When I was a kid, my mom planted a seed into my head that later became the entire philosophy of how I approach my sports and academics: “we can’t control our environment; we can only control how we react to our environment.”
I was known for being a hot-tempered person who was really good at giving people the cold shoulder when things—namely sports and academics—didn’t go my way. Still to this day, I’m told people find my presence intimidating when they first interact with me.
That passion, high-tempered or not, lent itself well to driving me to excel at sports and academics. However, all the angry pressure I put on myself eventually took a toll on my mental and physical health.
No matter how unsustainable, I let anger about my surroundings or circumstances drive who I was by means of my outward performance, to which I tied my personal value.
During my hockey days, I idolized Carey Price.
Despite him being a man playing for the NHL—two things which I cannot accomplish nor to which I can relate—he represented everything I wanted to be as a hockey goalie.
My dad and I spent hours upon hours after games analyzing the saves I did and didn’t make, plays my teammates executed perfectly or plays resulting in my having to ‘stand on my head,’ and how the game could have gone any differently than it had.
No matter what conclusions we came up with as ‘pro-sports analysts’ for whatever midget team I was playing for, it always boiled down to this: no matter how many great saves I made or failed to make, the outcome of the first shot at net couldn’t impact the result of the next shot at the net—unless I let it.
This is how Carey Price plays. No matter who’s shooting, no matter from where, and no matter whether the puck went behind that red line, Carey Price approached every shot with the exact same stoic, level-headed mindset. This resonated with me a lot.
As I progressed, I implemented that same strategy. It taught me to never underestimate a shot, but to also never overestimate one.
Instead of being angry about the puck passing by that red line behind me or being excited about the legendary glove save I just made, I acknowledged that it happened, and I reset. This allowed me to focus wholeheartedly on putting my best, equal effort into every save, which let me save significantly more shots than before. My game improved dramatically after that.
I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t have games where I smashed my stick against the net or threw my equipment across the dressing room, but I had a much better method for remaining calm to deal with the next shot by not taking it personally.
What I didn’t realized at the time was how I was setting the foundation for approaching every life event with a balanced perspective, no matter how polarized my emotions were.
These foundations came back around to help me when I became severely burnt out from academics well into my second year in university.
I’ve had more than my fair share of exams, some marks making me jump for joy and others having me cry on the floor. One thing remained consistent throughout them all: no matter the outcome, I was slowly becoming incapable of putting even a basal level of effort into my academics, after years of anger-driven achievement, salted with isolation due to COVID-19.
Then, in my third year, I stumbled across the philosophy of stoicism. I connected the dots of how I used to play hockey and how it could help me see the biggest source of consistency in achievement for my marks without the total burnout.
The philosophy of stoicism—embodying a calm and level-headed approach to one’s life, despite polarized emotions about events out of one’s control—grounded me and taught me you may not have control over the events in their life, but you do have control over your reaction to those events. It was just like my mom told me all those years ago.
In using hockey as an analogy, every exam is a shot. No matter whether I achieve a 97 per cent or a 25 per cent on the previous test, I go into the next one with a level head and a calm mindset. It doesn’t matter if I think the test is going to be easy or difficult, nor how much of my grade it’s worth. I approach them all the same.
It can still result in less-than-optimal grades here and there, but this lifestyle change taught me to not let it drag me down for the next assessment, or become overcome with anger, because letting that outcome—whether good or bad—influence my mindset going into the next exam impacted my grade more than any lack of studying could.
In both sports and academics, the principles of stoicism taught me to have temperance toward my achievements—or failures—and have allowed me to pick up and try again with the same vigor as the previous attempt.
Eventually, my parents’ wisdom about approaching each obstacle without judgement of previous outcomes helped me let go of my anger-driven achievements and treat each event in my life as an opportunity, rather than a hardship. Unbeknownst to me—and maybe even them—their advice was based on the stoic principles I now implement in everything I do.
Stoicism has taught me so much about being indifferent about outcomes in my life—good, neutral, or bad. It’s given me freedom from the anger I held on to so stubbornly for so many years, which resulted in me having space to heal.
I’m allowed to have strong feelings about the outcomes, but by allowing myself that space then turning it off before facing the next obstacle, I can put my genuine best effort into everything.
It’s not an easy concept at all, and I’m still practicing the skills, but it’s helped me rebound from some of the worst grades—and make saves in my life.
athlete, Grounded, Hockey, mindfulness, Stoicism, Student
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