Hat tricks: Why they happen

Hat tricks — three goals in a row, like Carli Lloyd’s feat at the Women’s World Cup — occur because the athlete and the team are in the flow. Flow is the stream of consciousness, the momentum of physical activity, the confluence of events that produce success. And success follows success. In surgery, clinical care, work and sports, flow is both the tool and the goal. The question is: Can it be predicted?

At least four criteria are present when flow occurs.

One wise advisor once told me that I should never work unless I was 100 percent happy. “Impossible,” I replied. His retort was that people make good decisions when they are happy, and poor ones when they are not. If I am happy only 75 percent of the time while working as a surgeon,can I really afford to make one poor decision out of every four? Neither I nor my patients would accept it. So happiness is a base criteria for the solid decision making of flow.

Everyone knows that “chance favors the prepared mind,” as Louis Pasteur once commented. Great discoveries are made standing on the shoulders of giants, knowing what came before you, building on data and laying the groundwork for the eureka moment. Great sports accomplishments
are achieved by skillful athletes honed by practice. Super-prepared people are more likely to have success.

The ability, the desire, the need to look at what is and imagine what isn’t is the heart of creativity. Knowing that everything we think we know is potentially not true — or could be made better — forms the basis for innovation.

But creativity also comes from curiosity and irreverence. And while it may come from an absolute need, like Salk’s vaccine for polio, creativity more often arises from inspirations built on foundations of skepticism, dissatisfaction and frustration.

The combination of preparedness, skill and creativity integrated into a skill set that permits you to seize the moment, score the goals and realize your dreams.

While seemingly unpredictable, the odds of a hat trick go up dramatically when these forces are working in unison. And hat tricks all start and end with happiness. Without it, the score is just a score.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco. He pioneers advanced orthopedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to repair, regenerate and replace damaged cartilage and ligaments.

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