Although I am a life-long New York Yankees fan, I have barely watched them play this year. No, I am not a fair weather fan—this Yankee “team” is simply a boring collection of players who are going through the motions. Baseball on television can be a tedious affair under the best of circumstances; but when the players don’t seem to care, the game becomes unwatchable.
Consider the case of Jason Giambi. First baseman Giambi, an admitted former steroid user, was signed by the Yankees to a lucrative, long-term contract just before his production collapsed. This year Giambi is earning the second highest salary in the major leagues. For his more than $23 million a year, he gives back to the team offensive and defensive production that is among the worst in baseball. In 2007, he hit just .236 with 14 home runs and 39 RBIs. This year his batting average has sunk further to .191.
For some reason, Giambi has recently revealed that he has a lucky, gold, tiger-striped thong that he wears under his uniform in order to break out of slumps. “I only put it on when I’m desperate to get out of a big slump,” he disclosed. Giambi claims to have shared his lucky thong with current teammates Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano. Giambi further claimed 100% success for his thong: “All of them wore it and got hits. The thong works every time.”
Of course Giambi’s claim is self-evidently absurd, given his own batting average and the current performance of his teammates. Cano is hitting .204 and Damon .250—almost matching Giambi’s offensive futility. Only Jeter is hitting above .300.
OK, enough beating up on Giambi and the Yankees. But, there is a universal lesson to learn here. That lesson is simply this—in any endeavor, our performance has everything to do with the depth of our training, practice, and preparation and our willingness to allow our abilities and gifts to shine through in pressure situations. Our performance has nothing to do with our attempts to control the situation.
Allow me to share my own personal revelation. When I have a big “game”—for instance, a seminar presentation to an audience outside my University—to the extent that I allow feelings of insecurity to guide me, I will pay inordinate attention to the clothes that I put on that morning. While I have never put on a gold thong, I have changed my shirt more than once.
When you are facing a new audience, it is common to have thoughts about how you will be received or what the outcome will be. If you entertain such thoughts, they quickly begin to fester and to generate feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear. As fear and anxiety grow, our ego will attempt to control the external environment and gain any perceived edge that it can. Hence, Giambi puts on a golden thong, or in my case, I change my shirt.
Many years ago, before I understood what my ego was up to, I behaved as though I believed that I performed better wearing one shirt over another. I’m sure that the origin of this belief was not too different from that of Giambi’s belief in his thong. I would choose one shirt; and if I performed well that day, I would tend to choose that shirt again the next time.
Even then, deep down, I really knew better. My performance has about as much to do with my shirt as Giambi’s has to do with his thong. Over the years, I have learned much about how to gently observe the stories my ego feeds me—and I have learned how to gently laugh at those stories. When I stick to my knitting, when I am prepared, and most importantly, when I am willing to observe and dismiss thoughts that create anxiety, I feel no need to change my shirt.
When I do the important work of gently easing my ego out of the picture, more often than not, I will be in the flow and my seminar will be successful. Those in sports call this being in the zone. Being in the zone is natural—once we stop identifying with our egoic thinking. In an interview in The Sun Eckhart Tolle described what happens when we get lost in a world of our egoic thinking:
We live in a world of mental abstraction, conceptualization, and image making — a world of thought. And that becomes our dwelling place. It is a world characterized by the inability ever to stop thinking. The mental noise is a continuous stream. Psychologists have found that 95 percent or more of it is totally repetitive. Perhaps 10 percent of those thought processes, at most, are actually needed to deal with life. Thought can sometimes be very useful, but in our world it has become obsessive, compulsive, almost like an addiction. People’s sense of identity, of self, gets bound up with their mental concepts and mental images of “I” and “me.”
Our addiction to our ego thinking is certain to put us in a slump. Gosh, for the money that Giambi is making, you would think that he would invest in a good sports psychologist. I’ll give him some simple advice for free. First, practice and train harder than ever before—all the thongs in the world will not help you if you don’t cultivate your ability and talent. Next, when your ego thinks it can control your anxiety, observe what you are thinking—there is a false belief about yourself in relationship to the world that is being revealed by your ego’s story. Be willing look at those thoughts; but then, drop them. You will never break out of your slump while you are lost in your ego’s story.