something as vital as how we interpret our experiences. Placing the same set of events in a different order can have a dramatic impact on what we take away from them.

My one experience with windsurfing illustrates this point rather well. After an equipment rental and brief lesson, we were turned loose to see if we could do any of what we'd been taught. After just a couple of failed tries, I struck gold. I got up on the board just as the perfect gust of wind hit from exactly the right direction. As the sail filled with wind, the board felt increasingly stable beneath my feet. I was astounded by how quickly I was accelerating and how great it felt. Even the steering seemed surprisingly straightforward as I left the shore far behind. I was doing it! Hitting the water at speed when I finally lost control of the board didn't bother me. It had been too much fun, and I was eager to do it again.

Unfortunately, my fantastic early experience would quickly prove to be beginner's luck. I spent the next hour trying recreate the experience but did not come close. What does this have to do with timing and how I interpreted my experience? If I had struggled for most of an hour before having my success, I am positive I would have decided I loved windsurfing and wanted to do it again as soon as possible. But that wasn't what happened. The timing was all wrong. The early success was clearly a fluke, and the string of subsequent failures was not much fun. Why couldn't I do it again? It was incredibly frustrating. And so windsurfing ended up on my long list of things I told myself I might eventually do again but was in no hurry to do again.

I am not suggesting that I am wrong to have little interest in windsurfing today. It is just a preference, after all. What I would say, though, is that my evaluation of my experience does seem to be at least somewhat irrational. It was more influenced by the order of events than it should have been. After all, learning a new set of complex skills is rarely easy. Perhaps I should have focused more on how it felt when I managed to do it successfully and less on how the subsequent failures felt. Maybe that would have gotten me back up on the board again.