Archive for category LIFE LESSONS

The Older You Are, The Happier You Become

old people are happier

old people are happier

This article summarizes research claiming old people are happier than young people. No concrete explanations why…just some guesses:

Despite our culture’s obsession with youth, it turns out that the 20s and 30s are generally a very stressful time for many young adults who are plagued by anxiety and depression…They noted that there are many pressures unique to this life phase including establishing a career, finding a life partner and navigating financial issues.

But what makes it so amusing to me are the following facts about the people sampled:

Participants were contacted via landline, meaning the experiences of people who have only cellphones were not included in the results.

In addition, people were excluded from taking part in the survey if they had dementia, lived in a nursing home or had a terminal illness. That means the elderly participants were, on the whole, fairly healthy, which might influence their sense of well-being.

Finally, everyone involved in the survey lived in sunny San Diego. It is possible that aging in Michigan could be very different than aging in Southern California.

The study had major implications, especially considering that within just a few years, more people on the planet will be over 60 than under 15.

Here are some more excerpts:

Yes, your physical health is likely to decline as you age. And unfortunately, your cognitive abilities like learning new skills and remembering things is likely to suffer too.

But despite such downsides, research suggests that your overall mental health, including your mood, your sense of well-being and your ability to handle stress, just keeps improving right up until the very end of life. Consider it something to look forward to.

In a recent survey of more than 1,500 San Diego residents aged 21 to 99, researchers report that people in their 20s were the most stressed out and depressed, while those in their 90s were the most content.

The older people were, the happier they felt…“People who were in older life were happier, more satisfied, less depressed, had less anxiety and less perceived stress than younger respondents.”

People’s goals and reasoning change as they come to appreciate their mortality and recognize that their time on Earth is finite.

“When people face endings they tend to shift from goals about exploration and expanding horizons to ones about savoring relationships and focusing on meaningful activities. When you focus on emotionally meaningful goals, life gets better, you feel better, and the negative emotions become less frequent and more fleeting when they occur.”

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Deshun Wang’s Inspirational Outlook

Hahaha. This 80-year-old has a terrific, upbeat attitude about how to live a life. Check out his “Hot Grandpa” modeling moves in the first 30 seconds of the video below.

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Rafaela Silva Rises From Slum To Olympics Gold

Perhaps you have heard of Rafaela…she just won the women’s gold medal in Judo. Her rise is a great achievement worth appreciating, and this 2014 video spells it out beautifully.

Her story is outstanding: raised in the City of God favela (shanty town or slum), she played and fought in the streets. She was always in trouble. But at age eight, her father took her to a local judo academy, and her coach saw her talent and cultivated it. He said she was used to seeing crime, drug dealers, dead bodies. She knew that the struggle in the dojo (training gym) was nothing compared to that.

She became so good that she competed in the 2012 Olympics in London. But she was disqualified there for using a leg move that had recently been declared illegal. She almost considered quitting judo after that…and the racist words hurled at her. But her judo friends and coaches supported her and encouraged her to stay with it…then she became the world champion in 2013 and the Olympic champion in 2016.

Lots of young people want to follow her and be like her. Silva tells them to be themselves and follow their own dream. Good advice.

Another great part of this story involves the gym she went to that was founded in 2003 by Flavio Canto, who won a bronze medal in men’s judo at the 2004 Olympics. He was a Brazilian who had grown up partly in England and the US and saw the extremes of rich and poor in Rio and wanted to do something about it. So he offered free judo classes to kids from the favelas. He saw that the discipline and achievements in the dojo led to improved performance, values and attitudes in all the rest of the kids’ lives. In school and at home, judo’s teachings of bravery, determination and humility were transforming the kids. They were improving and bettering themselves. Canto’s dojos are in five different favelas catering to around 1000 students.

“In life we always seek for an activity that makes you complete. Until then my life was all about judo and the Olympic dream. When the Instituto Reação came into my life I found a new way, which made me feel accomplished. This social project prepared me to leave the competition behind. In my last years as an athlete I no longer felt so motivating to have results and winning medals. I knew within me was born a desire to do more important and relevant things,” said Flávio.

