Don’t Live in the Past. Live in the Moment.
“Living in the moment, it’s a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”
You may have heard a coach tell you and/or your teammates to live in the moment. Well, you can’t live in the past but you will have to go into the past to understand where such advice came from.
“Amass a store of gold and jade and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles and disaster will follow.”
Tao Te Ching
4th Century BC
“Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by so quick
you can hardly catch it going.”
20th Century American Playwright
“It’s a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny
can be handled at a time.”
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
During World War II
A. Having a short memory: It is good to have a great memory. You can remember people’s names, historical events, famous quotes, important dates like family members’ birthdays, etc. However, in baseball, particularly when it comes to hitting, it is preferable to have a short memory. This is especially true with failure, which happens more often than not in hitting. No one bats 1.000. Only a very small percentage of Major Leaguers hit .300 or over. No one has hit .400 since Ted Williams did in 1941 (that was over 80 years ago!). That means that the overwhelming majority of Major League hitters fail more than 70% of the time. A very good high school hitter will fail between 50 and 60% of the time, though a few elite high school hitters may bat near or over .600. Needless to say, and in all honesty, failure lurks in all aspects of baseball.
The late sports psychologist, Ken Ravizza, who San Francisco Giants third baseman, Kris Bryant, called the “godfather” of sports psychology, understood the failure part of baseball all too well. Therefore, he emphasized that a short memory was one of the best traits an athlete could have. Ravizza, a kinesiology professor at Cal State-Fullerton helped many college and Major League baseball players with his wisdom. Back in 2004, while working with the Fullerton baseball team, which was off to a terrible start to their season, Ravizza placed a small plastic toilet in the dugout to drive home the message of getting players to forget about their failures. He encouraged the Fullerton players to figuratively “flush” their failures down the model toilet. It was all about having a short memory. It worked! Cal State Fullerton went on to win the College Series that year and Ravizza’s insight and expertise came to be sought out by Major League teams and players. (Los Angeles Times, July 9, 2018).
B. Don’t live in the past. Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre said that the great Hall of Famer, Henry Aaron, told him, while they were talking about batting slumps as teammates on the Atlanta Braves, that a hitter should treat “each at-bat as a new day.” (Torre) What did Aaron mean by that? Every at bat is a brand new experience and should be treated as such. So, you can’t dwell on past failure because you will carry it up to the plate with you the next time, setting yourself up to fail again. Just the same, you cannot try to hang on to past successes either. As Lao Tsu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, cautioned, “Amass a store of gold and jade and no one can protect it. Claim wealth and titles and disaster will follow.” Whatever you did the last time does not really matter once you get in the batter’s box. You cannot hang on to it. Let it go because it’s gone. You cannot hit something coming at you from the front if you are thinking about something that is coming from behind you, mentally that is.
That is not to say you should not attempt to learn from your previous at bats, even previous games if you faced the same pitcher before. Obviously, you must learn from what happened in your previous at bat(s). If you struck out or failed to hit the ball well, make sure you understand why. If you hit the ball well the last time up, be aware of what it was you did to have done that. Also, be sure that you do not forget that it was because you allowed yourself to trust in your ability and that you executed properly. Just because you hit well your last at bat, it does not mean that you will automatically do so again. You cannot possess previous at bats, good ones or bad ones. You have to clear your head and execute properly again. Leave any analysis in the on deck circle. Once you are in the batter’s box, clear your head. Sometimes it gets ridiculously tedious and almost seems simple at times but you have to do what it takes to hit successfully, and you have to do it again, and again.
C. Live in the moment. “Each time I step on the basketball court I never know what will happen. I live for the moment. I play for the moment.” Michael Jordan said that in explaining how he approached playing the game of basketball. (Mack with Casstevens, 168) You have likely heard this phrase, “live in the moment,” spoken of by coaches or athletes. Jordan’s coach with the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson, was fond of instructing his players to do just that. What does it mean? The 20th century psychologist Abraham H. Maslow (pictured below), referred to what we call living in the moment as Cognition of Being or B-Cognition. In such a mental state or mindset an athlete focuses only on what it is that has to be done in the present and not on any extraneous factors like past experiences and the results of those experiences – positive or negative, the possible results of his efforts in his/her current situation, or any other extraneous conditions. Maslow said that in this mental state, a person, “…is most here-now, most free of the past and of the future in various senses, most ‘all there’ in the experience.” A person attempts just to “be,” thus, B-Cognition. So, one cannot live in the past and nor can one put off until tomorrow what one can do today. As Steve Springer, the Performance Coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, says, “Yesterday’s over and tomorrow’s not here yet.”
