This year my 12-year-old son, Sawyer, really wanted to play baseball. The last time he played organized baseball was when he was 6 or 7 years old. Back then, the coaches pitched to kids and some kids who struggled, even got to hit from a tee. The kids were not that far along physically or baseball-wise. After that year, life events took our family to another state and I went back to chiropractic school. My son played basketball there, but not organized baseball. When we returned back to Pennsylvania, we missed the baseball season last year. So this year was the first time Sawyer could play baseball again. Keep in mind, since the last time he played, there were a lot of other kids who continued to play in camps, leagues, travel ball, etc. They learned the little nuances of hitting and fielding, the rules, the mental aspect of where to be amongst other things. Little things, like proper throwing mechanics, became second nature for these kids, as they were doing it all year round, for years and years.
So, going into this year’s baseball season, Sawyer was excited and a bit nervous. Thankfully, he had a great group of kids and coaches, who understood he was basically brand new to the game. They embraced him and encouraged him, yet understandably, Sawyer struggled to keep up with the new level of baseball he now faced. As the season progressed, things got better. Sawyer not only participated, but contributed to his team. It is still a work in progress, but thinking on his progress, it occurred to me that the process Sawyer went through is a good example to everyone looking to make positive changes in their life. Every day in our office, I talk to people who realize they have life choices that are either working against their health goals or are not contributing to them. Yet for a variety of reasons (I’m too busy, I can’t give this up, I tried before and it didn’t work, etc.), they struggle to even get started. This got me thinking, how can a child start something new that, in his mind, seemed daunting, yet was able to do and continue to get better at each week? Why could Sawyer set his mind to do something new, yet other people have paralysis by analysis when it comes to losing weight, getting healthier, making better life choices? In looking at how Sawyer was able to do it, I came up with three main lessons that hopefully you or someone you know, can apply to your life, and thereby start the positive changes you or they want to achieve. One qualifier: We can all learn from kids. Somehow, they can enjoy and embrace the moment. It’s something we seem to “lose” as we get older, and that is something we should learn from them. The following lessons are additional to that one main lesson.
Lesson 1: There’s help all around if you want it enough
We have all heard the phrase, you have to know your WHY when you set a goal. The why or the purpose must be defined to keep you driven and motivated so you don’t quit until you reach that goal. For someone wanting to lose weight, their why may be because they have a family history of heart disease and want to live to see their children get married. Their why may be because they want to win a fitness competition. Whatever it is, once you know your WHY, then you have to know your HOW..as in how do I do it?
Early on, little things that most baseball players take for granted, seemed daunting for Sawyer. Because of the cold, rainy spring weather, the team’s practices either got canceled or moved to an indoor facility which limited the amount of coaching the team could get. So, when the season started, it was a lot of learning via “baptism by fire.” I remember his first game. Sawyer took the field to play second base. He literally stood on second base until his teammate had to show where to stand. Throwing the ball consistently and accurately didn’t come naturally either because he simply didn’t do that motion regularly. Instead of saying ‘this is just too difficult’, Sawyer realized that there were many kids on his team who were advanced in the skills he wanted. He started to watch those kids- not only where they stood in the field, but HOW they stood. Where did they hold their gloves? Where did they stand when they played specific positions, and when there were runners on certain bases. How did they throw the ball compared to how he did. When he was unsure of how to slide, he pulled some of his teammates aside and did what many are afraid to do….he ASKED FOR HELP. You know what, most people want to help others if you simply ask them for it. At home, he watched videos online on basic mechanics of hitting, throwing, and baseball in general. Then he asked me to practice with him. To practice fielding ground balls, fly balls, hitting, etc. He asked me to quiz him on situational baseball, like ‘what do you do if you’re playing shortstop and there is a runner on 1st and the ball is hit to second base…’. What happened because of this was Sawyer started to improve. He got better at fielding, throwing and overall, he started to not only just play, but enjoy playing. When you recognize the new thing you want to start, don’t do it alone. Find others to not only keep you accountable and encourage you, but find others who already have walked that path who can teach you. If you are afraid to ask for help, then ask for help being afraid anyway. For the most part, people want to help you. Then be creative and figure out what other resources are available for you. If you want it enough, you will find them. But, don’t wait for them to fall on your lap. Own the process. If you don’t know how, have the mentality of ‘it’s my responsibility to get the information or things I need’ and not someone else’s to give to you
Lesson 2: Break down the big goal into smaller, actionable steps
Have you heard the saying “How do you eat the elephant?” One bite at a time. When Sawyer first tried hitting the baseball (which most argue is the toughest thing to do in sports), he really had a difficult time. His mechanics were off. His footwork needed adjustment, as did his timing. Add the pressure a boy has when teammates, parents, and others are in the bleachers cheering and yelling. Needless to say, the task seemed like a mountain. For most of the season, he never hit the ball. He either walked or struck out. After striking out, he felt awful, like he let his team down. If you never played baseball, the one thing to realize is that when you strike out attempt after attempt, it plays with your mind. Some kids get afraid to bat, and they never swing hoping they will just walk. Some go to the plate already thinking they will just strike out, and basically give up before they start. After a bunch of games, we had to make some changes. We first had to make the mental change. Sawyer and I talked about why he wasn’t swinging. He had to face the why he wasn’t doing something so he could change it. Once we got past that, we broke down the swing into a few repeatable things starting with his stance. Once the stance was changed, we added the proper footwork, then the proper swing. We practiced them in the backyard and then at the batting cages. Sawyer then practiced all of the steps on his own every day to burn in the muscle memory. Last night, Sawyer got his first hit in a game and the joy on his face when he stood at first base made all the hard work worth it.