“When this project started I began to live the reality of the slums and that shocked me a lot. I realized that there were generations getting lost to violence, in the drug dealing war. It was common to see young boys of all ages carrying weapons very close to our academy here in Rocinha. I still wasn’t sure if my intention of bringing sport and education (literacy) closer to these kids could work,” he explains.

There is no doubt about it now. He certainly has made a difference way beyond discovering and training an Olympics gold medalist.

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Freerunning For Calm Amidst Death And Tragedy

I have written about freerunning/parkour before. But this example is much more powerful. It talks about some young men in Kashmir, where I have visited decades ago, before tourists were beheaded and military conflicts were so common. These youths are angry and scared. But after learning and practicing their art, they are calm. Watch it for the context, not the beauty of the moves. And feel blessed that you do not live there.

“The long political conflict in Kashmir has taken tens of thousands of lives, and in July 2016, at least 30 people were killed by armed forces. Trust between Kashmiris and the Indian state that controls them continues to decline, especially among youth who’ve seen violence their entire lives. “The generation that was born and brought up post-nineties, they didn’t have a childhood at all,” says the human rights activist Khurram Parvez. This short documentary, Freerunner, follows a young man and his troupe of friends who practice parkour in the Kashmir Valley. The film is part of a larger project on youth who grew up in a militarized Kashmir; you can learn more about the project here .”

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How I Improved My Posture

Poor Posture by Paul Rogers

Poor Posture by Paul Rogers

Here is a predictable article about posture: how important it is, how to adjust chairs and computers to improve it, consequences of slouching and carrying book bags on just one shoulder.

But it really hits home for a couple of reasons. First of all, my father was a chiropractor who told me all the time to stand up straight. He knew better than most about the ills that resulted from slouching. And not just physical problems, but mental ones too.

In fact I was quick to tell my closest friend that he was looking like an old man, because he was slouching so much. But he kept doing it.

And then as I aged, my wife would sometimes point out that I was not standing up straight. But I kept doing it too. I asked my doctor about it at my last annual physical, and he had a simple–but maybe not correct–explanation. He said that I could see that I was shorter by more than an inch. This was because seven decades of activity and defying gravity has worn down the discs between my spinal vertebrae. AND I WAS LEANING OVER (SLOUCHING), BECAUSE IT FELT MORE COMFORTABLE.

I definitely was uncomfortable a lot from a stiff back. He said that maybe I had some arthritis creeping in. I bought a new mattress, and that was a considerable improvement: it decreased my morning back discomfort. So did hot morning showers.

But then a strange event happened. My daughter emailed me that she was very disturbed that I was bending over all the time. She noticed my slumping during her last two visits. I immediately admitted that I felt old doing it, didn’t like what I looked like in the mirror, and gave her the story from my doctor about the thinner discs and arthritis.

But it still bothered her…and she asked if she could help? I told her to text me now and then to remind me to force myself to stand tall. I would picture those professional dancers who look like puppets with strings attached to their heads, pulling them practically off the ground.

And guess what. I started finally to remember. Something my daughter triggered allowed me to completely change my behavior. I was suddenly noticing all the time…whether when washing dishes, showering, walking, sitting at the computer,etc…that I needed to stand tall. And miraculously, some of the discomfort and stiffness in my bank began to lessen and go away. It has been amazing!

Why my father’s words and my wife’s observations–all conveyed gently and with loving concern–failed to lead to any change is troubling to me. But maybe now that I am older, the terrible prospect of becoming OLD!!! was enough to finally frighten me into action.

Fighting inertia and lifelong habits is always a major, sometimes insurmountable, challenge. For two or three weeks now, I have been able to modify my patterns. I will keep searching for a transferable explanation that I can utilize in other situations, where I wish to alter my behavior.

Let me know if you have any insights.

