A Cleaner Mindset
October 13, 2021
I haven't written in this space for several weeks, because until now I hadn't had much to say. This changed when I decided to simulate competing in the 2021 Autumn Open championship on the WCBT.
And it didn't go well.
I tried to post progress videos on Facebook, but my headset microphone was dying and I didn't notice in time, which meant that I posted mostly static that you could only make out if you were determined enough. As it turns out, Tom Paterson was determined enough to watch them. When we spoke recently, he shared his impressions of my impressions of my performance. Put simply: I looked really sad.
And yes, that's how I felt. As I walked out of The Lanes I genuinely felt like I hadn't made any progress in the last five years. I had prepared well, I felt optimistic, I walked in feeling good, I bowled 1756 for 8 games, and I walked out dejected. Had I performed like that at the Autumn Open, I'd have finished in 181st position out of 212 entries. No thanks.
At the time, it seemed like there was only one piece of good news: at least I didn't spend thousands of dollars and risk my health to fall flat on my face. Small mercies.
What's The Point?
This experience brought back to the surface a handful of the Big Questions that plague most competitors in any sport:
- Is this all there is?
- Am I good enough?
- Can I do this?
- If there is all there is, then what's the point in trying?
It got dark pretty quickly. Oddly, though, I didn't feel devastated so much as I felt bewildered. Questioning my future in the sport felt somehow more... objective than it has felt in the past. I felt less conscious emotional pain and more confusion. I didn't feel sad as much as I just didn't understand what was happening to me.
Maybe that alone represents some progress. Maybe that's a step on the road to the kind of emotional detachment that can help me take advantage of robot mind while competing. At least that's something to hope for.
Why Compete At All?
In my discussion with Tom, another of those Big Questions came to the surface: what do I want from my experience as a competitive bowler? Why am I doing this? What are my goals?
And... I didn't really have an answer. Some of the old answers, the ones I'd grown accustomed to, actually don't feel right any more.
Virginia Satir wrote about yearnings, which lie closer to our identity than our goals, our objectives, and even our values. They are the things we desperately long for without being able to justify that longing. They are the things we want whether we try to want them or don't---love, acceptance, respect, understanding---and I had been telling myself for years that I wanted a compete as a bowler in order to gain acceptance and respect. I didn't want to just be there; I wanted to belong.
And this week I realized that maybe that's just not true any more.
My recent conversation with Taylor Michel gave me a chance to explore the exact opposite mindset, exemplified by that bluntest of instruments: fuck off. I don't think it's quite for me. Although I would certainly benefit from caring less what people think of me, I don't think I'm quite that guy. I've tried. For whatever reason, and in spite of my best intentions, I yearn for acceptance and respect. I care what other people think. What has changed, perhaps, is where I look for acceptance and respect. I don't need to get it by advancing to the semifinals on the A side of a cash tournament. I don't need to get it by winning the PEI Open singles championship.
And that's a good thing, too, because I really don't think those achievements would get me the acceptance and respect I was hoping to get by achieving them.
Sure, that sounds obvious to you, but limiting beliefs and unstated assumptions routinely stop us from seeing what's obviously there, right before our eyes. If it weren't for that fact, I wouldn't have a profession.
So... if I'm not going to find acceptance and respect from competing as a bowler, then why bother? What's in it for me?
I'm... not sure.
Adjusting My Mindset
Since I don't know how to answer this question, I can start with what I do know.
- I have time and energy both to compete and to prepare: practice, meditation, working out.
- I want to do well; it's not enough for me to just bowl for the sake of it, but I want to perform well. I want to improve. This is something I can strive for.
- I believe that I have within me the ability to perform at a high level, such as averaging 260 for a season, scoring enough to win a cash tournament, or staying calm and focused enough to win a key match at the Open.
- There are many many things that I can't control along the way of trying convert that potential into high scores and wins.
- I perform better when I stay in the moment, focus on what lies within my control, and ignore everything else.
And so that's what I intend to do. I intend to articulate goals that emerge from these facts. For example, I want to develop my skills as a bowler to their maximum, no matter what that turns out to be. I want to win without needing to win. I want to be open to what's possible instead of being afraid that I can't do it. And I need acceptance and respect, but competing as a bowler isn't a way for me to get them, so I'm committed to stop looking for them there.
And spares. I want to improve at spares. Especially the right side. Why is it so damn hard for me to feel comfortable shooting the right corner?! This last thing is my top priority for practice on Friday.