In 1919, an Italian named Anthony moved his family to Torrance, California. He had two sons, Pete and Louis. His older son Pete was an excellent runner and was a star in the school track team. However, his younger son Louis was often a soft target for bullies because of his Italian background. Often Louis was forced to run away to escape from the bullying teens. Once Pete watched his younger brother run and decided to get him enrolled in the school track team. Initially, Louis did not perform well. However, after several training runs, at the end of his freshman year, Louis finished fifth in the All-City C-division 660 yard (600 meters) contest.
This small encouragement made Louis practice even harder. After several running sessions in 1932, Louis finally won his first cross-country race. Thereafter, Louis went on winning all running championships during his last three years of high school. In 1934, Louis set a new interscholastic record for running a mile in 4 minutes and 21.2 seconds at the preliminary meeting to the California state championships.
In 1936, Louis now set his goals for the Olympics. Louis ran for the 5000 meters Olympic trials. He was competing for against American record holder Don Lash on one of the hottest days of 1936. With a sprint finish at the end, Louis finally managed to qualify for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany at an age of 19 years. Despite a final sprint, Louis finished the 5000-meter race at the eighth position. However, Louis did not give up, and he now set his eyes on the next Olympics, which were to be held in Tokyo, Japan.
But life is full of surprises, and soon World War II started. The Tokyo Olympics were cancelled. Thereafter, Louis joined the US Army Air Corps in September 1941. As a second lieutenant, he was posted to the Pacific island of Funafuti as a bombardier on the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber Super Man.
On 27 May 1943, Louis and his crew members were on a mission to look out for a missing plane attacked by the Japanese Zero fighter planes. During the search operation, there were technical difficulties in the aircraft which caused the bomber to crash into the ocean 1,370 km south of Oahu, killing eight of the 11 men aboard.
Louis and two other survivors pilot Russell Allen Phillips and Francis McNamara were left in the middle of the ocean. With the few tools they could salvage from the crash, these men got onto two small rafts. With no food to eat and no water to drink, these men really were having their worst nightmare. Luckily they caught two albatrosses (sea birds), and ate one and used the leftover to catch fishes. They drank the rainwater and survived somehow. During these troubled times, they were all constantly defending themselves from shark attacks and occasional storms. They were also attached a number of times by Japanese bomber crafts. During one such attack, one of their life rafts was punctured, and they now had to survive with a single raft. After 33 days in the sea, McNamara died. Louis and Phillips still tried to keep up their fighting spirits.
But the worst was not over yet. On their 47th day in the sea, Louis and Phillips were captured by the Japanese Navy. Initially, they were kept at Kwajalein Atoll as war prisoners. After 42 days they were transferred to the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp at Ōfuna. Despite heavy torture, both the men still refused to give any piece of information to the enemy. Later Louis was transferred to Tokyo’s Ōmori POW camp, where he was severely beaten and mistreated by the cruel prison guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who was also known as “The Bird” by prisoners.
When the Japanese came to know about his Olympic carrier, they took Louis to Japanese Radio Station. It was almost two years since his family had heard about Louis and they had presumed him to be dead. Louis gave a radio broadcast confirming that he was alive. Later, the Japanese offered him to shift out of the prisoner camp if he agreed to speak against America. Louis refused to speak anything about his country and so they took him back to a prisoner camp, where he was subjected to physical and mental torture. Louis knew that the only way for him to fight back was to wait for the war to end. He decided, focusing on surviving until the end of the war. But as allies pushed into the Japanese territory, they transferred Louis to the Naoetsu Prisoner of War camp in northern Japan. Here he and several others were tortured and made to do hard labour. But Louis was a tough nut to crack, and he only focused on making it till the end of the war. Finally, in August 1945, the war ended and Louis was set free.
After several years, his dream of participating in the Tokyo Olympics came true. In January 1998, four days before his 81st birthday, Louis Zamperini ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. This place was very close to the Prisoner of War camp, where he had been held captive. While there, Louis met several of his Japanese Camp Officials. He attempted to meet with his chief and most brutal tormentor during the war, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, but Watanabe refused to see him.
Louis story offers a fascinating perspective on what a man can achieve in life despite all the hardships. We can understand Louis’s survival story from what is known as the Goldilocks principle for motivation. The Goldilocks principle comes from the children’s story named “The Three Bears”. In this story, there is a young girl named Goldilocks. She tastes three different bowls of porridge and finds that she prefers porridge that is neither too hot nor too cold but has just the right temperature.
The human brain loves to take up challenges, but only if the challenge lies in an optimal zone of difficulty. Consider the example of playing a chess game. If you know chess, and If you are asked to play a match against Viswanathan Anand, the Indian chess Grand-master, you will quickly lose your motivation, because the match will be too difficult for you. On the other hand, if you are to play a match with a kid, who is just a novice in Chess, you will easily become bored because it will be too easy for you. But if you play a match against your peers who are on par with you, the match is going to remain interesting till the end. Initially, he might play some good moves, so then you counter-attack with your pretty moves and the excitement goes on.
The Goldilocks principle states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.
Louis’s career is an excellent example of the Goldilocks principle in practice. Initially, he started by competing race in the school. Later, when he became competent, he started competing in State Championship. After winning those, he then started aiming for the Olympics. Every year, he upgraded his racing level, after getting step-by-step successes.
Happiness and Challenges
We can apply the Goldilocks principle to be happy which progressing in life. You need to have a perfect blend of hard work and happiness. The secret to happiness and success is picking up the challenges, which are at an optimal level of difficulty, neither more nor less. This approach can not only keep you motivated but also be a source of happiness.
Your long-term goals can be big, but set your present goals, which are having just manageable difficulty.