What my tennis coach taught me about change

tennis serve

How can reading a blog help you stop the madness?

It can’t.

You can’t learn to play tennis by reading, either. You’ve got to play.

I took tennis lessons once. The coach asked me to show him my serve. I hit a few. I looked over and saw him shake his head. “We have a lot of work to do,” he said.

First, he had me put my racquet down and practice tossing the ball. He showed me what I was doing wrong. I was bending my elbow, causing the ball the ball to go behind me where I couldn’t hit it well. He showed me how to toss it right. “Keep that elbow straight,” he said. He watched me toss the ball until I did it correctly. “There,” he said. “Now toss it that way two thousand times, then it’ll be automatic.”

My tennis coach understood how to effect change. First, he had to break down the process of serving a tennis ball into parts small enough for me to focus. Just the toss. Then, he knew that to break old bad habits and create new ones it is necessary to repeat the new habit over and over again. How many times? I don’t know if two thousand times is the precise number necessary. Suffice it to say, it’s a lot.

So, if you take this process and apply it, not to serving a tennis ball, but to the way to handle madness, you can see there’s a lot of work to do. First, you must know what sanity is and compare it to what you’ve been doing. You have to know how to do it right to know what you’re doing wrong. Then you have to practice doing it right, over and over again, until it’s automatic.

Let’s say you’re an alcoholic. You’ve gone to AA and gotten a list of phone numbers of recovering people you can call whenever you feel like drinking. They’ll talk you out of it. So, what you got to do is to call them when you have what passes for a reason to drink. It’s a very simple operation, as simple as tossing a tennis ball while keeping your arm straight. If you call them once, you’ve achieved a small victory. If you call them two-thousand times, you’ve changed a bad habit into a good one. It may now be automatic.

It would take me about less than half an hour to toss a tennis ball correctly two-thousand times, thus creating a good habit quite easily. It’s not so easy when you train yourself to call your AA friends. You would have to have two-thousand urges to drink and two-thousand phone calls. That would take years. This is one reason why so many people relapse, so many people say change is impossible, and so many people give up. But, change is possible. It just takes persistence.

By the way, my tennis coach went on to show me other things I could use to improve my game, but what really stuck with me was how to perfect the toss. That was the only thing I learned from those tennis lessons. It turns out, that’s all I needed to learn so that I could beat the people I was likely to play. If I ever turn pro, I’ll have to see the tennis coach again to learn the right way to actually hit the ball. The same thing goes with learning to stop the madness. Very small changes, if they’re the right changes, can make a huge difference. But, you’ve got to play.

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