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What Really Solves the Y#ps

In my last blog, we examined some aspects of the Y#PS. We discussed how emotions from the past can be attached to the present and even projected into the future—which can interfere with our current performance and make things that were previously second nature seemingly impossible.

Let’s take the example of baseball player Steve Sax who delivered a great first season (1982) with the LA Dodgers. He was both an All-Star and the National League Rookie of the Year.

In the 1983 home opener, Sax was involved in a play where Expo player Andrew Dawson hit a triple. Sax, who was unaware that Dawson stopped at third, made a poor throw to home, allowing Dawson to score. Afterward, he described it as a “normal error”, but one that he couldn’t stop thinking about. This pattern continued, with Sax committing 30 puzzling errors in the 1983 season. Most of these errors were on routine throws on ground balls to second base. During their career, a professional second baseman makes thousands of these throws.

Sax’s errors became so notorious that some fans wore helmets with signs that said “Throw it here Steve!” Sadly, his throws did sometimes actually land in the stands! Steve had gone from easily making routine plays to dreading the ball even coming his way.

When something becomes stuck in our minds, it is a signal that an experience from the past is attached to the present moment. I can only imagine what went through Sax’s mind.

“I’m Rookie of the Year! A player that accomplished doesn’t make plays like that!”

“What the heck just happened?”

Usually, when things like this happen it is some version of “they found me out, I’m done”.

Then comes the projection/prediction into the future.

“If I can’t throw the ball to first, I’ll be out of baseball, then I’ll be living under a viaduct begging for money hoping no one recognizes me ever again.”

This may seem like an extreme reaction, but for some reason going to the worst-case scenario paradoxically alleviates some of the tension of the struggle.

As some of you know, Sax was able to overcome his issue. In the middle of his notorious 1983 season, his father was very ill. During one of the last discussions with his father, Sax describes his dad asking him a series of questions:

“Can you drive a car? [Yes.] Can you judge distance? [Yes.] You can speak clearly so you don’t have a mental block,” his dad said. “What you have is a temporary loss of confidence.”

This talk worked. Sax played 15 more years and never had the y#ps again.

He understandably assumed that his problem had been a simple lack of confidence that could be fixed through a mental/cognitive (i.e. logical) approach like the one his dad had used with him.

However, when Sax subsequently tried that strategy with other players plagued with the y#ps, it failed. Sax mistakenly thought the solution stemmed from the advice itself while he missed the fact that this conversation with his dad was also profoundly emotional.

Sax needed to hear from his dad that he was both accepted and that he could fix his throwing issue. He needed to hear that his dad believed in him. The feelings created in this conversation gave Sax the opposite emotional experience of the one that started the y#ps. What a beautiful thing!

In my work, I know that new emotional experiences can create renewed belief in ourselves. We don’t all have fathers to give them to us, but we can also intentionally work on creating them for ourselves.

I work with clients every day helping them discover how what they think, and feel can impact their present experience. I also help them to untangle what feelings are about the present moment and which may be primarily about the past. Understanding the difference creates new emotional experiences and in turn, opens new levels of performance.

John is on Twitter at @JPBJR800 and on LinkedIn as John Burns.

John Burns serves as ReThink’s Senior Consultant and Performance Advisor. His life passion is optimal human performance. John was one of the most consistently profitable options floor traders at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and as a competitive amateur golfer has been often ranked as a top-20 Illinois amateur golfer. In addition to his role with ReThink, he trades several portfolios across multiple global markets employing several fundamental and technical ideas.

For John’s full bio, click here.

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