On Sunday, I watched Super Bowl 44. (Okay, I admit, I watched the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet first!) Since I’m not a football fan and don’t have a particular team allegiance, I like to root for the underdog (in this case, the New Orleans Saints, trailing up to the second half) and then switch to whoever is winning (Saints again, in a streak of luck thanks to an intercepted pass and a clear field right to the end zone).
The ease with which professional athletes move about the field got me thinking how many hours of practice these guys have to go through before they make it to this point. The Super Bowl is the penultimate football game, the Holy Grail for fans and players alike. It’s the football equivalent of winning a gold medal to wear that ring. No one can ever take that accomplishment away from the Saints, even if their next season blows.
You have to practice to do anything well. Few of us arrive on earth with perfect skills in anything. It takes practice to learn to walk, to eat, even to talk. We practice when we learn to scribble our names in cursive, to do math, to paint, figure skate or play the cello. When we struggle, we don’t tell ourselves “Work a little harder;” or “You can do it,” or even “I think I can, I think I can.” No, what’s the first thing that pops into our heads?
Why do we do that? I do it when I’m fighting to learn a figure skating move. I’ve been trying to learn the Lutz jump for a long time now. I can do a half Lutz (not a full rotation), and it’s a beaut: I vault up off the ice like Michael Jordan. Attempting the full jump one day, I got some hang time in which I felt the pull of gravity leave me for a second. It freaked me out so much I popped the jump and hit the ice like an anvil. If I could only get the full rotation, my Lutz, even though it will probably always be a single, will be spectacular.
If only I didn’t suck!
I think the reason we say that to ourselves is because sometimes the effort tires us so much we lose sight of why we’re doing it. Our reward is the prize, accolades, medals or that coveted spot on the bestseller list. Who cares what number it is, just so our name appears under that heading in the Sunday paper?
Do the football players dream of the Super Bowl? Sure they do. But why do they play? Their chance of making it is slim, at best. Being picked for a team that has the chops to make it and consistently plays its best game every week throughout the season is no guarantee. Actually playing at the Super Bowl is no guarantee of winning. Look at that lovely moment on Sunday, where the stars aligned and the underdog team’s player caught the ball and turned to see a blessedly empty field in front of him, and ran toward the beckoning end zone like a lover through a meadow. The opportunity was there, and he was ready, because—say it with me, kids!—he had practiced.
Lots and lots of practice. When the moment came, he was ready. We can do it and we will because we take the time to rehearse the scenario. What will we do if we win the bestseller lottery? It’s almost guaranteed NOT to happen, really. If we don’t, what’s to stop us from berating ourselves and giving up entirely?
We do it because we want to. Because we love it. I don’t skate because I’ll ever win a gold medal (although I did, just not at the Olympics). I go out there in the cold wet rink because I love doing it. It’s the only sport I do. I can’t play tennis or basketball, and I can’t run either. Even when I hit the ice repeatedly or get hugely frustrated because I can’t get my arms and legs to do what I want, I keep doing it. Eventually, with practice, I’ll get it.
Writing is the same way. Granted, with skating you need coaching, but there’s a lot a writer can learn on her own. At some point people will have to read it so you can get feedback and know you’re on the right track. But it takes practice to get it right, so don’t tear yourself down if you’re having trouble. The same things I said in a previous post, Feed Me, about criticism that it’s best to ignore, apply here. You’d be upset if someone arbitrarily said you sucked, wouldn’t you? You shouldn’t do it to yourself either.
Don’t be hard on yourself; learning is a process. It takes time. Learn to take that negative thought pattern and nip it in the bud. Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it every time you tell yourself you suck.
If you have any hints or tips to help banish negative thinking, please share them in the comments.