The physical act of playing tennis is not too difficult: run, swing, get the ball over the net. It is the mental aspect that really determines the wins and losses: losing concentration, being distracted with past poor performances, thinking ahead of the win. Lately when I have been playing I have tried to be aware of the points I have lost- was it due to my inattention/mistakes or because the other player was so much better?
I have played against really good players and they will outplay me most of the time. But, in general, my losses are due to my errors and those can be grouped into lack of concentration mistakes. I find that I will think of what has happened on the court in the previous point or what I would like to do in future points. I think about what I need to do after tennis, what is for dinner, what my day will be like the next day…. I might even think about a past conversation that occurred with my tennis partner or fellow tennis enthusiasts. Anything that is not related to watching the ball!
I realize that I have to change my strategy. I need to make an intentional choice that for each time I play, each game, each point, even each hit, I need to watch the ball and not think about anything else. Basic tennis 101. Sounds simple right?
Recently I was talking with a dear friend and she was sharing about a seminar she attended about anxiety: how do we work through anxiety- for ourselves, our children and those with whom we interact? After all, anxiety and stress are part of the human condition. We cannot so much eliminate those predicaments in life as much as we can reduce and learn to work with and through it.
Part of the seminar described the symptoms of anxiety as well as depression (the other side of the coin). Anxiety can be categorized as an over concern for the future while depression is concern about the past. Makes sense. We are anxious because we wonder if we will be able to pay the bills, our health will hold out, how our children will develop, what are our job prospects, even the outcomes of projects, etc. We can be depressed over failed relationships, missed opportunities, or wasted time- things that once were and are no longer.
In learning to push through anxiety and depression, one strategy is to learn to live in the present.
It made me think of the statement I heard from past teachers in my elementary school “Concern yourself with yourself and what you are doing.” Kids have a knack for rubber-necking- what is everyone else doing and why can’t I do it? They are concerned with everything else but what is before them.
It also made me think of Jesus’ wise words in Matthew (6: 25-34) “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Jesus didn’t say that life would be a bed of roses and that all anxiety or depression would be gone. He reminds us that as we live in this world, we need to live day by day, relying on Him for the portion that we need for today. Nothing more. Nothing less.
The manna of existence. The ancient Hebrew writers tell the lesson of living day to day with God’s provision. You may remember the story: The Israelites have been rescued from Egyptian slavery. They are on a journey to the Promised Land. They just witnessed an incredible rescue story, but not too long into the journey they start remembering their past- not the cruelty and suffering-but all the food they had to eat. They seem to have forgotten the crying, weeping and wailing for deliverance from slavery. I think that there was some selective memory going on.
God provided them with miraculous food each day: manna from Heaven. There was just enough for each person’s needs for a given day. One couldn’t plan ahead and store over. Anything not used in the gathered day would spoil. The only change was that one could gather twice as much on Friday, in preparation for the Sabbath when no gathering or work was to be done. In essence the physical manna was a reminder that one cannot carry over the past into our current day, nor spoil our present with plans for a future that may or may not occur.
Being the planner that I am, I think of past times when I was so into organizing the future- what might be occurring in a week, month or year ahead, that I missed on what was happening that day. Or I would be up at night revisiting past conversations, actions or choices. It takes discipline to set aside the looking ahead and behind and to concentrate on just what is in front of me.
I have found the following helpful:
1) Do one thing at a time. Trying to do multiple tasks does not work. Oh, it might work for a while but eventually what you are trying to achieve is totally ineffective. Plus, there is the frustration in knowing that each task only received a half-done job. One time, in my single years, I tried dating three different guys at once. Not doable. Disastrous results. Needless to say, I was not good girlfriend material for them. (The only saving grace was that they all had the same first name!)
2) Do it slowly. I have a hard time with this one. I am always on the “get it done and move on” mentality. I don’t even walk up and down steps but rather gallop. Our boys would tell each other, “If you want something done thoroughly, ask Dad. If you want it done fast, ask Mom.” Sometimes I wonder, on to what am I moving? Love the journey is emblazoned on a bicycle print pillow in our family room as a reminder to me: when I take time to enjoy the process, I then enjoy the result so much more.
3) Tell yourself, “I am doing this now…” Sometimes I find I have to give myself “a talkin’ to”. I have to say out loud what I am doing. If my eye or thoughts wander and I see/think of something else that I need/want to do, I will tell myself, “No. Finish this first. Then….” I keep a list handy and just add to it. That way, I won’t forget about the idea but I can let it go until I finish the first thing.
What about you? How are you with being present? Do you spend time being anxious? Or depressed? Do you find yourself reliving past mistakes or obsessing about future endeavors? What can you do to be present?
I know that I need to concentrate and keep my eye on the ball.