I have patients who smoke every day, make bad eating decisions, don’t exercise, and live very stressful lives. We can all agree that none of those things are good for anyone. If anyone tried to stop or change all of these at once, it would probably result in a major failure in the long term. There are too many dramatic changes at once for someone to take in. Think about things in life as if everything is a skill. Hitting a baseball is a skill. Playing a musical instrument is a skill. Eating healthy is a skill. Exercising regularly is a skill. If someone else can do it, then YOU can as well. If you don’t know where to start, may I suggest to break down the big goal into simpler, reasonable steps. If you smoke 5 cigarettes every day, can you go to 4 a day? Try that for a few days and then go to 3…? Some people can quit cold turkey, but most cannot. Why not take the big goal (quitting) and break them down into smaller steps. Set up a timeline and a plan. Have a “if..then” mentality instead of saying ‘I will just stop smoking.’ For instance, if you say you are going to quit, and you know your urge to smoke comes every time get in your car to drive, then commit to IF I get in my car, THEN I will chew gum instead of smoking. Give yourself triggers in your small steps. If you have bad oral hygiene and never floss your teeth but want to start, then leave the dental floss next to your toothbrush, instead of in a drawer, to trigger your mind to floss each time you brush. Take the big goal and break that down to smaller steps that will achieve your goal. The mountain you perceive then becomes the hill you climb.
Lesson 3: Embrace failing rather than letting it crush you
Sawyer spent weeks “failing” at baseball. He had a game where he dropped two fly balls in a row. He had games where he struck out every time. He had some games that made him cry in his bed at night because of frustration and disappointment. But somehow, the next day, he got up and tried again. The key to failing is not the failure itself, but your response to it. Some people let that pain or perceived pain deter them. It’s easy to run and quit and blame others. Some people use that as fuel to try again, and again, and again. After yesterday’s game, where Sawyer not only got his first hit, but made several plays on defense to get outs for his team, stole a base and scored for his team, he had a sense of accomplishment all night. He overcame the failures that are expected, especially with something new, and got to experience what it felt like to feel “success.” That feeling can only be experienced and appreciated by overcoming those failures.
In this day and age of social media, you rarely see posts of people “failing”. Usually, people posts all of their successes that it can make one feel as if everyone else is doing so great, all of the time, that there must be something wrong with me. That’s just not reality. Study any successful person and their life is full of adversity and obstacles they had to experience and overcome. That is what forges character and fortitude.
Nothing worthwhile is easy. Falling short during a change process happens. Keep going, even if it feels painful. Even if it feels like nothing is changing. When you get the breakthrough, the feeling you will have will be so much more valuable than if it was handed to you. It’s in that place, the value to you is worth more than any amount of money one could place on it because it is personal to you. Remember to celebrate your successes too. Make milestones to your goal and when you hit each one, reward yourself for it. It reinforces your success and hard work, and helps you to keep on track.
You can achieve great things, why not start today? If you want to make a change in regards to your health and want more information on how to do so, we may be able to help you. Remember to keep your head on straight and be well.
Yours in health,
Dr. David Newman, D.C. is an E.P.I.C. Upper Cervical Chiropractor in Trappe, PA at The Head & Spine Pain Center. They utilize advanced non-surgical technology to focus on headaches, neck pain, back pain, vertigo and other neurological conditions to help you feel, move, and live better. For more information, please visit www.headandspinepain.com or call 267-544-WAVE (9283).