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Adapt Or Die

One of my greatest strengths–no brag, just fact–is my ability to alter my actions as my circumstances change. I have done it in business by creating new products to serve new markets or killing products that were in dying markets. I am now in my fifth or sixth career, learning new skills in the evenings to move out of fading or limited industries. I have relocated to the country from Manhattan, when I decided the Big Apple was too congested. I stopped eating high-cholesterol foods, when I discovered my blood fat was approaching likely heart attack levels. Somehow I can adapt. Not everyone can. Not sure it’s a gift…but it’s definitely a blessing.

Since I acquired a tennis elbow from too much activity, I have felt discomfort or pain in my arm every time I hit a backhand. A one-hand backhand. I love the beauty of the one-hander. I like being part of this minority: Just one in five professional male players uses the one-hander. 80% of pro and Challenger male players use a two-hander. Only two women of the top 50 WTA pros use a one-hander. From being pretty much the only way to hit a backhand prior to 1970, the shot has gradually been eclipsed by the sturdier, more dependable double-hander.

Whatever the reasons, I discovered that when I used two hands for a backhand, there was hardly any pain in my backhand shots. Voila! This was a terrific discovery. So for the last four matches, after not playing but once in two weeks over Thanksgiving holidays, I tried two hands. I hit some real slow loopers that often went out, but sometimes stayed in. At least I could do it. Fun without pain.

Yesterday I took a lesson and was able to practice a two-hander for the first time. Fifteen minutes. And some of the shots were pretty good. In and low and a bit of pop. I was adapting again. Giving up on the beauty of a one-hander and adding a another obstacle to my game. I had to forget about my 8-9 years of tennis playing and start acquiring a new skill in addition to all the other techniques I am struggling to master…actually not master, just execute better.

What the hell.

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It’s All Relative

At the end of the summer, I was proud to boast that I had played tennis 18 times in 24 days…including two days with two matches each. But it was too much, and I acquired the infamous “tennis elbow.” Damn. I was playing so well, and now I was hurting. I felt pretty sorry for myself as my right arm had pains every time I hit the ball. I was envious of guys who had no injuries. I was disappointed that the top-level game I was playing (for me) had dropped drastically. I certainly didn’t want to take weeks or months off. Sucks. Even though it is only a game, I love the challenge, the exercise, the sweating and satisfaction. But it was a major setback.

Then I went to a college reunion and learned that one of my fraternity brothers there has cancer, and it is serious, and he may not make it to the next reunion in two years. Yes, at my age too many people are dying. So both college and high school reunions are every two or three years now.

Three weeks later I went back to Florida for my high school 75th Birthday Party. And again I met a classmate who just finished six months of chemo and was told that he is not likely to live more than two years and maybe as little as six months.

So it’s all relative, right? How can I bemoan a measly tennis elbow discomfort, when others my age are dying. No comparison. I am still playing sports and looking ahead to the possibility of 10-15 years of more life. I better not complain even the tiniest whimper. Yet we all forget these realities, when we want more money, time, success, happiness. We are all so greedy and unsatisfied. Is it just the nature of human beings to strive always for more?

I like to think that I am grateful much of the time. That I know this lesson well. That I am not as grasping or insensitive as many others who don’t even notice, much less care about, those who are less fortunate. But even I was disgusted with my injury. It took two trips to reunions to put life back in perspective.

How about you? Are you looking up enviously at those with more and better all the time? Or do you have the ability to look at those who have less and harder lives and feel blessed at your good fortune or wise decisions?

I can see how hard it is sometimes for me…even to make this confession. I came back from the second trip on the 16th of November, but couldn’t bring myself to write this post until now.

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Did I Overdue It?

From August 12th to September 4th is 24 days. I am proud to say that I played tennis 18 times. Hardly tired. Thrilled I could do it. At the end, on the day of my “big” tournament match (that I lost), my arm was hurting. Poor backhand technique, maybe a strain, tennis elbow or just too much of a push.

Since then I have held off playing some times, hate the idea that I might be out for weeks or months, doing exercises, resting…until I am invited to sub. Can’t just stop for two weeks and really give it a rest. Love the game too much. Afraid of not being able to play.

Great to have passions. Stupid to risk serious injury. But I write these words after playing last night and not being smart enough to cancel tomorrow’s scheduled game.

Why are we all so silly???

