Thursday, September 13, 2007

Embrace Failure?


Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson, blogging at Lone Star Ball:

to a degree the physical tools or minor league stats go completely out the window the first time you face Vlad Guerrero or Mariano Rivera. Only guys who can learn and use failure as a tool succeed in baseball long term.
it takes some guys 2 weeks to make their adjustment that lasts a career, while other guys never get it. Juan Dominguez had better stuff than [Robinson] Tejeda
Not to be overlooked is the body language of players while they're in the element. You can tell who is comfortable in their role by how they stand, walk around, fidget, breathe, and stare down the situation. Looking at Gabbard pitch through a bit of discomfort (and be really effective meanwhile) is an example of that- he's not intimidated by any situation- and a testament to his personal competitive drive.
Re: the guys who never get it

Could they be afraid to admit they are not fully ready to succeed on day one in the major leagues? Could they be trying to protect either their self-image, and/or their spot on the major league roster(which they [wrongly] fear they would lose if they are not ready to succeed on day one)? And could this fear induce them to never accomplish the learning and the growth which is necessary for them to fully reach their potential?

Dr. Albert Ellis died a couple of weeks ago. He was giant in the field of psychology, as he invented Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. Thankfully, REBT eclipsed the primitive Freudian therapies which were being used in the mid twentieth century. A story of Dr. Ellis using failure as a learning tool:
Even more important to the young Albert Ellis was his shyness around women. He flirted with them in Bronx Botanical Garden near his home, but he never approached them. Instead he made up all kinds of excuses to avoid doing so because he was scared of rejection.

At the age of 19, he gave himself a homework assignment when he was off from college. He went to Bronx Botanical Garden every day that month, and whenever he saw a woman sitting alone on a park bench, he would sit next to her, which he wouldn't dare do before. He gave himself one minute to talk to her, calming his fears by saying silently to himself, "If I die, I die. Screw it, so I die."

He didn't die.

He found 130 women sitting alone that month on park benches. He sat next to all of them, whereupon 30 got up and walked away. He spoke to the remaining 100 — for the first time in his life — about the birds and the bees, the flowers, books, whatever came to mind.

Al later said, "If Fred Skinner, who was then teaching at Indiana University, had known about my exploits, he would have thought I would have got extinguished, because of the 100 women I made one date — and she didn't show up!

"But I prepared myself philosophically, even then, by seeing that nobody took out a stiletto and cut my balls off, nobody vomited and ran away, nobody called the cops. I had 100 pleasant conversations and with the second 100 I got good and made a few dates.

"I used techniques I later developed into Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy on myself by thinking philosophically and differently. Nothing [such as the pain of rejection or failure] is awful or terrible, it's just a pain in the ass. That's all it is.

"There's no horror in being rejected. I forced myself uncomfortably to do what I was afraid of, the opposite of what phobics do, because whenever they're afraid of innocent things, they beat it the hell out of there and then never get over their fears.

"They increase their phobias, as I at first did. In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy I combined thinking and philosophy for the first time with feeling — emotion — and also with behavior therapy, which I got from John B. Watson, Fred Skinner and others.
Dr. Ellis could've fearfully and stubbornly insisted he was already as interpersonally competent and desireable as a smart woman might ever want. Thus he might never have accomplished the learning and growth, and he might have blamed an entire gender for failing to notice his wonderful qualities. And he might not have lived as full a romantic life as he - in his actual, rejection-filled life - did.

In Judaism, using failure as a learning tool can be a spiritual concept: Teshuva. Yanki Tauber explains:
It is our spiritual self that persists in the belief that the past can be redeemed. It is our connection with the spiritual essence of our lives that grants us the capacity for teshuvah--the capacity to "return" and retroactively transform the significance of past actions and experiences.
[For example,] you have an argument, lose your cool, and speak those unforgivable words. The next morning you're friends again, agreeing to "forget what happened." But you don't forget. You're horrified by the degree of your insensitivity; you agonize over the distance that your words have placed between the two of you. Your horror and agony make you realize how sensitive you truly are to each other, how much you desire the closeness of the one you love. You have reached back in time to transform a source of distance and disharmony into a catalyst for greater intimacy and love.

