Don’t miss it, don’t miss it, don’t miss it.
The night was especially dark. Good thing we had lights. And those lights were bright. Towering nearly a hundred feet in the air, they loomed over us like watchful parents. They stood in the outfield and behind each dugout. Giant white suns without the heat.
And there I was. In left field.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. There was just a baseball, careening towards me, against total blackness. I put my glove up, moved into position, and… choked. The ball landed with a thump next to me. I missed it. I looked up to see my teammates staring at me. At home plate stood my coach. He was the one who had hit it. We were at practice.
“No problem, Corey,” he said. “Let’s try another one.” At that, he casually batted another ball in my direction. Up, up, up into the air it went. Straight towards me. Ok, that was really embarrassing. Let’s not do that again. Alright, here it comes. Get ready. Don’t miss it, don’t miss, don’t miss it. Thump. I missed it.
The two-body problem
That story doesn’t have a happy ending. For little old eighth-grade me, I continued to miss pop-fly after pop-fly. The coach was adamant that we not end practice until I catch one. You know, to end on a high note. So he continued to hit them to me. And I continued to miss. Again and again and again. Looking back, I don’t remember whether or not I eventually nabbed one. But what I do remember is a litter of missed baseballs all around me.
To no one’s surprise, I sat on the bench most of that season. That was the last year I played baseball.
If only I could go back and tell younger Corey what I learned earlier today. In, of all things, a book about tennis. In The Inner Game of Tennis, author W. Timothy Gallwey explains that in any endeavor, there comes a point where your consciousness gets in the way of what you’re trying to achieve. He says that you have two bodies – body one and body two. Body one could be considered your consciousness, the one that makes decisions and calls the shots. Body two could be considered your subconscious, that wide-ranging entity that runs everything from your breathing to your digestion.
Gallwey noted that body two – the subconscious – knows what to do in most situations. However, often body one – the conscious – feels the need to take control and steal the reins. Unfortunately, this regularly leads to the opposite of the desired outcome.
When consciousness goes too far
What would happen if the captain of a ship decided to do everything themself? Instead of letting the crew tie the knots, the captain would. Instead of the crew shoveling coal, the captain would. All of the ship’s responsibilities would lie heavily on the captain’s shoulders. And the ship would suffer because of it. The same thing happens when the conscious mind tries to do the work of the subconscious.
Instead of trusting that your body knows what to do, you get tense. You clench your jaw. You repeat mantras to yourself over and over. Keep your knees bent, keep your knees bent, keep your knees bent. Mantras that serve to only make you tighter. Instead of flowing with each motion, you are rigid, robotic, and, often, upset with your performance.
Gallwey says there is an easy solution to this problem though. Trust your subconscious and distract your conscious.
In the case of the former, trust that your subconscious knows what to do. For instance, in my story above, I had played baseball since I was five. My body knew how to catch a pop-fly. I was just “in my head” about it. I was being too controlling. Instead, I should have trusted my body to take the lead.
In the case of the latter, distract your conscious so that it can’t interfere. For instance, instead of worrying about catching the ball, I should have concentrated on the seams of the ball. To turn all of my focus onto noticing the way it was spinning and the pattern that its laces made. This would have taken my consciousness out of the equation and allowed my subconscious to do what it knew how to.
Get out of the way
This concept goes further than just sports though. Anytime you catch yourself overthinking, stuck in your head, or repeating instructive self-talk over and over, you can apply the two steps. Whether that be in a conversation or drawing a picture.
Take this article, for instance. I didn’t sit down at my desk and force myself to come up with what you’re now reading. Rather, I sat on the ground and looked out my window. I took a few deep breaths and focused on the trees. And then it came to me. What to write, how to start it, what the lesson would be. It all poured from my subconscious onto the screen. In other words, I let body two do its thing.
To do the same, apply these simple steps:
- Trust that your subconscious knows what to do.*
- Distract your conscious mind so as to let it.
*Assuming it does know what to do. For instance, at the time of my baseball fiasco, I had been playing the game for a long time. My body knew what to do, I just wasn’t allowing it.
Conscious thought, while great in many ways, can at times be detrimental to your aims. If you find yourself overthinking, turn your attention to something else. Let your subconscious take action and trust it will do a better job than if you were to force your will.
There are many ways to distract yourself. In tennis, you could put all of your attention onto hearing the sound the ball makes when it strikes the racket. In a conversation, you could put all of your attention onto the other person’s words or onto your breath. Or in the case of much of this article, you could put your attention onto the sounds the keyboard makes with each stroke.