Sunday, August 3, 2014

Attempting To Control & Predict The Future

I'm writing once again with a Corona in one hand while on vacation in Hawaii. I've decided to write another post inspired by the book I'm just about finished called the Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Today's post is about how we try and control our future. This happens not just in sport but in all aspects of life. People get married promising that they will love each other forever! Forever? Really? That's a long time and at of pressure! I'm sorry to burst your bubble but nothing lasts forever...maybe marriages would work out better if they didn't try and predict and promise future happiness and love. You have to renew your vows annually or something, it's a chance to second guess your decision or recommit to one another for another year. But you're not reading this for love advice, so I digress.

People also avoid experiencing things in life because of what may or may not happen. We've all done this too often and it shows how limiting our minds can be. They are a great gift, but also a curse. Most people think too much about what may or may not happen. Refer to my last post about our 'ego' if you want to read more about yourself (come on, who doesn't!). You won't really know until you go out and experience something what will happen. We then avoid things because of something potentially not going to our liking. So maybe you will or won't win your next match or the next tournament, but you won't know for sure unless you try. Avoiding competition is a whole other subject, but is something I have found to be more common in women. Although that could just be squash, I don't know. Maybe that has something to do with why there are far less women that play squash.

Okay, so now that you know why I'm not married;) here is how this relates to sport, and in particular squash. Here are some common examples of how we look ahead and try and control what happens. It's creates issues when we try and control things things that are not under our control (and future events are one of them!). Other areas include the draw, the referee decisions, the time you have to play, the court, and the ball. We also get into trouble when we start focusing our attention on things that we have moderate amounts of control over, this includes your opponents next shot, the score, and any rally for that matter. If we played against a computer there would be less variables and we would have more control over future events.

Before even walking on the court most people have won or lost the match, before the knock up even starts! They may even have mentally rehearsed the script a few times! And if they haven't won or lost it in their mind by that point they will judge who had the better warm up or by the very least after a couple of rallies. I know for certain I've won a number of matches because my opponent had lost the match before they stepped on court. They didn't even force me to play to the best of my ability. I've also been on the other end of this too though. Going into a match and believing you are going to win is better than expecting to lose. But you can't really control what your opponent does during the match. Yes, you have moderate amounts of control over this, but the degree depends on the relative skill level of your opponent. It can be equally damaging going into a match overconfident. Why do we even make such predications? What good does this do us? Even if don't share our thoughts everyone thinks it before a game. If you end up losing you either have prepared yourself for the loss ahead of time for your defeat or you will be devastated that you lost to someone you should have beat. No wonder a lot of people don't like to play against someone that they believe is not at their caliber..you have nothing to gain only lose!! There has to be a better way to prepare for a match and play more consistent squash. If you can find a way to do this I believe you will play not even more consistent but you will also find your zone more often. And then real improvement and enjoyment can occur. You won't be trying to not lose a match or the next point and you will be relaxed and enjoy playing without this added pressure.

The challenge here is that to just BE and focusing your attention solely on what you can control means undoing years or habitual bad habits. The earlier you can learn to do this the better off you will be and I believe the more success you will have. You may exceed other peoples expectations at times and let them down other times, but don't let these other people put added pressure on you. It doesn't matter what they think. You play squash for you, it's an individual sport after all.

I would like to explain that thinking a shot, 2 or 3 ahead is not a bad thing. Preparing and being smart tactically is not the issue. You should be changing your shot selection as your feel out your opponent and they become fatigued. The important thing here is that your focus here is on the process not the outcome. And if something goes against your plan there is no need to sweat. If it is out of your control or just doesn't work then that's okay. That's life and that's sport. if we knew what was going to happen we wouldn't play.

I also believe we worry too much about the future when we should focus on what we can do NOW, not tomorrow or next week. There's no need to worry about what your potential future opponents are doing for their training. There is no need to place extra pressure on yourself when you have to miss time due to an injury or being ill, this is out of your control. This has a lot of value in your goal setting. Yes having a goal and a plan to achieve your goal is important, but if it's an unhealthy obsessions than it is probably doing more harm that good. While striving to reach your goals it is important to reassess and be honest with yourself when doing so. Is the goal too challenging or not challenging enough? Don't always focus on the long term goal. Even though that may very well be your fuel and drive for your every day training, we also can't forget to focus on this day, on this day of practice, on this set, on right NOW. If we keep day dreaming about how our future will bring us all of this gratitude we will probably be let down when we get there or even worse if we never get there at all. We will feel like failures. This reminds me of a quote I'll try and paraphrase, 'It's more about the journey than the destination.'

So in sport and in life if we want to be happier and perform better we have to accept what happens. Eckhart talks about how destructive thinking and living in a time driven world. Of course time has value for many things, and is an effective tool for certain things. Because we cannot live in the past or future even though many of our thoughts are spent in these time dimensions. We should focus on the present and not try and control and shape exactly how every detail will play out. If you want to do that become a writer and you can create your own storybook ending! When your thoughts drift into the past or future try and focus on your breathing, or one of the senses, like the soft sound of something, the visual detail of some object blowing in the breeze, or the feel of some textile object, or the aroma of your coffee or the taste (and texture and aroma) of a spoonful of soup...this is especially important when you need to be focused on the NOW...like when playing squash, sitting in class, or if you're about to propose;)

Looking back on when I bought the serious squash.com domain a few years back I thought it had a good ring to it and I wanted it to be a serious helpful training tool. But now here I am years later saying that you shouldn't take squash or life too serious. But don't get me wrong, I want you to improve and play better and I believe that the main area for most people to do so is through their brain. Learning to relax, deal with pressure situations, overcome adversity, and achieve goals are all important things we can learn from sport. As I've been reading and writing over the past 6 weeks or so I've learned more about not only my squash game but as an individual. I hope some of my posts have helped some of you with your squash games and maybe posts like this will inspire you to read a good book or try something new and exciting uncertain about the outcome!

I'll leave you with a funny quote I saw the other day I don't know how relevant it is, but I think it's worth sharing. It's another paraphrase, but I can recall the gist of it. 'What you're doing today can't be too bad because you haven't come back in time to stop yourself from doing it.' You can't predict and control the future, nobody can, that's the beauty of life. If it was a repeating tv show it would get pretty boring.

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