Baseball player Alex Rodriguez is in a hitting slump. Today there was an interview in the New York Times with his sports performance consultant, Jim Fannin. Fannin said the following about elite athletes. An elite athlete has fewer thoughts than the average athlete because they can focus better on the task at hand, namely to perform at a high level, and so spends less time wrestling with all the chaotic insecure thoughts the rest of us have: “I’m not quick enough”, “I lost last time so I’ll probably lose again”, “the world is falling apart and I’m playing this silly game”, “he hate me”, whatever. An elite athlete does not think about a slump, they think about their next at bat or their next jump shot.

There are three important ideas here. An elite athlete thinks differently than most of us, has the ability to mentally focus on the task at hand regardless of the immense pressure and expectations surrounding them, and is able to keep their thoughts in the present instead of dwelling on past events such as the last 17 times they went to bat and didn’t get a hit.

Lanny Bassham recognized that athletes think differently and interviewed many elite athletes to find out how they succeed where others don’t. See competition for an example of how an elite athlete might approach a day of competition. Notice how one keeps the mind occupied to keep all those pesky, persistent, nagging negative thoughts at bay. You can only think of one thing at a time.

Here is Krishnamacharya’s translation of the second sutra of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras: “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.” Sounds very much like “the ability to mentally focus on the task at hand regardless of the immense pressure and expectations surrounding them.”

A recovering addict once said to me, “If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you are pissing on the present.” Not an appealing image but an important idea. The only place you can take any action is in the present, the past is long gone. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is a superb discussion of the benefits of staying in the present and the folly of dwelling on the past. I’m on my 4th or 5th slow readthrough.

By the way, Fannin likes to speak to his clients once a day and see them in person each month. Working with the mind is not a sometime thing.

Practice Report: worked out at the gym for an hour and a half
Solutions Analysis: the slower I do the exercises, the more effective I can do them.

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