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Wrong Attitude For Winning

I have to laugh at myself yet again. Played in the B-level doubles quarter finals, attempting to defend our championship from the year before. Won the first set in a tie break, 7-5. At the beginning of the second set, I told my opponents that I felt sorry for them, losing such a close contest. WRONG! I remembered that I should have NO SYMPATHY, but a killer instinct instead. Too late…

We lost the next set 1-6…and the momentum. Up 2-0 in the third, then up 4-3 and serving. Then lost 4-6. I wish I could blame it all on my partner. But that wouldn’t be honest. I played poorly. Missed too many shots or hit “winners” that were returned. I felt awful.

My friends tried to cheer me up, but I was really disappointed. Then one kicked me in my emotional butt and reminded me about the refugees trying to reach Europe. I stopped feeling sorry for myself right away.

The first year I published my book of commercial photography, one talent was really pissed that the colors on his page were not satisfactory to him. He ranted and raved. At one point of frustration with his attitude, I pointed out that life could be worse, “Think of the boat people,” (who were drowning as they left Vietnam and Cambodia in flimsy, overloaded crafts). I never forgot his response: “Fuck the boat people! I don’t give a damn about them. I just want my page printed better!!!

How we all distort our priorities. Even me. I immediately felt better after being reminded about the refugees pouring into Europe these days. You’d think I could simply enjoy being able to play in a tennis match just days after hearing and writing here about an acquaintance who died six months or so after retirement and just two weeks after discovering he was sick. It’s not always that easy. We all have our thoughts and misplaced values…

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Life And Tennis Update

Well that was a big gap in writing anything. Longest since I started this site in April 2009. I was definitely in a funk about all the sad personal events as well as the global crises. But there is mostly good news.

I went to a second cardiologist who gave me a special new test for coronary disease and learned in 15 minutes that my blockages are right in the mid-point for people my age. In fact some arteries are only 15-20% blocked, while others are 30-40% blocked. Invasive surgery to look with a camera and possibly put in a stent is only done if the blockage is 80-90%. So no surgery necessary. That was a relief.

Being given the go-ahead to play as much tennis as I wanted–or could–I accepted invitations to substitute in other games in addition to my twice-a-week regular dates. But I overdid it a bit, playing six times in six days (twice–morning and afternoon–one day for 4+ hours total). That week stretched out to 10 times in 12 days, and I admit that I am sore and tired. The biggest problem is the 80-degree plus heat…because playing in the cooler, late afternoons (6 pm) is much easier.

Next challenge of course is to improve my game…a constant in my life.

Ten minutes ago I learned that a man I knew and respected–but haven’t spoken to in 11 years–retired at age 65 last June, only to discover in January this year that he had cancer. Didn’t even know it…and then he died two weeks later! So sad, so terrifying.

This is how life is…it’s not extraordinary. Today and last week the global stock markets are falling in huge ways, people are losing their life savings, there is panic and regret and fear of the future. Completely understandable.

All the more reason to enjoy and accomplish, while we have the chance. You can’t put off all the good times for the future, because you may not have a future. It’s just the way it is…

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90% Healthy

When I was divorced from my first wife in 1975, I felt like I joined half the human (American) brotherhood. I mean half of all marriages failed, and mine was merely another one of millions. Too bad that I thought my marriage would last my lifetime. Surprise!

On July 1st I had a similar realization: I learned that in spite of my healthy ways, and maybe due to bad genes, I not only had a PVC, but I also have coronary artery DISEASE! I have been in shock. I was reminded that I AM an American male, and after consulting two other doctors began taking a daily aspirin and statin pill. I was devastated. I am still stunned.

I have now had in the last two weeks more aspirins than in my entire life. I am no longer this incredibly healthy guy. Everyone I talk to has been taking statins for 10+ years. And as one friend said to help me rationalize and feel better, “You used to be 100% healthy. Now you are still 90% healthy!”

My uncle died of a heart attack at 51. My father had cholesterol counts in the 300s. My younger brother has high cholesterol and had a double bypass. So maybe my good health is only because I have watched my diet, stayed thin, exercised constantly. Still a shock to have anything wrong…which is exactly how most people my age live all the time. At least those who have survived this long.