On the material surface of our lives, time's rule is absolute. But on its spiritual inside, the past is but another vista of life, open to exploration and development with the transformative power of teshuvah.

So, if I understand this:

You intend a fastball go to the outside part of the plate. Instead, it goes over the middle, and is hit for a game-winning, walk off home run. You were on the mound at the moment your team was defeated.

The next day, feeling a dose of guilt which a Rabbi could appreciate, you endeavor to learn from your mistake via analyzing the physical flaw in your delivery; and/or the flaw in your concentration; and/or the philosophical/religious/narcissistic flaw which led to tensely "guiding" your pitch - as opposed to naturally cutting it loose - and thus trusting the physical instincts and gifts God gave you, as well as trusting the plan God has for your life and for all existence. Hmmm. I believe that about covers it.

You correct the physical flaw; then improve your concentration; then revamp your purpose in life: from a narcissistic "what will other people think" fear of not receiving love and attention from others, to a grounded religious belief that God's love is always enveloping you - including an understanding that you express love for God via using your God-designed gifts to meet your God-designed challenges - and while having faith that God doesn't give us challenges we cannot handle.

This lifts the narcissistic plague which was causing you to - in complex sporting language: choke, ahem - just as bad as Doug Christie ever choked an open jumper. However, no longer! The pressure is lifted: you either have the God given talent to naturally throw pitches on the corner - which is wonderful; or you don't have that talent because God didn't actually intend you to conquer this challenge - which is also wonderful to know, because now you can get on with discovering the challenges God actually intends you to conquer.

Either way: the pressure is off. You get to play freely and naturally - without worry. Your enlightened state aids competitive concentration, as well as aiding the learning and perfecting of fundamental pitching techniques. Excellent! Or, rather: Praise God!

If I'm still understanding this:

You have reached back in time to transform a source of tension and failure into a catalyst for enlightenment and love.

on its spiritual inside, the past is but another vista of life, open to exploration and development with the transformative power of teshuvah.
Judaism rocks - at least as much as Tony LaRussa. It would be excellent if you could accomplish this exploration and development and transformation in the twenty-four hours before the next game, as you might again be called on to pitch to Manny Ramirez in the ninth inning. L'Chaim!

Alice (the mad [semi-Jewish?] housewife living in Austin, TX) discusses using failure as a tool of learning and growth:

little good ideas #6: fail

One of my favourite ideas is, if you don’t know failure then why have you been aiming so low?

Why, indeed?

Can we wholeheartedly embrace failure? Can we enthusiastically seek it? Can we welcome it as a gift? Can we welcome it as a pathway: to learning; to growth; and even to accomplishment, fulfillment and satisfaction? Or even as a pathway to a deeper sense of the infinite?

Unless we bump against failure, how can we know the maximum we can accomplish? If we bump against failure, we can embrace the end of our day with satisfaction. We can say: "This day, we accomplished all that we could." We can be fulfilled, and be content with our day's work.

More Alice:
Failure is a normal part of life. Life is about growth. The only way you can avoid failure is by only doing things you already know how to do. Hence, no growth.

Another of my favourite ideas is, you haven’t failed until you stop trying. Obviously with that one it’s important to have another skill, knowing when to give up. Some people don’t even realise that’s a skill.

It’s a good idea to consider the implications of failure before doing something.

Alice's words remind me of something Steven Den Beste wrote about intentionally engineering failure as a pathway to success. Den Beste wrote that young engineers are sensitive about failure, for they are sensitive about being successful engineers who can be promoted to higher pay grades. Conversely, veteran engineers appreciate any other engineer for pointing out a failure or a glitch. Veteran engineers understand that failure is the pathway to success.

Failure is the pathway to success for major league baseball players; and for shy future famous psychologists; and for Rabbis; and for mad Austin housewives; and for enlightened engineers. Is failure the pathway to success for all of us?

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