Sports offer a great mirror to reflect the psychology of life and how we go about pursuing (and avoiding) our dreams. In particular, whatever we believe we can or can’t do, that’s how we consciously and subconsciously play, which, in turn, determines what we get. We always fulfill our own prophecies. In this post, I’m sharing 3 reflections about life and the pursuit of dreams from the game of tennis. If tennis isn’t your sport, I invite you to come along this brief odyssey with your own favorite sport or hobby in mind, and reflect upon what it may teach you about how you approach your life and your dreams.
Reflection #1: It often gets worse before it gets better.
A couple of years ago, I worked with a pro to improve my serve. Among other things, she immediately had me change my grip so that I could add spin to my serve. For months, it was horrible! The grip felt completely unnatural to me. I couldn’t serve to save my life, and my old dinky serve didn’t seem so bad by comparison. It was very frustrating. Yet, I knew that if I stuck with it, I’d eventually get used to the new grip and a new serve that I could continue to build upon in time. Now, even though my serve still needs a lot of work, I’ve gotten used to the grip, and my serve could occasionally do some damage on the other side of the net. Moreover, when I serve well, I play better overall.
I find the conscious commitment to stick with something new, foreign and uncomfortable very applicable to life, even if it means things getting worse before getting better. After all, when we want to pursue a dream, such as a new career or a new relationship, it often represents a departure from what’s truly familiar to us, and requires us to step outside our comfort zone to acquire new skills, habits, bearings and outlook. It often also requires us to unlearn some of what has become second nature to us, to release reflexive thought and behavioral patterns inhibiting us from moving forward. That’s despite the fact that our self-preservation instincts want to hang onto what’s familiar and comfortable, even if we’ve outgrown it—like a worn-out pair of old jeans that feels so soft and comfy next to our skin. Yet, if we stick with the unlearning and releasing of attachment to our comfort zone through the transition time, the foreign and uncomfortable eventually becomes our new normal—and the launching point for continuing to grow, evolve, and dream bigger.
Reflection #2: When we’re off our normal game and can’t rely on old habits, we may end up playing better.
The other day, it started raining in the middle of playing a set. So, my friend and I moved indoors, which meant my prescription sunglasses were no good. Playing with impaired vision, I had to really concentrate on seeing the blurry yellow blob coming over the net. This heightened need to focus on the moment effectively shut out a bad habit I have: I’d often get ahead of myself in looking at where I want to hit the ball, instead of keeping my eyes on the ball, and not hitting a clean shot as a result. Also, because my depth perception was off, I had to err on the side of moving up to the ball, instead of waiting for it to come to me, which I tend to do normally. As a result, I made contact with the ball early with forward weight transfer into the approach shots, and thereby hitting one “accidental” winner after another. In short, my blurry vision forced me to focus and step up, and kept out some of my bad habits. I was a better player for it.
I find the above experience to be a great metaphor for life. Often times, things happen unexpectedly, and we’re caught unprepared—without our proverbial glasses. After the initial shock and disorientation, our innate resiliency kicks in, and we instinctively dig deep to draw upon inner resources to compensate for our impaired vision or confusion. When we’re knocked off our normal game, we can’t get ahead of ourselves, nor can we remain complacent and rely on our habitual thoughts and actions. Our usual nearly automatic response to the familiar simply doesn’t work here. Instead, we’re forced to really stay in the moment with the unfamiliar situation, focus and pay attention to the conditions, adapt our thinking, and adjust our actions to meet the objectively suboptimal environment. We may also need to step up to meet the challenge, instead of falling back on our default stance of waiting for the ripe opportunity to come to us. In the end, we often end up doing better, because we’re challenged to come up with something more or different, thereby unleashing the perhaps underutilized talents and potential lying dormant within us.
Reflection #3: Persevere with what intimidates us until it becomes fun
I used to feel like a fish out of water when it came to playing at the net, which is a critical part of the doubles game. For a long time, I felt like a total idiot who needed to wear a “Sorry, partner!” sign every time I set foot on the doubles court. The same pro who changed my serve told me to keep at it, that at some point, I’d get over my discomfort with being a net-player, and then it’d become a different game to me. Not sure exactly when the internal shift happened, but it did. Now, I enjoy playing at the net, and the doubles game has indeed become a lot more fun.
The same applies to our dreams. How often do we feel simultaneously drawn to something we want and intimidated by it? The intimidation has to do with the novelty of what we want and our lack of previous experience and established competency with it—along with whatever internal limits we’ve placed on ourselves unknowingly. If we’ve experienced setbacks in the pursuit of the same or a similar dream in the past, it further feeds into our doubts—like missing a couple of volleys leading to questioning our ability to play at the net. Yet, if our desire for the dream is strong enough, if we commit to sticking with it long enough, we will hit the tipping point eventually. And, before we know it, the process of pursuing what we love so much becomes fun, and then the whole experience is transformed into something that’s enjoyable.
There you have it, tennis as a mirror reflecting life and the pursuit of dreams. The psychological underpinnings are the same between the game and real life, even if to different degrees of seriousness. If we truly want something, we need to be willing to ride through the uncomfortable parts of the pursuit and unlearn some old habits, shed some old patterns. The rewards are that we may unearth our inner resourcefulness while learning and growing along the way, not to mention the fun we get to have when we surrender our inner objections blocking us from enjoying the experience of pursuing what we love.
So, what do you think about these reflections or ones you may be thinking of with your own favorite sport or hobby? Would love for you to share in the comment box below.
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