Jason and the Golden Thong

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.

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11 Responses to Jason and the Golden Thong

  1. Frank v2 says:

    Dr. B,

    Gee, a special thong to make one win a game. Hmmm. I believe the Mormon’s have a version of this which is often referred to as “magic underwear”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twdqcJjRRmc
    Now I am not bashing anyone’s religion here, but any lucky charm, be it underwear or a four leaf clover, is a feel good to try and keep our ego in check, and is in my mind, silly. I’m a Toastmaster and in my line of work I need to make presentations on a regular basis, and obviously I am not afraid of getting in front of a group of people. And my softest most comfortable shorts have never played a role in terms my success or failure. Now, that does not suggest that I don’t get a little nervous before a presentation. I do. But knowing my audience and my topic cold seems to always elevate my presentations to the status of “top-notch”. Now with that said, having on a pair of unlucky underwear has on occasion played a negative role: nothing like having a pair of underwear on that is too tight and cramping one’s style when trying to talk in front of a group of people!

    Seriously though, lucky charms or any other superstitions don’t impact the results of any presentation: good old fashioned understanding of the audiences’ needs and knowing the topic cold does. So the same concept in my mind holds true for anything we tackle, be it sports or business related.

    And on that note I do have to ask a question: what happens to the thirteenth floor in buildings that skip thirteen and go straight to fourteen? Is the artificially named fourteenth floor a good luck floor, or is it just a not so unlucky thirteenth floor? Hmmm.

  2. Jim D says:

    I thought about this for a few minutes in relation to the things I do, and I discovered that many of the hobbies I have very specifically take me out of that thought process, away from the “mental noise”. Motorcycling is often called the “lazy man’s zen”, because it forces you to pay attention to things outside yourself (at least if you want to survive). Same with hunting and target shooting–you have to focus on many things, but not the thoughts in your head. In martial arts, paying attention to your thought process will get your teeth knocked in! While these are my experiences, I’m pretty sure that people who like to paint or cook or play other sports also do it as a quick way into the “zone”, that quiet zen place where we are no longer listening to the ego. Which is maybe why so many people find turning their passions into jobs doesn’t work out. When its just you enjoying your endeavor, that’s what makes it relaxing, but when we add to it other people’s needs and opinions, the pressure of having to make a living and worrying about costs and sales, we lose the passion.

  3. Kevin says:

    Dr. B, I knew you were to go to be true -a Yankees fan.

  4. Frank,

    Sometimes knowing your audience and your topic is not enough–one has to be able to access a flow state by being willing to drop troubling thoughts.

    Jim,

    Indeed. The challenge is to generalize the lesson that our more Zen like activities teach us.

    Kevin,

    You will have to forgive me 🙂

  5. Frank v2 says:

    Dr. B,
    I agree that there are times when “one has to be able to access a flow state by being willing to drop troubling thoughts”. That of course is one’s ego taking control and perhaps for some people “magic underwear” might be a necessary component in terms of helping that individual get rid of his or her negative thoughts. Perhaps some people need a catalyst to help them achieve their Zen spot and eliminate their negative thinking. For me I don’t need anything physical, but I find a good workout can help those nervous and negative feelings go away on their own. Of course that doesn’t work minutes before a presentation: in those situations I fine that relaxation and breathing techniques seem to work best for me. But at the end of the day wresting those negative feelings is the end goal. For if we don’t wrestle this negative energy down, we will become self deceived and actually believe what our ego is telling us. So if magic underwear or a four leaf clover works, well, as Ringo Star suggests, “What ever gets you through the night”.

  6. Bob G. says:

    The mistaken belief that a tool, method or so called catalyst itself is the root cause for performance results will only drive a greater dependence on these methods in the minds of the ignorant.

    Because of their failure to understand the root causes of “being in the zone” and what prelcudes it, many will be exploited by those peddling the latest and greatest technique, program or system promising greater personal acheivement. Like junkies needing ever more fixes, they will happily pay more and more over time for another fix from their designated masters.

    A tool or technique when understood in context of the real problem is indeed useful. But when mistaken as the reason for success it breeds only shameless hucksters, well meaning but ignorant followers and the perpetuation of another generally accepted illusion (GAIL).

    Who knows?? … when someone finally gets smart and figures out the truth, the thong makers , Tony Robbins, and Dr. Phils of the world will lobby congress for subsidies …

    Bob G.

  7. Bob,

    I agree with your observations about methods fostering dependence.

    Nevertheless at times we may not be ready for anything more than a method or technique. Why? Simply, our ego wants the power of our mind to choose to be lost to us.

  8. Greg R says:

    The use of gimmicks, tools, tiger-striped thongs, and “power ties” are all examples of the cause and effect fallacy that continues to consume the uninformed. While the presence or use of such talisman may appease the ego, reality dictates that the only way to truly achieve a “flow state” is stop trying to create it.

    After a particularly spectacular performance, athletes often comment on how they “lost themselves in the moment” or conversely when their performance is suboptimal, how they were “over thinking.” The subtle difference between the two is where in time the individual is being when action is required. “Over thinking” implies that there is a focus on past or future events. Neither of which has any true causal relationship to what is current reality. A state of being that is described as “lost in the moment” isn’t really “lost” in as much as it is being 100% in the moment, or being wholly present.

    That isn’t to say that practice or preparation is not of value. On the contrary, both are essential to a state of presence. Presence requires that one have effortless recall both physically and mentally to what the moment requires. In fact, the more present one is in preparation the more beneficial the exercise. Those of us that participate in the frustrations of golf can appreciate this. Hours spent in focused attempts to develop effortless application of the mechanics of a golf swing are rewarded on the course with fewer lost golf balls and bent clubs. Even after hours of preparation if you are caught up in thinking through the mechanics of the swing when it counts, you can be sure to be searching in the tall grass.

    Staying within the moment is essential.

  9. Greg,

    I greatly appreciate your very well put comments. They give us all something to reflect on.

    Your distinction between being lost in the moment and 100% in the moment is excellent. We have all moments when we are driving and we so lost in the moment that we can’t remember driving the past mile. When that happens we are usually in the past or future via our thinking. That creates a far different expererience than being 100% in the moment.

  10. Jim D says:

    I think that the argument between thongs, fixes, and other gimmicks being “false” or not the correct way to find that zone state is missing the point. What Frank v2, Bob G. and myself are circling is the internal vs. external purpose and means of achieving that state. Instead of Zen, its more like Tao–if you are seeking it, you will never find it. I don’t perform my hobbies to find that state, but I have discovered that I get into that state much more quickly and readily when engaged in my hobbies. And there is a certain behavioral connection that develops when you find that state under a regular set of circumstances. When I suit up for martial arts, I find my mind clearing by itself while I dress. Without intending to do it, I find myself almost “putting on” the zone. Now of course I can’t suit up in pursuit of the zone, but I find that as I prep for the activity, the zone tends to find me.

  11. Liberia says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Liberia!!

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