I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of basketball. Well I’ll let you in on a little secret – I can’t shoot. I’ve had days that I will hit 10 in a row, but those are rare, and tend to be followed by stretches where I won’t hit at all. If you meet me on a day that I happen to be hitting you may think I’m a good shooter. However if you play with me for long enough, it becomes apparent that I can’t.
Shooting is only part of the game and I would like to think I can get by with some of the other things that I do well (or at least better). But still, it would help my team if I was able to hit shots more consistently.
I have never been coached. As an uncoordinated youth, I started playing late and learned basketball largely through observation, then by trying to recreate what I saw. In the process I came up with a shooting mechanic that “worked for me”. Through the years I’ve recognized that my shot is a weakness in my game, so I try to listen to other people and get pointers when I can. I’ve made some adjustments over the years, but the only consistent thing about my shot is its inconsistency.
Last summer my son was at a basketball camp and there was a “shot doctor” who came in and taught the kids the proper mechanics of shooting. I’ve read books, watched videos etc, but this was the first time I had ever had someone really break down the mechanics of a shot into their components. As he taught the kids, I listened intently.
After the camp, when I came home from work I tried to put what I had learned into practice.
My “old” shot had been internalized. It was reactive, meaning I didn’t have to think about it. And that made it really hard to change. Here’s the thing, when you have YEARS of “bad habits” built up, it becomes really hard to change them.
To make changes you need to really slow down, think about what you are doing, and go back to the basics. It took me a while to get the feel for the “new” shot mechanic, but once I did it was amazing. I was hitting shots at a much higher rate, and more importantly with greater consistency over time.
This improvement had me looking forward to the start of my mens league season, and I believed that this year I would have more confidence in my shooting.
The season started, and guess what – the speed of an actual game is quite a bit different from shooting on your driveway with no defender. I didn’t have time to think about the shot mechanics, and in the pressure of the moment I found myself reverting to my “old” (you can also read that as bad) form.
You see, its one thing to understand what you have to do to change. It’s something entirely different to put it into practice on a regular basis and in a “real life” situation.
Putting in Effort
For me basketball is just a pastime. I love it, but it’s really not that important to my life. So I haven’t put in the hours needed to really internalize the improved mechanics so I can use them in a “real life” situation. I realize that true change takes effort, and that applies to any changes in life.
In a recent post my buddy Gandalf talked about changing his life. As he said:
One item needed for this is dedication. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to see this through and continuously try to improve every week. I needed to put lots of effort into getting better, which is where hitting rock bottom helped. I knew the problem was me, and only I could make myself better.
Learning to Cope
Over our lifetime we develop coping mechanisms for getting by in life. Similar to how I learned to shoot in basketball, we find something that “works for us”, no matter how broken or ineffective these coping mechanisms may be. As long as we are able to get by, that’s good enough for us.
When times are good it’s not a problem. But life isn’t always easy, and times aren’t always good.
How do you react when life gets tough? My buddy’s approach was to run away. Well, not literally. But his avoidance was such that his way of dealing with things was to not deal with them at all. He would withdraw, not make decisions, and retreat into his comfort zone. And it worked for him – kind of. Unfortunately he wasn’t happy. In fact, he was miserable, and he hated himself. For years he blamed his unhappiness on external things. The reality was, his coping mechanisms were broken and they were causing him to spiral further and further down into unhappiness.
Even though his coping mechanisms were at the root of his problems, they were still safe, and they were what he knew.
It’s unfortunate that people seem to need to hit rock bottom before they can get better. But I guess until they do, their coping mechanisms are still “working” for them, no matter how much damage they are doing. It’s only when they fail completely that someone is forced to face themselves, and see the need for change.
It’s only then that someone will WANT change badly enough to make it happen.
The Need For Change
I think maybe rock bottom is needed because until then, people don’t NEED change. They may want it, and they may realize at an intellectual level that it would benefit them. But change is scary.
Until someone has hit rock bottom, they don’t want change badly enough to dedicate themselves to it. So they say they are trying, but their attempts are half-hearted. Because the effort isn’t truly there, the change doesn’t work or is ineffective, so they revert back to their old ways.
Then they can tell themselves “hey, I tried”. But in reality all they ever did was set themselves up for failure.
When you look around, it’s amazing how much effort people actually seem to put into avoiding change. I think it’s due to fear. People fear change, and so even when they know change is needed, they will half-heartedly attempt it. Then when it doesn’t work, they retreat back to the old ways. But giving up on change causes it to fail before it even has a chance. And this failure becomes proof that they didn’t really need to change after all, allowing someone to slip back into the comfort of their broken coping mechanisms.
It’s kind of like when I tried adapting my new basketball shooting mechanic in a game situation. I hadn’t put enough effort in to make the change sustainable, and the stress of a real game caused me to retreat back to my old form.
My buddy Gandalf had a lot of changes he needed to make. And looking at all those changes was daunting. So to move forward, he had to do it gradually.
With his doctor, he identified different levels of change, and he started with the easy changes and steadily progressed forward. There was a vision of where they wanted to be at the end, and they made a plan to get there.
Big changes are always made up of a number of smaller steps. But even for small changes, the desire and the effort has to be there. There has to be momentum. You have to WANT it, and you have to be willing to work at it.
Take a look at your coping mechanisms and ask yourself, are they really working? Or are you just “getting by”? If you tell yourself “that’s just the way I am”, guess what – you’re just like my buddy Gandalf used to be. That’s what he told himself. He expected other people to conform to him, after all, *he* couldn’t change.
As a result, he hit what for him was rock bottom. There’s a problem with rock bottom though. Depending on how far you have to fall, sometimes the climb back up is really hard. And sometimes you need to find a new path, because you’ve destroyed your old one in the process.
So ask yourself, are your coping mechanisms actually working? Or are you just getting by?
Change is hard, and it can be scary. But sometimes it’s needed for a happier future.