My cardiologist said that some patients are so shattered by the psychological effects of learning what I learned that they opt for surgery just to find out how serious the artery is blocked. I don’t think I want to do that.

But then on Saturday the 11th, my dog friend Bella died. Two days later, my son-in-law died. He was only 50. Yesterday another friend in his late 40s had unexpected surgery. It has been a very sad and confronting time. I always say that life is fragile. No doubt about it these days.

Let’s see if I can play tennis this evening…have to stay active and healthy. The doc said exercise is essential, and there is no such thing as “too much” of it.

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Confronting Death And Illness

Bella resting

Bella resting

It’s been a confronting month with regards to health and exercise. I am still doing 5-15 minutes of something, whether push ups, flys, etc: yesterday was 1318 consecutive days. I have also been playing tennis 3-5 times a week…even 6 times one week this month.

But I also didn’t pass my annual physical EKG automatically…a PVC (premature ventricular contraction) that necessitated two stress tests, the second with radioactive isotopes to look at my heart muscle with a cat scan. The cardiologist meeting is coming up July 1st, but it sounds like it’s NOT life threatening. She said I could continue playing tennis and to just watch out for symptoms greater than being out of breath for 5-10 seconds after a tough point. One player told me it takes him a minute or two to recover.

I only needed to raise my heart rate during the tests to 124 before quitting after one more minute of fast walking. I went to 170 and 155, which was terrific for my age group. I also started taking a baby aspirin a day, and after two weeks of this, I will have had more of those pills than in my entire life. I do like the citrus flavor.

However I really mind being normal and having health issues like everyone else I know. I am not used to it. I am spoiled. I have been blessed with good genes and also consciously avoiding bad foods and habits. In fact my cholesterol went down again to 187 from 196 last year, 218 in 2008, and 237 in 2005, when I first learned I had a problem. Changing my diet and exercising more often has really paid off. But I still have a slight abnormal blockage in one artery it appears.

I know, I know…it’s better than most guys my age. And nothing worth mentioning compared to others with far more serious illnesses, like cancer. Even my dog has cancer, has received chemo treatments for months and has not eaten for almost two weeks now. I thought we might put her down this morning, but we decided to wait another day. These sick friends and relatives have upset me terribly. I have been down and in a funk, though not depressed. It’s so sad, and I hate feeling helpless.

My dog breed’s life expectancy is 12-13 years. Bella is 12 1/2, so she is right on schedule and has had a great life. I can live with her demise more easily. When my father died at 88, I felt like he had also enjoyed a good run. And I have already had 74 years, so I won’t complain. Though when I had my birthday in April, I realized I may have “just” another 10-15 years…until I was shook up in May by my physical.

But it is very upsetting when friends in their early 50s become seriously ill, like one who died a few years ago at 54. I know Life is not fair, but it still pisses me off to see randomness in action. Living is such an uncertain and fragile adventure. Another friend fell two weeks ago and landed on her chest and knees. No broken bones, but she might have hit her head and been seriously injured. Two days ago I fell over a curb inside a restaurant, where it was dark and there was a gap between the potted plants. Luckily I landed on my knees and hand and didn’t shatter my right, tennis wrist.

I never forget that I could be living in a war zone, or starving, or lacking water. My friends from California who stayed with me this weekend were thrilled to take a shower that lasted more than three minutes. We must all savor the good moments.

Bella on Father's Day

Bella on Father’s Day

I will miss many of those I had with Bella, as she chased tennis balls I hit and flushed pheasants I often missed. She has been a loving friend and companion. As the android said in Blade Runner: “Time to die…”

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How To Upgrade Your Life By Improving Your Tennis

Once again I find myself attempting to modify my tennis performance and seeing analogous challenges and obstacles off the court in my daily life. It shouldn’t be so hard to make changes in both worlds…but it is. I think I understand why. But I can’t accept it.