Abraham H. Maslow
Maslow was also a pioneer in what would become the “Zone” psychology of a few decades later with his writings in the 1960s about peak experiences. In his book, TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING, first published in 1962, Maslow defined peak experiences as moments when one is at the height “of his powers, using all his capacities at the best and fullest.” Perhaps one of Maslow’s key contributions to our efforts here, something that is most relevant to the field of sports psychology, was his attempt to provide adjectives (some of which are not really words) to describe what a peak experience was like. Maslow said that a person in a peak experience was:
“…more spontaneous, more expressive, more innocently behaving
(guileless, naïve, honest, candid, ingenuous. childlike, artless, un-
guarded, defenseless), more natural (simple, relaxed, unhesitant,
plain, sincere, unaffected, primitive in a primitive sense [think
lower brain components here like the cerebellum], immediate),
more uncontrolled and freely flowing outward (automatic, im-
pulsive, reflexlike, “instinctive,” unrestrained, unself-conscious,
There is a great deal of relevance in what Maslow had to say. In the list of adjectives above, Maslow was describing a mindset, that can lead to efficient and productive performances, preferably more peak experiences, not just for athletes but for all types of performers like musicians, artists, actors, etc. as well. His work, more than a half-century ago, was a major contribution to the knowledge of how the human brain works in such endeavors. Today’s study and knowledge of such a mindset has approached a new level, becoming something of an “industry” unto itself.
D. A critical thing about moments – they are fleeting. The journalist, George F. Will, in writing in The Washington Post about George W. Bush’s disputed victory in the Presidential Election of 2000, made a profound statement about the fleeting nature of moments. Will, an avid baseball fan and a keen student of the game, wrote that, “Moments are awfully momentary,” that is they do not last very long. (The Washington Post, December 17, 2000) In support of that assertion, Will cited the scene from the movie, BULL DURHAM (pictured above), in which pitcher, “Nuke” Laloosh (played by Tim Robbins), came off the field expecting to bask in the glory of a well-pitched inning, seeking the approval of his teammates, which he received, except from his wise, old battery mate. Laloosh asked his catcher, Crash Davis, “I was good, eh?” Laloosh expected affirmation from Davis but got an instructive tongue-lashing instead. Davis angrily replied, “Your fastball’s up. Your curveball’s hangin’.” He warned Laloosh that, “In the show they would have ripped you.” Taking umbrage with what he heard, Laloosh asked Davis, "Can't you let me enjoy the moment?" Davis answered emphatically, "The moment's over." Crash Davis was right. Once Laloosh was back in the dugout, the moment in which he had just pitched well was over. The circumstances and Laloosh’s mindset in the dugout were not the same as they were when he was on the mound, just a minute before. (BULL DURHAM) Though as hard as they might try, one cannot hang onto what they accomplished, for what they did came and went. Trying to possess what happened in the past prevents one from dealing with the present. One has to move on and face the next challenge. Click the link below for George Will’s article if you need additional insight as it can help you to understand further the fleeting nature of moments.
“A player’s effectiveness is directly related to his ability to be right there, doing that thing, in the moment…. He can’t be worrying about the past or the future or the crowd or some other extraneous event. He must be able to respond in the here and now.”
San Francisco 49ers
1957 – 1973
E. “…Tomorrow’s not here yet.” If you can’t live in the past, you can’t live in the future either. If one looks too far ahead, they will trip over what is in front of them. Perhaps it doesn’t happen as much in baseball, though it can at levels below the professional level. It happens more in basketball, football, and soccer, primarily in a team setting. With baseball, too, it is usually a team situation with a team playing a lesser opponent before an upcoming big game against a more formidable opponent, the outcome of which has serious consequences. Usually, such a game is referred to as a ‘trap game.” As for an individual player, it is not common for a player to look ahead to face a good pitcher and go 0 for 4 against pitcher not quite as good the game before, though it is possible. As San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie said, a player has to “…be able to respond in the here and now.” (Cook, 235)
F. The lesson that a mandala can teach a hitter: A mandala is a traditional art form, consisting of either needlework or sand painting, which is practiced in the Asian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. The word itself is an anglicized version of the Sanskrit (an ancient language of India) word for “circle,” the shape of most mandalas and the key to its meaning. Mandalas consist of a variety of colorful geometric shapes and figures (see the picture above). The practice of creating mandalas originated in India between the 8th and 12th centuries. Today, it is an activity engaged in primarily by Tibetan Buddhist monks.
