Category Archives: Achievement

Paying Attention to Product and Process

Many scientists, especially biochemists, love to cook when they are not spending time in the laboratory. After all, a recipe bears resemblance to a protocol, some measuring cups look like beakers, and a creative dish is just an edible experiment. Whenever I have the opportunity, I enjoy spending time at the granite lab bench known as the kitchen counter.

My goal when cooking is a tasty, nutritious meal that appeals to my family and any guests present. This meal is the product.  I can choose to bake, boil, sauté, poach, steam, fry, broil, grill, braise, or cook sous-vide. These techniques are the process. My choice of cooking method and my skill using that method will affect the quality and properties of the product. For example, steaming vegetables preserves more vitamins than boiling them. Both steaming and boiling transfer heat through water. When you steam broccoli, you place the vegetable in a closed environment (pot with a lid on it) saturated with steam. This method softens the broccoli while maintaining the flavor and vitamin C content. If you were to boil the broccoli, the water-soluble vitamin C would leach out into the water, reducing the nutritional value of the vegetable. Cooking the broccoli sous-vide (under vacuum) preserves water-soluble vitamins, but requires the use of special plastic bags and controlled temperatures not normally found in home kitchens.

College students planning careers in medicine go through the experience of memorizing biochemical pathways for metabolism in the human body, such as the breakdown of carbohydrates into energy. Glucose, fructose 6-phosphate, and glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate are some of the products of sugar metabolism that a student needs to memorize. However, hexokinase, phosphoglucose isomerase, and glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase are equally important to students, scientists, and physicians. These enzymes convert one metabolite to another. They are responsible for the process that makes the products. Inborn errors in metabolism can cause serious disease for infants and small children. These errors arise from defects in enzymes. When the process is wrong, you do not get the products you need.

Products often catch our attention, while we forget the importance of the process. We see the athlete holding up the Olympic gold medal for the cameras, the graduate walking across the stage for his diploma, or the crisp pages of a newly released book. These products may inspire us to reach for similar goals ourselves. However, if we want the product, we must be willing to go through the process. If you want to be a world-class athlete, you must face hours of repetitive and grueling physical training. If you want a diploma, you have to learn to study. If you want to write a book, be ready to invest blocks of time writing and editing over the course of months.

We may admire a person of good character and forget that spiritual growth is also a process. “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). To each good trait that we develop as we grow, we need to be prepared to add the next one. The process of growing to become more like Christ resembles slow cooking more than deep-frying. To get a healthy product, we must be willing to forgo our impatience with the process. Instead of becoming discouraged, we need to stick to the goal and take the next step, trusting that God finishes what He starts (Philippians 1:6).

Key Concepts to Tweet

  • Products often catch our attention, while we forget the importance of the process.  Buffer
  • If we want the product, we must be willing to go through the process.  Buffer
  • To get a healthy product, we must be willing to forgo our impatience with the process.  Buffer

Winning in the Twelfth Inning

How can you not be romantic about baseball? – Billy Beane

Last Saturday, my family had the opportunity to attend a baseball game at Fenway Park. For many years, I worked in a research lab across the street from Fenway, so taking the subway into the city brought back memories. You could not have asked for a more beautiful September afternoon to enjoy a baseball game.

America’s Pastime

Sitting in a good seat directly behind home plate, I quickly understood why baseball earned the appellation “America’s pastime”.  As the vendors came through the stands with hotdogs, lemonade, hot chocolate, and cotton candy, I felt like I was having a picnic with all the other fans. People passed money and napkins down the rows, helping each other. The entire stadium participated in “the wave”, standing with arms thrown in the air just long enough to create a ripple effect.  Everyone enjoyed a party in the stands for many innings as the two teams scored runs.

The Ninth Inning

The atmosphere changed a bit in the final inning. At the bottom of the eighth inning, the Boston Red Sox tied the Baltimore Orioles, 6-6. Everyone focused on the field during the ninth inning, especially me. When the Baltimore Orioles failed to score in the top of the ninth, I grew excited at the possibility of my home team winning this game. What a perfect ending to a perfect day!

Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, the ninth inning ended with the tie still standing. Now the Red Sox had to keep the Baltimore Orioles from scoring in yet another inning. While I grew a little nervous for the Red Sox, I felt I just received a bonus. I would have the chance to enjoy the game longer. In the top of the tenth inning, one player grounded out to third, one flied out to right, and the last player grounded out to second. Relief washed over me! Time to win the game in the bottom of the tenth.

Only Runs Count

The shadow of the stadium grew long across the field, and many fans seated around me headed for home.  In baseball and in life, not everyone sticks around when the game goes into extra innings.  When one player singled to the left, then advanced to second when another player walked, I thought the Red Sox would win the game.  After all, they finally got on base, something the other team failed to do.  But in baseball, only runs count. The next player struck out swinging, and all the hard work was for nothing.