For example I watch tennis coach videos and take lessons in which I have been told for years to “keep eye on ball” and follow through. I struggle with both instructions. I look to see where the ball is going more than 65% of the time before I hit it, EVEN WHEN SERVING! And right from the beginning I was taught to complete my forehand with the racket touching my left shoulder…but it often ends up pointing over the net three feet in front of my body.

Ridiculous. But the facts.

Now I can blame improper muscle memory, ADD, eagerness to see the results, lack of concentration. I can say I started playing too late in life, haven’t practiced each stroke 10,000 times, or had a messed up childhood. A neuroscientist on the radio the other day said that if you lacked certain “normal” parts of your upbringing, the circuits in your brain don’t wire up so stably that you will function successfully as a late teen. If, for example, you were raised by a single parent, there is a greater likelihood of depression and suicide.

Other less traumatic early experiences certainly influence how we turn out as adults. However I believe we can overcome those childhood neural wirings. How to do that more easily and faster is the challenge I am facing.

Hitting a better forehand is not in the same league as suicide. Nor is my difficulty in resisting sugar. Others smoke, take harmful drugs, drink excessively, blurt out words they regret, abuse people though they know it is wrong. We learn what we “should” do. So why can’t we stop ourselves from taking actions that are bad for us or harmful to others.

There is a whole school of thought suggesting that the mind and body are connected. If you are having trouble with the former, affect it by focusing on the latter. For example if you are anxious, you can go to a shrink. But alternatively you can plunk your body on the floor, breathe slowly and meditate. That might also calm you down.

My forehand problem is already a body problem, and I see that the mental input is having almost no lasting effect. Changing old ingrained habits is way too difficult. Creating a new muscle memory pattern is a better approach, but it also needs to be accompanied by thousands of repetitions. I don’t see that the brain can change the body’s motions with only a new idea. I wish it could.

One coach says you have to take tiny steps that are more like progressive drills. Practice a bit of the stroke…then another fragment…still a third piece and then put them all together in a smooth motion.

Stopping smoking or drinking or eating too much food by going cold turkey (just ceasing all of the habit suddenly) is generally thought too difficult. Winding down the undesired action by cutting back gradually is a common approach. However I continue to read that people who lose weight generally put it back on. It’s too hard to give up those overlarge portions over time.

Why is that? Do we really as a culture eat excessively, because we want to be heavy, sick, unable to move comfortably and eager to shorten our lives with bad diets? We dull our senses to remove ourselves from the pain of the world…But those drinks relax us as well, make life more pleasant and less anxious. Some drugs actually enhance our senses.

So just hearing the words…even knowing and believing that you should change your actions… doesn’t seem like enough to easily do the trick. On the other hand, with education and media attention, some people have stopped smoking…or smoking as much…and others have changed their diets to become healthier. Millions haven’t.

The conclusion is that verbal advice usually doesn’t alter the recipient’s behavior permanently, even if change is a serious goal. It doesn’t happen in life and it is proving abysmally hard in tennis. If I can find the magic connection in which words and thoughts can modify my tennis actions, I will have a real edge in improving my behavior off the court.

For now I know to keep trying, believe that it is possible, practice small drills to create new muscle memory, cheer the few successes, never give up and accept that it takes years to do anything right. Then I will have a great tennis stroke and can start working on the rest of my life.

Now if I live to 100, everything will be perfect. Or I will die before I am perfect, but proud that I kept making the effort.

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Keep Moving

I went to the doctor this week to be examined for a possible hernia…or a kidney stone…or a tumor. I felt tenderness and slight discomfort after straining myself lifting weights. But after 17 days it had all gone away. My doctor is always supportive. He sees so many men my age who are in such worse shape that I always hear the same reaction: “You are doing fine, great…don’t worry about anything. Keep doing what you are doing.”

Then I mentioned how I had hurt my back as well and felt really uncomfortable rising from a bed or chair. How I couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes in one position while driving. And then I would reach the tennis court and start playing…and within minutes I wasn’t even aware of any problem. I wouldn’t even think about it until the match was over.

Movement is everything, the doc told me. Keep moving to improve blood flow, warmth, oxygen.

