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Muscle Memory

 

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From grade school through college, I grew up playing an array of team sports, from soccer, to track, to volleyball. The first team sport that really grabbed me was basketball. There was something uniquely exhilarating about sprinting up and down the court, facing off against someone of similar-ish stature, and often times having to root my feet and use my body as a human shield. This, of course, was done all in the name of stopping the other humans wearing the different colored jerseys from getting a little orange bouncy ball into my team’s basket. The camaraderie, the support, the blood, sweat, tears, the gnawing of mouth guards in between whistles and referee sign language, the green gatorade bottles, the sound of the buzzer, the last second shot. I loved it all.

One of my most vivid memories from the basketball days of my youth is standing at the free throw line for hours at a time. A moment of uninterrupted silence in a hushed gymnasium, just me and the basket. My free throw routine is still etched into my brain. I could do it at the drop of a hat if I needed to.

Foot shuffle. Triple bounce. Balance. Elbow. Eyes. Follow through.

That last part was the most important. So important, in fact, that coach would repeat it in practice time and time again. If ever I missed the shot, he’d be first in line to remind me why.

“You set up and took the shot, but you didn’t follow through. You dropped your arms as soon as you let go of the ball. Hold your position. Build muscle memory. The reason the ball keeps dropping is because you’re letting it. “

Follow through.
Follow through.
Follow through.
Follow through.

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But that’s just life, Right? An ongoing series of having to step up to the line and conquer. It’s just you and whatever you’re facing. You can want to put the ball in the basket, but wanting something only takes you so far before your willpower is on the line. If you don’t have the willpower to follow through, you’re going to keep missing the same shot. You might get lucky and sink a bucket occasionally, but do you really want to be notorious for shooting 42% from the free throw line? The role that willpower plays in accomplishing anything worth doing is paramount. You have to want it enough to do all of the work it takes, or the whole thing breaks down. If you don’t follow through, it doesn’t matter how much upfront work you did.

If I say I want to be a basketball player, and I buy a basketball, and a pair of high tops, and put a hoop in my driveway, and I wear my favorite player’s jersey, and carry my basketball around under my arm, that’s all well and good. But If I don’t practice, if I don’t take a few shots, if I don’t show up for the games, if I don’t follow through, then guess what? I don’t get to call myself a basketball player. I’m just a person in the stands who like to watch basketball.

That analogy works with just about everything. You’re either doing it, or you’re watching other people do it. There’s no sort of.

You can want to do something and say you’re going to do something until you’re blue in the goddamn face. You can sit there, and say you want to change your mindset, your habits, your shitty job, your relationships, the way you treat people, your goals, your health, your future, your life. You can SAY anything out loud, but that’s step one of like….fifty. You don’t get to do steps 1 through 49 and call it a day.

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And everyone has their own reasons for not following through, and sometimes they’re perfectly fine reasons. Sometimes money, location, circumstance, and timing are all factors. But sometimes, people aren’t following through simply because they’re afraid to face themselves. The easy way out is to lock your skeletons away in your room. Only so many skeletons can fit in the storage closet before you have to find a new home for them. Continuously rearranging your skeletons so nobody will see them is just the adult version of pushing food around your plate when you’re a little kid so your parents will think you ate more than you actually did.

You might get up from the table sooner, but you’ll go to bed hungry.

So if you want to walk around, holding a big, dumb basketball for no reason, be my guest. It might feel light and manageable at first, but eventually it’s going to drag you down. Bring that burden to your business meetings. Carry that weight through your love life. Tether that bad boy to your ankle like a ball and chain. With every step, you’ll be reminded that you had the chance to get it right and chose instead to be a prisoner to your own excuses.

OR…

You can start visualizing your life working out the way you want it to. Stay it out loud. Mean it. Start believing that you deserve to do better for yourself. Create new patterns. Pinpoint your weaknesses and form new routines. Hold yourself accountable. Recognize red flags. Admit when you’re not getting it right. Correct it. Get comfortable with uncomfortable. Practice. Don’t take any shit from yourself. It takes discipline. It takes dedication. It takes willpower. It takes muscle memory.

Foot shuffle. Triple bounce. Balance. Elbow. Eyes. Follow through.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 2.38.21 PMThe only person standing there, lined up perfectly to take that shot, but refusing to let go of the damn ball is you. The only person taking the shot but half-assing it with poor form is you. You know what else? That asshole in the stands trying to distract you by yelling “YOU SUCK!” is also you. So is the opponent boxing you out underneath the basket if you miss.

Do you get it yet? IT’S. ALL. YOU.

Quit acting like there’s a 7 nation army trying to stop you from being a better person, a better partner, a better lover, a better friend, a better son, a better daughter. You’re the only one who is going to stop you. If other people are trying, let them try. They don’t get to succeed. Your inner demons don’t get to stop you if you don’t let them. Your old ways don’t get to stop you if you don’t let them. Stop giving power to the things that are trying to control and destroy you. You’re not just handing over the ball, you’re handing over the entire game.

You’re stronger than that, and if you’re not, it’s time to get strong.

Step up to the line. Take the shot. Follow the fuck through. And then do it again, and again, and again, and again, for the rest of your life until your muscles remember what correct form feels like. Wait for the sweet moment where your arms are tired, and your body is sore and screaming. You’ll want to be lazy. You’ll want to quit. You’ll want to break your form, but your own muscle memory won’t let you.

You will have forgotten how to drop the ball.

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6 Comments

  1. Dad says

    Time and time again people look for excuses for their behavior or for the way they treat other people. Sometimes you have to stop looking for excuses and start looking in the mirror, there you will see the only person who can change you.

  2. This, as always, is wonderful. Definitely at a timely point for me, when some really dark thoughts have been entering into my subconscious and leaking into my very real conscious thoughts.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Thank you for reading and as always for your welcome feedback, Elise! I’m glad this reached you. 🙂 And whatever dark thoughts you’re battling, know that you have the power and strength to rise above them. You’re in the drivers seat, m’lady!!!

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