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In sport and in real life, all we can control is our effort

I thought a lot about mentality and watched sports. During finals and playoffs, we often see teams, both large and small, vying for the lead.

Sometimes those who race for initial leads hold them to the end and win. Sometimes they don’t, and the other team stages a comeback and wins. The latter makes me pause to reflect on mindset, point of view and perspective.

The score is what it is

When one team goes up two or three points but the other team comes back to equalize and then wins, the rhetoric often revolves around how the team that originally led “blew the lead”. They “let the other team back into the game”. They somehow had an expectation or right to win the game because they initially won and let everyone down.

The score even starts at 0-0 from the start of each game. Still, you don’t really hear anyone say that the team that lost three to nothing, blew the tie to lose three goals and then somehow came back to win.

It’s as if our expectations of the future are based on our memory of the past. With one team gaining an advantage, we expect, and sometimes with fanatical and justifiable devotion, demand a win. Many will be deeply disappointed when this victory is not delivered.

Chance always affects the results

It is the same in our life. We have this notion that the way the future will unfold is largely predicted by our past. There is, of course, some truth and validity to this: a good indicator of what you might do in a given area the next time you do something is based on how you did it the previous time. This is especially true for things based on our experience, effort, and intention.

But in things like sports and life, there are many variables at play, many of which are random and beyond our control. The efforts and intentions that went into this prior prediction of the future may be overshadowed by the reality of real experience and the vagaries of chance.

Maybe we focus on that in sports? The idea that the people on a team who went to this tour earned it because of their great effort and then kind of gave it away for not trying? Is that why they are pilloried in the media and accused of “choking” and all sorts of other negativity? Because we blame the results on effort and intention, or lack thereof?

Effort can be the true constant in life

The relevant part here is that this mindset, expressed when looking at sports and other competitions, is pervasive and affects how we go about our normal lives. We start doing something and develop a set of expectations about how we will continue to do things in the future.

But many things happen in our life. Some are events that we create and some are events and experiences that have happened to us. These can often throw us off the course set by the earlier things we have been dealing with. If we take the mindset that we find in the sports examples discussed, we will always be negative and disappointed.

When our location isn’t what we hoped for, we feel like we “haven’t lived up to our promise,” “finished what we started,” and accomplished the predicted goal based on what we had before have done. This can only lead to dissonance, disappointment and devaluation of what we can do and achieve.

The score will take care of itself

It’s about adapting and accepting the changes in real life as we move forward in what we do and realize that we are where we are and need to make our best of what is there. Perhaps we can practice this mindset by taking it with us when we look at things we usually do for entertainment, like sports.

Practice accepting what is happening and honoring the efforts on both sides of the field, court, or rink these people play on. And realize that all they have is their best effort, just like us when we do something, and chance will always have an effect that can sway them from the expectations and results they are striving for.

The key here is to realize that acceptance is about what is. It’s not about what could be, might, would or should be. These are all comparisons to something that doesn’t exist. Compare to things over which we have no control.

The only thing these athletes and we have control over is what we’re doing right now. This is empowering because what you are doing in the moment is really the only thing you can control.

It’s time to reclaim the moments and focus on our efforts. This is a step towards a present-based mindfulness mindset that can positively impact our future.

© E. Paul Zehr (2022)

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