It reminded me of what I once read about the famous cellist, Pablo Casals, who was so arthritic he could barely move around, dress himself or use his hands. But then he would shuffle to the piano or cello, slowly arrange himself and start playing effortlessly and smoothly. His body would transform into suppleness and ease. The link above refers to Norman Cousins great book, Anatomy of an Illness, which illustrates the power of the body over the mind.

Here is someone else’s version of those passages:

The following is a description of the ninety year old musician Pablo Casals:

Upon rising in the morning,…Casals dressed with difficulty. He suffered from emphysema and apparent rheumatoid arthritis. “He was badly stooped. His head was pitched forward and he walked with a shuffle. His hands were swollen and his fingers were clenched.” Then, playing Bach on the piano before breakfast, Casal’s fingers unlocked, his back straightened, and he seemed to breath more freely. Next, playing Brahms, “his fingers, now agile and powerful, raced across the keyboard with dazzling speed. His entire body seemed fused with the music; it was no longer stiff and shrunken, but supple and graceful and completely freed of its arthritic coils.” Having finished at the keyboard, Casals stood up, straighter and taller than before. “He walked to breakfast with no trace of a shuffle, ate heartily, talked animatedly, finished the meal, then went for a walk on the beach.”

Tennis is my cello…should be a book title.

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Changing Challenges

I am constantly impressed by how incredibly difficult it is to change familiar habits, patterns and strategies. In fact it drives me crazy, when I experience this challenge constantly on the tennis court. It also makes me assume it is just as big an obstacle in daily life, whether we are talking about how to treat your loved ones better, make money, win friends, follow a new career path.

Somehow I believe intuitively it shouldn’t be so damn hard. But it definitely is for me. I took four tennis lessons in the last 30 days…I watched some videos from a different tennis guru that taught me a new serve and forehand and backhand…and I can’t make my body execute them 95% of the time. We are not even talking about a strategy, like lobbing instead of hitting a ground stroke. That I can remember to do sometimes, especially when I started playing with a lob queen and read after ungodly frustration that I should be lobbing back, instead of attempting a passing shot by the net man.

But it is almost impossible for me to make my arms follow though and bring that racket over my left shoulder. Or to complete a backhand in the (baseball umpire and Stan Wawrinka) “Safe” position. Why so tough? I don’t know.

I watch myself not able to perform as if I am an alien inside someone else’s body. I tell my self to follow through…and then I don’t. Or to turn sideways…and then don’t. Or to keep my eye on the ball EVEN WHEN I SERVE…and then I don’t! Unbelievable.

I have read that it is so hard to change habits (without trauma) that the best solution is to create a new habit. 10,000 swings or balls hit using the new habit. But who has time for that? Not me. I am playing tennis four times a week recently, so you’d think I am getting enough practice. I hit practice serves after the games. But it still isn’t happening. What will it take to make the change?

Is it just me? My athletic or aged pea brain? Is it so shriveled up that it can’t absorb new instructions? I would never believe that!

I know I have to keep trying. I know that I am driven to improve. I know that I have succeeded before to change careers, where I live, how I live (from city to country). So I am optimistic–even confident–that I can do it. But as of yesterday’s match, it still wasn’t happening. I am impatient and frustrated. Stay tuned…

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Two Drastically Different Mentalities

I recently played squash in fear and tennis with hope. The different results are stupefying, and you might guess that I lost the squash game and won the tennis contest. You are partly right. However the details are worth describing. Especially if there is a lesson here for life beyond the courts…

A month ago I had just hit squash balls with a new friend who is a serious squash player, but out of shape. We stopped after 30 minutes. It was my first time on a squash court in three years.

Then I saw a martial arts movie, The Best of the Best, in which USA coach James Earl Jones says things like: you must win all the time, not just some of the time or whenever. Winning is a life style that requires total dedication and concentration. Losers on the mat are losers in life.

The next day I played squash GAMES with my friend. I usually just hit on the court, not play games with points. But I won the first game 11-5. I noticed that when I was ahead, I was hoping the game would be over soon and that I wouldn’t blow it. I lost the next game 6-11. We took a break and talked. During the third game, I was ahead 7-2 and 9-4. But I was terrified that I was going to lose. Every time my opponent bounced the ball before serving, it was so deliberate and practiced and intense and serious, I was actually afraid. I could see that he was an experienced player. I was incredibly impatient again for the game to be over. I sure knew what it was like to have NO confidence, low self esteem, fear and self-disgust.

