The Mindful Free Throw
I was staring at my shoes, yellow and black sneakers, to match them up with the free throw line. I could feel the floor vibrate as I dribbled the ball a few times in preparation for the big shot. All eyes were on me as I bent my knees, lifted up for the shot and let the ball fly. And just like in any great basketball movie, the ball sailed toward the net in slow motion as I followed it to the rim. Unlike any great basketball movie, I missed the rim completely and the other guys shooting around with me chuckled as I chased down the ball. It was a hilarious evening at the gym as I learned three very valuable lessons:
- I suck at basketball. In fact, I would have been the guy picked last that night if someone had tried to build a team with the people that were there. It doesn't help that I haven't shot hoops in 8 years.
- Chasing missed shots is a great bit of cardiovascular exercise and shooting can be a whole-body workout.
- What you're focused on changes your outcomes and experiences.
But me being bad at basketball isn't the whole point of this article. The point is to talk about the concepts of mindfulness and acceptance. You see, after I stunk for a while, I got better. I was there long enough for most of the other guys to leave and to have half of the court to myself, so I decided to focus on free throws. Trying to draw on some of the principles of sports psychology, I consciously decided to try making free throws a mindful experience.
For those of you unacquainted with the concept of mindfulness, I will offer a brief explanation. Mindfulness is the concept of focusing on all of the experiences happening in the present moment. The function is to draw your mind to what is happening in the now, rather than focusing on what happened in the past, what might happen in the future and the world outside of what you are currently doing. In short, mindfulness is being very present with your life.
I paid a lot of attention to how my feet felt placed on the floor and where they were in relation to the free-throw line. I bent my knees slowly and felt the flex in my calfs, my knees, my quads and my hips and felt the weight of the ball as I positioned myself to shoot. I noticed the tension and release in my body as I let the ball roll off of my fingertips and head towards the net. I paid great attention to where my arms and fingers were focused once I let go of the shot; where my eyes moved once I let go of the ball.
But those are just the physical components. I was also paying attention to the messages I was saying to myself in my head as I was shooting the ball; "you probably won't make this", "there's no way this is going in " . Some of the time I was correct. Some of the time I was not. However, the thoughts that I was having directly contributed to my experience of the activity.
This is the important point that I would like to emphasize: how you approach your interactions and whether you are mindful or not about it can greatly impact not only the experience but also the outcome. Ask yourself this, "Am I really living my life in the now or am I always thinking about other things that need to be done? Do I ever really just experience what is happening right now? ".
I hope that you are living mindfully but if you would like to learn more, please don't hesitate to reach out and ask. Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out what you engage mindfully with and what areas of your life could benefit from more mindfulness.
Until next time,