Probably one of the most powerful tools I discovered didn’t occur to me until the very end of my playing career. Not really having mentors, so to speak, my career was very trial and error. It was me spending time alone trying to figure out how I was going to maximize my abilities as an athlete. As such many of the Aha moments that I had didn’t come until the very end of my career or in many cases came years after my career ended. What I didn’t realize was how the work I was putting in was going to have such a profound influence on my daily life.
My last season as a baseball player came in the Texas town of Laredo. I was there, playing in a brand new league, for a brand new team, at probably the lowest level of professional baseball. For me however, it didn’t matter. I was as excited as I would have been if I had been playing in Yankee Stadium.
Shortly before arriving in Laredo I had an epiphany of sorts. With the mental and emotional work I had been putting in I really began to discover just how linked my mental and emotional state was to both my performance and my enjoyment on the field. Ironically, I began to discover that the thoughts and emotions that allowed me to gain the most enjoyment out of the act of playing were the very same thoughts and emotions that allowed me to perform to my highest capacity. The epiphany was, maybe instead of setting and striving for performance goals during competition I should instead focus on setting daily mental/emotional goals that would allow me to not only achieve results on the field but also to experience the child like joy I once experienced playing the game.
So off I went, driving from my home in California to start Spring Training in Laredo Texas, excited to try out my new theory. From day one there was a marked difference in both my performance and in the joy I experienced while playing. I can’t remember a time playing the game where I had more fun while simultaneously competing at a higher level. What was even more exiting was that I was able to enjoy the game in its entirety. Meaning, I was no longer attached to the results I was producing. Even if I didn’t get 3 hits or if I struck out or made an error I was still able, at the end of the day, look back and say, “Wow that was fun!” Oh sure, it’s not like I struck out and was like “WEEEE that’s fun!!!” But what I mean is that, for the first time in a long time I enjoyed the game, the process, the act of competing. Making outs was part of the game and they made the hits just that more enjoyable.
Up until this point my entire competitive career was played completely in a stimulus/response state. Something would happen and then that would dictate how I thought and felt. I was playing the game with no intention, direction, or idea what I had hoped to get out of it. Sure, I knew I wanted to get to the big leagues but the question was why? Why was that so important? Truthfully, I wanted to get to the big leagues so I could get paid to do the thing I loved to do. Ironically, I was already doing it and wasn’t enjoying any of it because I was so focused on the bigger goal. Here I was, doing what I loved, and not loving it.
Once my goals changed, once my focus changed, everything on the field changed. I realized that I wanted to play because I loved to play. So instead of focusing on hits and other ridiculous statistics I began to simply focus on enjoying my experience on the field. Before each practice or game I would sit down and spend time writing down what emotions I was committed to having that day. What I started to notice was that my mind would stay focused on those goals regardless of what events might transpire. A bad call from an umpire that might normally cause me to get angry would just roll off my back. Booting a ball or striking out became opportunities for growth. Instead of being reactionary I actually found my mind catching itself when it started to deviate from my intended goals. For example, let’s say there was a bad call by the umpire. Previously I would’ve allowed it to effect the rest of my game. I would become angry, maybe argue and spend the rest of the game in an uptight, emotional state. By setting these goals I actually heard that voice in my head step in when I began to repeat old patterns of behavior. I’d start to get mad and I’d hear that voice say “Let it go, it’s not worth it” or maybe it would simply remind me of my goals for that game and sure enough I’d let it go with no problem.
Because my ability to execute skills sets (swing mechanics, etc) were directly linked to my mental/emotional state I began to notice just how consistently I was performing. I no longer experienced the ups and downs and mechanical inconsistencies I was accustom to. As such I performed at a much higher level and gained more joy out of the game then ever before.
How it works is very simple: 1) Before each game I’d set my daily mental/emotional goals. I’d write something to the effect of, “Today I am completely committed to feeling…” and then listing what it is I decide to focus on in that given day. 2) At the end of the game I’d take out my journal again and evaluate how I did on achieving my goals for that day. If I fell short I write out what happened, how I reacted, and how I can better respond the next time. All in all it takes up maybe 5 minutes of my day but has had a tremendous impact on the quality of my life. Give it a try, I think you’ll be surprised at the results.