The Green Monster at Fenway Park runs out of room after ten innings, so the entire scoreboard was reset. Inning number eleven would be recorded as inning number one. Even more fans left the stadium. Would the Red Sox be able to keep the Orioles from scoring in yet another inning? The first two Orioles players struck out, and the third grounded out to second. Hope swelled in my heart! However, the Red Sox did not even get on base in the bottom of the eleventh.

Waiting to Win

The Baltimore Orioles, who have been almost unbeatable this season when a game goes into extra innings, were simply waiting for their opportunity to win. Opportunity knocked in the top of the twelfth inning, and the Orioles answered with three runs. The Red Sox could not return the answer in the bottom of the twelfth. I left Fenway disappointed for the loss, but inspired by observing what it takes to win in the twelfth inning.

In life and in our journeys of faith, sometimes the game goes into extra innings. We experience delays and unexpected outcomes. Extra innings can breed doubt. Not all our fans will stand with us, although watching the faithful ones keep cheering delivers great joy. Winning in extra innings requires perseverance and quiet confidence to wait for the right opportunity. Winning in our spiritual lives requires living with unanswered questions, trusting when we cannot understand, and finishing the journey we started. Only runs count. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

* The Boston Red Sox won the game the following day at the top of the ninth inning.

Key Concepts to Tweet

  • How can you not be romantic about baseball? – Billy Beane  Buffer
  • Winning in extra innings requires perseverance and quiet confidence.  Buffer
  • In baseball, only runs count.  Buffer

Patterns Likely to Lead to Success

I enjoy sports on a recreational rather than competitive level, yet I often find inspiration for my non-athletic goals by observing the practices of top athletes. Even elite athletes occasionally experience bad days, sustain injuries, and perform under their potential for a game or a short stretch of a season. Yet, successful athletes know how to return to high performance levels after a setback. They know the secret to a comeback is repeating previous patterns of success.

Finding Patterns

A good coach will help an athlete uncover patterns worth repeating. For example, reflecting on what makes for a successful practice session shows an athlete how to prepare for the game. The coach prompts the athlete to consider the amount of sleep he had the night before, the particular foods he ate, how he warmed up, and what was on his mind. Many times when I am working toward a particular goal, I reflect on my past successes to look for useful patterns. I remember what it feels like to focus wholeheartedly on a goal. I remember how to disband negative thoughts and embrace a faith-filled outlook. I remember the work intensity necessary to meet a deadline. I rehearse in my mind the feelings associated with completion of the goal.

Attending Practice

Once I uncover the useful patterns, I need to put them into practice. Our brains love to form habits. Habits make life easy by decreasing the amount of mental processing needed to complete a task. Once you learn how to ride a bike, scramble eggs for breakfast or drive to work along a particular route, your brain guides you almost effortlessly through these tasks without you consciously thinking through each detailed step. Of course, as every golfer who has struggled to fix a faulty swing will tell you, habits can sometimes work against you.

Patterns in our brain are like riverbeds through which water effortlessly flows. Practice is about carving out and strengthening useful patterns. The key to getting rid of a bad habit or correcting a faulty golf swing is to repeat the new habit or swing until it replaces the old one. You can bring old patterns of success to life again to help you in your new endeavor by consciously repeating these patterns until they become automatic once more.

Being Yourself

Everyone has a unique way of getting things done that works for them. I have known many academic high achievers who seem to wait to the last minute to spring into action, yet always brilliantly achieve their goals. At first glance, you might accuse these achievers of procrastinating and urge them to change. However, what appears to outsiders as procrastinating is a pattern of success in disguise. These high achievers function by quietly collecting and processing vast quantities of data before taking visible action. In reality, they have not waited until the last minute to work toward their goals; they have been at work all along.

Both athletes and academic high achievers understand that being yourself is the key to high performance. My pattern of success may be very different from yours. You will do best when you employ your own previous patterns of success instead of mine. Stay true to what works for you to achieve your own best results.

From a spiritual standpoint, moving past doubts and disappointments requires revisiting key moments in your faith journey and remembering what God has done in your life. A good way to rekindle any relationship, whether spiritual or earthly, is to remember the relationship at its best and try to recapture those feelings by repeating the behaviors and actions that strengthened the relationship in the first place. Those patterns likely to lead to success live in your memories. They are waiting to help you succeed in sports, in life, and in all your relationships.

Key Concepts to Tweet

  • Successful athletes know how to return to high performance levels after a setback.  Buffer
  • Stay true to what works for you to achieve your own best results.  Buffer
  • Patterns likely to lead to success live in your memories.  Buffer