Participants engage in the making of mandalas as part of a spiritual quest and/or in an attempt to facilitate an almost trance-like meditative state. Their “journey,” from start to finish, takes about 40 days. How Buddhist monks create a mandala is really something to see and Tibetan monks do create mandalas in front of audiences. Yet, what the monks do with the mandala after it is finished is even more amazing. Incredibly, the monks systematically destroy the very thing they painstakingly produced by brushing the colorful grains of sand, used in making the mandala, into piles, scooping them up, and placing them in an urn. The ritual ends with the monks scattering the sands in running water – a stream, river, fountain, etc. - so that the spiritual power and positive vibes, infused into the making of the mandala, can be spread to others.
Trying to describe such an intricate process is truly a test of my ability to write about it. So, I suggest that you watch the creation and disassembling of mandalas by clicking on the links below:
The stages of creating a mandala:
The meaning of a mandala:
The meaning of the mandala and the lesson for hitters: The making of a mandala requires participants to immerse themselves psychologically and, of course, spiritually in a process that results in the creation of a beautiful piece of art. Such beauty may tempt its creators to want to keep or possess it, which many people would want to do. In order to teach about the negative consequences of trying to hang on to such a thing of beauty, the monks, inconceivably, break the mandala down, for the implicit meaning in the process, that results in its creation, is that nothing is permanent and life moves on. The “circle,” that the mandala symbolizes, keeps turning. The moment that led to the creation of the mandala ends, as it must. As Crash Davis told Luke Laloosh about his well-pitched inning, “The moment’s over.” Though one may wish otherwise, since there is not only satisfaction in something that is accomplished, there is also safety and security in something that lasts. One just can’t hold on to something forever. Time moves on and, therefore, human activity must move on too.
Abraham Maslow discussed that in his book, TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING as it pertained to the conflict between safety and growth. Maslow said that there is safety in what is known (all the more reason to try to hold on to it) and uncertainty in what is not. New moments arise which are never exactly the same as those that proceed them. One must learn to face the uncertainty, accepting the new challenges, in order to grow as a human being. Trying to possess a prior moment, especially one that is very gratifying, only makes one psychologically ill-prepared for what happens subsequently.
A hitter can learn a valuable lesson in all of that. Let’s say that you square a pitch up and hit a home run. Maybe you do so at a critical moment in a game to help your team win and, consequently, it brings you a considerable degree of approval and acclaim, maybe even headlines in the paper about what you did. When you come up for your next at bat, you may experience the inclination to think that you can do that again, that all you have to do is walk out there and step in the batter’s box and it all happens again, just like before. Well, you can’t. That is because it won’t happen that way again. The pitches you get may not be the same - pitchers would be reluctant to throw you the same pitch that you just hit a home run off of. The swing you took will be difficult to replicate, exactly that is. That ball you hit is long gone. What you did to hit it is long gone as well since it was unique to that particular moment. You can’t hold on to it. It came and went. Never forget what Crash Davis told Luke Laloosh, or what George Will said, “Moments are awfully momentary.” Your next at bat might as well be a new day, as Henry Aaron once said about at bats.
Try to remember the monks, in the second video clip, sweeping away the sand and mopping the area on which they made the mandala. Not a grain of sand was left by them. So, too, you must do with that home run you hit – mop it away. Like the monks, you must start all over again and you must embrace the process again.
Yet, there will always be those who think that things can last forever. There is a relevant scene in the Netflix series, HOUSE OF CARDS, in which the fictitious character, Frank Underwood, as President of the United States, gives his wife a gift – a picture of a mandala that Buddhist monks had created in the White House. Though the monks swept up the mandala they created and scattered the sands in a stream, Frank presented his wife with the picture of it with a card that read, “Nothing is forever…except us.” Evidently, Frank Underwood failed to learn the lesson the monks were trying to teach. He was wrong. Nothing in his life lasted. Learn the lesson of the mandala, and that of Frank Underwood too – nothing is permanent. Don’t try to hang on to it. Don’t live in the past. Clink the link below to watch that scene from HOUSE OF CARDS.
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