To start off, I am hereby giving you full permission to be selfish.
You’re welcome. Now that you are no longer waiting for my permission, we shall continue…
We must be allowed to be selfish — The better we can take care of ourselves, the better we can ultimately help others.
I’m not ushering you forth to swipe parking spots from patient drivers in the name of selfishness or refuse to pick up balls to “conserve energy for the game.”
That is being a burden and a drain on others.
Instead, take care of your own needs. Then, and only then, will you be best positioned to influence and impact others.
John D Rockefeller rose to control over 90% of the oil market during the early 20th century. In that time, his net worth (in today’s dollars) was ~$340 billion.
That is the same as the GDP of the United Arab Emerates.
That is enough to buy everyone in the state of Alabama, even kids, a BMW M3 (~$70k).
With Rockefeller, it is a good time to bring in the distinction between “Challenges” and “Threats” and their effect on our psychology.
If we look at the Yerkes-Dodson model, we can see that stress, or arousal, is a performance enhancement up to a certain point, and harms performance if it gets too high:
The turning point from challenge to threat happens at the peak of the curve. When performance starts to suffer, we begin to perceive the stress as a threat, meaning that it will cause lasting damage to our bodies.
What brings about stress?:
I digress… I’m not going to get into the causes of stress.
Instead, I’m going to get into what stress does to our bodies.
Stress activates sympathetic nervous system, which if managed properly, can improve performance. If it gets too much to handle, however, performance suffers, as seen in the model above.
Associated with increased stress is shallower breathing, tense muscles, rapid/racing thoughts, jerky/awkward movements, and darting eyes, to name a few.
I am very familiar with these symptoms… And they’re highly correlated with:
- striking out on sliders in the dirt
- Clumsiness, especially with the pressure of others watching
- Not knowing what to say in social settings
- Inability to throw a baseball accurately
- Terror of getting made fun of by friends, or others
- Dropping fly balls
- Outrunning my basketball dribble
- Randomly spraining my ankles
What’s helped me overcome some of those?
Primarily, psychology and meditation.
Let me pause here and say, I feel your healthy skepticism. I, too, was skeptical of the benefits of sitting in silence for seconds, minutes, hours on end. But it’s a skill. A skill that can help you unlock an understanding of your thought patterns and how they affect everything you do.
The rest of the post will be an attempt to bridge the gap.
Meditation is terrifying at first because it never feels like we do it correctly.
Let’s take a collective deep breath down into the depths of your lungs and proceed onward.
It’ll be ok…
Psychology – Attribution Theory
Imagine, if you will, that there are 3 levers for all of us to choose.
Internal vs. External
Internal: “I’m the reason something went wrong because of X, Y, and Z”
External: “It’s not my fault because of X, Y, and Z”
Global vs. Specific
Global: “Things always happen like this”
Specific: “Nope, this is just a moment in time.“
Permanent vs. Temporary
Permanent: “My life will never be the same because of this.”
Temporary: “This can change over time with the correct work.”
As the beautifully drawn image above shows, the Internal, Specific, Temporary framework is the strongest.
A person with this framework will:
- Take extreme ownership for their own performance, even when it seems they are not to blame for a mistake (Ex: If another outfielder ignores your call for the ball and collides with you — “I need to do a better job calling for the ball more clearly so he can hear it”)
- View each activity, no matter how small, as its own puzzle to solve
- Possess a Growth Mindset — Everything we do is a skill that can be improved on
How does this framework work in sports?
Adopting this framework is not only possible, but I believe it is required to achieve mastery in sport.
Take baseball, for instance.
It’s emotionally draining to play baseball, or any sport for that matter, when we look at every mistake as someone else’s fault.
I know because I lived it for over a decade, without understanding.
What were the things I would say that indicated it?:
- What the hell? The ump’s zone is all over the place. No shot that was a strike.
- Dude, the field sucks today
- This pitcher is such a dink, he’s quick-pitched the sh*t out of me.
- It’s probably even better I didn’t get the bunt down, no team should ever bunt. Ever.
- Why does coach have me catching? He knows I can’t throw the ball back to the pitcher. Is he trying to humiliate me?
- Ugh, bat’s dead. Would’ve been a tank…
- Geez, the wind blew that ball all over the place. I had no shot of catching it.
- Why am I not getting any fastballs? I’m sick of only seeing sliders.
- The cutoff man was wayyy to close. I’ve got a cannon and can’t throw the intermediate distances.
The 2 best prescriptions I could suggest if you find any similarities with these thoughts:
- “Extreme Ownership,” by Jocko Willink and his podcast, “The Jocko Podcast
- Develop a mindfulness practice to better notice when these thoughts arise. As long as you understand their detraction to your overall performance, you can consciously shift your automatic reaction over time.
Remember the distinction between “Challenges” and “Threats”?
A threat is something we perceive as having lasting damages to our bodies.
John D. Rockefeller clearly saw the economic turmoil in the early 20th century as a challenge rather than a threat, and became one of the wealthiest men who’s ever lived.
The resilience he demonstrated is rare. It’s rare because its really freakin’ hard.
I emphasize that point because it’s important to understand that we have to do difficult things to achieve difficult things.
Meditation is difficult.
I’m not saying you have to meditate, specifically, but it is the direct practice of a skill that is required to have consistent high-performance – resilience to stress and present moment awareness.
Resilience and poise are words I like to use often.
What are they?
I define them: The ability to stay calm and relaxed as stress increases.
Remember what happens with the body when stress increases? Tension, shallow breathing, etc.
When you relax the body and release tension, the mind and emotions reflect this change. And vice versa.
Through meditation and physical training, the awareness of your breathing, tension (wasted energy), and mental state in increased.
For me, as someone who struggled (and continues to struggle) to perform up to my desired levels in many walks of life, this mind/body training is a daily necessity.
It all comes down to what we pay attention to.
It only takes a split second to deepen your breathing pattern, release shoulder tension, relax the perineum, all of which will result in more reliable performance under pressure, but it requires noticing, first.
Action Step: Have a conversation where you take slow, deep breaths, have relaxed shoulders, and heavy arms. Pay attention to the effects.
My experience: When a pretty girl or buff dude comes to my line at Trader Joe’s, I use this technique because constantly feel myself unconsciously getting more anxious — more tense — as I try to talk to them. That usually leads to me stumbling over my words and, ultimately, hanging my head in shame.
Conscious relaxation works like a charm. You’ll hear it in the strength, stability, and clarity in your voice.