You want it so much. You know you can do it. You focus all of your energy on it. Could it be that by not focusing on it, you might achieve it?
Here’s what’s going on in the video. It’s a basketball drill. Each player has a basketball (logical) and a tennis ball (less logical). The drill is to dribble the basketball with one hand while tossing the tennis ball up and down with the other hand. Hint: this is a basketball camp so dribbling should be easier than juggling a tennis ball.
Which ball are most players focusing on?
The tennis ball. “But this is basketball camp, aren’t they supposed to be learning how to dribble better?” Yes, of course.
What they’re learning is to direct their main focus, their conscious attention, on the tennis ball while the basketball dribbling is happening in the background and subconsciously.
The tennis ball takes more concentration for them to juggle so, with their eyes, they’re looking at the tennis ball and not paying attention to what they’re really supposed to be learning, which is how to dribble better. But it’s not just how to dribble better, it’s dribbling without thinking about it, it’s dribbling without realizing you’re dribbling.
If they learn to dribble without paying attention to it, then their minds (and eyes and arms and legs and hands) are freed up to do other things (see who’s open, pivot this way, etc.). See how that works? Simple, right?
“That’s great, basketball dude, but how does this help me in my real life?”
Let’s take something people really struggle with: meditation.
Meditation is what you’re supposed to be doing: clearing your mind, getting your conscious mind out of the way so your subconscious mind can get to work. Blah blah blah. I hear you. Let’s make some numbered points for clarity:
- Meditation is the basketball.
- Focusing on your breath, for example, is the tennis ball.
While you’re focusing on whatever technique you prefer (focus your attention on your breath or maybe focus on the space around your body or below your nose, whatever, it doesn’t matter–this is the tennis ball), you’re out of your own way to do what you’re supposed to be doing: getting your conscious, everyday thoughts out of the busy path to let the unconscious through (dribbling the basketball).
Wait a minute, this is a trick!
Yes, it’s a bit of a trick. You’re tricking your simple conscious mind to focus on something other than the task at hand. I know, it would rather focus on dribbling the ball. It thinks you need it to dribble (you don’t). Here’s some bad news for your conscious mind (don’t tell it this): it doesn’t do meditation. Your conscious mind just needs to get out of the way. How do you get out of the way? Focus it on something else.
Don’t worry, your subconscious mind can handle the trickery–it welcomes it. Your conscious mind is a bit clueless here, that’s OK. The subconscious is thrilled to get that noisy, boisterous and meddling conscious mind out of the way even for a few minutes so it can do what it does best: focus on your true direction.
Don’t quite know where to start?
You could get a basketball and tennis ball to see what’s happening, but if you’re trying meditation, just try focusing on your breath. Set a timer, start with just 5 minutes and close your eyes, maybe get some earplugs or find a quiet place where you won’t be bothered and put all of your focus on your breath. In and out, in and out, follow it through your body. If thoughts of grocery lists and end-of-year taxes come up, just let them go by and return to your breath.
5 minutes of focusing your mind on the tennis ball will do wonders for your basketball dribbling. Before you know it, you’ll be dribbling (and meditating) without even realizing you’re doing it.
Advanced Lesson: try the tennis ball and basketball with your eyes closed.
- Possible: focus on this
- Impossible: focus on this and that
- Repossible: focus on this while doing that