I just love to compete! folks say to me, pretty much never.
I’m not the competitive type, they say, pretty much always.
And then they cut each other off in conversation. One-up each other in accomplishments. Go off about something on Facebook. Cannot believe that offending patron! Swerve around that maniac who is texting while driving. While on the way to run this place the way it should be run. Every day. Even on Sundays.
Not competitive, though. We’re above this. Don’t dirty my hands with that sort of thing. It will all work out in the end, they say. Always does, right? Let’s not keep score. That way, everyone wins. Everyone goes home happy.
Nope. Not the competitive type.
Watch out for these folks. Don’t let ’em fool you. Because last time I checked we were all doing the same thing: playing to win at a game none of us can avoid losing.
What these people who ‘don’t like to compete’ are really saying is that they don’t like to keep score. They don’t want to be measured, because measuring shows where we stand. It tells how we’re doing, how far we’ve come, and which direction we’re moving.
It shows us who is ahead which is, for now, who is winning.
Oh, but quantifying this makes it so cold and unforgiving, they say. Where is your compassion? your kindness? your empathy? Where is your humanity, woman?
Daniel Murphy just loves to compete.
As he strides to the plate we know his current batting average, his on-base percentage, his tally of homeruns, RBIs, and extra base hits. We know how well he does with runners in scoring position, how many times he’s walked, been hit by a pitch and scored. We know how many times he has faced this particular pitcher, how he’s fared, and therefore, how this particular match-up is likely to go.
We love measuring. we love predicting. we love evaluating the odds to see what the chances are. These days we know everything because we measure it. everything, that is, except what will happen this time.
The only one paying no attention is Daniel Murphy. He’s just looking for a hit.
He’s not thinking about the hours of preparation that brought him to this moment. He’s not worrying about the last time he faced this pitcher. He’s even immune to the boo’s from the crowd (which, may I say NY, is poor form?) which actually signify how well he’s done against his former team.
No. Murphy has one thing on his mind: this pitch. And with all of the wizardry he can muster and all of the artistry at his command, he is focused on getting his bat on this ball and putting it somewhere where no one can catch it. He’s looking to get on base. And then to get to the next base and the next and then finally home.
Daniel’s serious about this game. He plays to win it. And he seems to be having the time of his life!
Fast balls, curve balls, splitters, cutters and change-ups. Bring ’em high and tight or low and outside. Throw ’em all. The best in the game do, as the best in the game will. That’s what he knows will make him the best in the game. That’s the fun of it.
Who’d want to play a game where there was no winner? We’re made to measure.
I was told “Practice makes perfect,” so my defiant younger self quipped, “Practice makes perfect, but no one’s perfect, so why practice?” That was a) to hide my fear of being imperfect, b) to distract people from seeing all the practicing I was doing and c) to excuse myself in case that practice didn’t work. (and maybe d) to discourage my competition from practicing too much)
Later I was told, “Practice makes permanent,” so my capable young adult self thought, “Watch what you practice because you’ll be stuck with it.” That set me on course to a) get things right, b) do them a lot and c) not enter any contests until I was good and ready.
Lately I have been learning that “Practice makes patterned.” The more we do something, the more likely we are to do it again the same way. Now to those of us in the sports skills business, that’s a no-brainer. Muscle memory has been gospel for forever, as far as I know. Brain science is now showing us how that happens: electrical signaling sensitizes the pathways encouraging it to happen again the same way.
So, since practice doesn’t make you perfect, nor does it strand you in permanent but instead creates patterns, then if we could just practice perfectly, we would be all set. Put us on autopilot and off we’d go to perfection. But that’s not the way it goes. My practice doesn’t achieve perfect. In fact often it makes me more aware of my imperfections and my inability to conquer them.
Here’s where Lent comes in: Lent is the season to practice denial. Not just giving up sweets or cutting down on Starbucks beverages, but actually denying myself something for the good of another. Giving up something good, in honor of something better. Leaving a space where I had been crammed full.
And here’s what I learned. It’s not the denial that matters, it’s practicing the denial. Actually telling myself, “No, you may not do that. No, you may not say that. You may not even think that, about yourself or others. You may have gotten used to that, but it’s a bad habit. Quit it!” It seems that I had gotten out of practice of denying what didn’t belong.
Though practicing denial, like practicing other skills, makes it neither perfect nor permanent, it does help us create a pattern. And patterns, well designed and well worn, are there when we need them. They’re worth the practice. In fact they may be the reason to practice, so that when the pressure is on, the opponents are jeering, and everything is on the line, we can swing freely and send that beautifully arching nine iron shot sailing straight toward the pin. Because we have denied our need to perform, our desire to perfect and our demand for admiration.
Hoping and imagining it won’t achieve it, and even practicing it perfectly won’t guarantee it, but we have to perform when it counts. That happens best when we deny ourselves and let ‘er rip. A good reason to practice. A good reason to discipline our practice. A good reason to practice the discipline of denial.
What we practice, we pattern. And ultimately, that’s what we put into play.