“Rumination is a desperate, futile attempt to change the past by thinking about it. It’s a form of denial, and acceptance is the antidote.”
– Stephen Guise, How to Become an Imperfectionist
Still stewing over that last at-bat where you missed that perfect 2-0 pitch?
How about the 0-2 mistake pitch you threw down the middle that hasn’t landed yet?
Ouch. What about that great game you carried the team for three quarters then blew the crucial easy lay up? You sure let the team down I bet.
And, of course, how about that flight attendant that was a real shot at life but you couldn’t muster the courage to hand her that napkin with 10 digits on it?
My question to you …
How long are you going to ruminate (focus obsessively) over it?
It’s not that I don’t empathize with you. I do. I’ve experienced all of those and I’m willing to stew in it with you for a bit. (It’s something I’m working on in my personal life in 2019. Empathy).
But, ruminating over what has happened provides little motivation in taking productive action moving forward – which is what life does whether we’re on board or not.
This may or may not be necessary but I’ll say it anyways.
We cannot change the past.
Therefore, the first step in no longer ruminating over the past is, you guessed it …
ACCEPTANCE of the fact that we cannot change what has happened.
Why is acceptance so hard?
Because it hurts! It stings! It’s painful. I don’t know how else to say it.
It means it’s real and it (whatever your it may be) happened.
But there’s something far worse than choosing not to take on the full brunt of the pain now (or very soon) …
Guise says (pg. 70) “At some point, we must realize that no amount of guilt, remorse, and rumination can change what has already happened. Time doesn’t stop and go backward, and neither should we … It’s never disrespectful (to those you’ve hurt) to move on with your life, as rumination doesn’t solve problems or make up for mistakes. Self-punishment doesn’t atone for things you’ve done or make the situation better.”
Read that again.
There are many takeaways from that paragraph and I trust you’ll apply it to your current life or sport circumstances.
What stuck out to me was understanding that no amount of time or depth of emotions spent dwelling on what has happened, whether it be through guilt, remorse, rumination, or self-punishment can change even an ounce of what occurred or its consequences.
Choosing not to accept what’s happened and choosing instead to live with mental roommates named, guilt, remorse, rumination, and self-punishment who live only to trash your thought life is far more detrimental now and moving forward.
Gut check time: How many problems has thinking about your mistakes/errors solved?
Remember, when I speak to you I am also speaking to myself.
Sorry to be a downer but these are the types of things I encounter working with athletes and the general population so there’s a good chance it may be hitting home a bit for you, too.
So, let’s come up with a few solutions:
Guise’s paragraph above took me awhile to grasp but once I did (to some degree) here is a step-by-step strategy I’ve been sharing with athletes:
- Take as long as you need to TRULY GRASP that what has happened cannot be undone. Then remember,
- Perspective: Sport is a low consequence high reward environment. Is striking out twice in a game the end of the world? Really?
- You are never as great or as bad as one play.
- Don’t make anything bigger than one at-bat/one play at a time. Keep them separate.
- Per season, High schoolers get 100 at-bats, College 200-300, Pros 400+
- If making one mistake causes you to lose it … you need to move “your line” of what you accept as tolerable. Make room for three mistakes, or four, or one hundred, but for you to let a round object without a heartbeat on a field determine your self-worth? Can’t happen. Don’t let it happen.
- You are human. You are going to make mistakes. Soon. Accept that. It’s the nature of sport and life. You are allowed to make mistakes … even big ones.
- When they happen … accept them. It will hurt. But the pain will pass and any ill feelings with it.
- Give yourself a certain amount of time to be angry, embarrassed, upset, frustrated, and then do your best to move back to the present moment and what’s important now. (Time tables will vary depending on the severity of the mistake).
- When you no longer think/talk about it (or lose sleep), you know it’s behind you.
- If you don’t except them they will keep hurting you and will likely be the cause of further mistakes and sleepless nights.
- Will you live with an unforgivable mistake or forgive yourself?
- Then ask yourself, “Do I fully understand what happened?”
- When we see things rationally rather than emotionally it gives us a chance to dissect what happened so that next time we give ourselves a chance to be more successful.
- Forgive yourself, breathe, and be here now. That’s where action happens.
You’ll be surprised at how quickly this strategy will work when you practice it often. I’ve seen it happen with clients withins days or even moments. No joke.
There’s freedom to be had. Grab some. There’s plenty to go around.
Grab some joy while you’re at it. Sport and life is much funner that way.
It allows you to compete with the opposition rather than stay couped up in your own thoughts. Couped? Cooped? I’m not sure. I won’t ruminate over it, either.
My challenge to you: The next time life or sport tries to beat you up about your past: BE A REBEL.
Choose to rebel against the things that tend to trip you up. Choose to rebel against the way you tend to respond to adversity, mistakes, errors, and falling short. Rebel against the peer pressure you feel to be perfect in everyone’s eyes. Rebel against your own unrealistic expectations.
Instead, I dare you to laugh at yourself when you mess up, miss an easy shot, or take a pitch down the middle.
When I miss a shot in pick-up basketball, I say, “Great shot Ray keep shooting” even if it goes over the backboard.
How else am I ever supposed to take another shot? Beating myself up will only cause me to play timid.
Plus, I’m not trying to make the pick-up basketball Hall of Fame like some of those guys. I love watching them beat themselves up. They’re much easier to guard that way. Two defenders. Me and their own thought life.
Don’t be that guy.
Dedicated to your thought life,