I remembered the words from the movie and repeated them in my head. “I want to win, you can do it.” But I was definitely scared and had no confidence that I would win…even with a five point lead. I certainly didn’t want to be a loser. But I lost anyway, 10-12…I made one more point, while the other guy made eight. It was a rout. It was ridiculous. My game was pathetic.

Later I told myself that it’s not so important, I was out of practice, I have played few games in my life, none in three years. Yatta, yatta, yatta. My rationalization included recalling that the Malaysia plane had been destroyed, there was fighting in Gaza, etc, etc. A squash game means nothing. I got over it…

Two days later I played tennis. Phil Farmer, an experienced player, had told me earlier that he always plays to win, because it’s “his game… it’s who he is.” I admired his determination to play well and not accept losing to his peers. I play my best, but when I lose, I often say that “It’s just a game.”

On the doubles court one set, I was the weakest player. As part of the round robin format that afternoon, first team to five games and ahead by two is the winner.

The first time I served in the set, we won easily. My serving has improved considerably, since I took a lesson a month ago. I also practiced serving for an hour the night before and for 15 minutes earlier the day of this match. My partner certainly deserves credit for putting away a number of the returns to my serve. At least what I sent out when serving didn’t come back as winners. To everyone’s surprise, our team took a 4-0 lead. I was giddy. Winning would be an upset. I even wanted a bagel.

Now I was serving again for the match…but we lost. Then we lost again and again and again. Score is 4-4. Tiebreak.

Our opponents took an early lead, I lost both my serves. Soon we were behind 1-5. But I have much more hope and optimism and confidence in tennis than in squash. I am known as the guy who “never gives up,” and I tell my partners that all the time. We came back to 3-6, and it was my turn to serve again. I wanted to win, though I did not believe we WOULD win. But I was going to give it all I had, do my best, make a real effort. It never even occurred to me that we were definitely going to lose or that I was afraid.

I served a fast ball (for me) right down the middle that skidded off the line for an ace. 4-6. My second serve was not returned. I think it was hit into the net. 5-6. I hadn’t choked. We were still in the game. Then we break the next point. It’s 6-6, then 6-7, 7-7, 8-7, 8-8, 9-8.

My turn to serve again. I don’t choke for the second time. My serve is not returned in the court. We win 10-8!

Who would have believed it? No one. My partner and I talked later about the changes in momentum…after all, we were ahead 4-0, then lost it to 4-4 and 1-5 in the tiebreak. Then something changed again. Why wasn’t I afraid? I don’t know. I do remember though that when I was serving at 3-6, I was unsure how to do the serving motion. It felt awkward, forced, the farthest rhythm from smooth and practiced.

But somehow it happened…even an ace down the “T.” I want to know how to do this in everyday life. How to come through when I need to. How to not be afraid or so scared that I am wishing it would end and be over, even if I am the loser, which is an awful feeling I don’t have hardly at all. I mean I lose all the time. I make mistakes every day. But the fear I felt in that squash game was painful.

During the hour of talk and drinks after the tennis match, it didn’t register emotionally. I was proud when one friend I played with earlier said he’d heard about my victory and told everyone that I had probably told my partner to “Never give up.” I like knowing that people think of me that way. It’s a good attitude, and it’s definitely one that is part of me.

A couple of hours later at home, when I was telling my wife about how my team won the set in the tiebreak, I was exuberant, excited and exhilarated. I felt happy. It was great. It didn’t matter a bit that my teams with different partners had lost three other sets that day as well.

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Why I Constrain My Killer Instinct

When I accepted an invitation to be the fourth in mixed doubles, I had no idea that my partner would be a soft-spoken woman psychiatrist with gray hair and a very strong net game. We won the first set and were forced to end the second at a tie, due to time constraints. But the real blessing was the many 90-second chats we enjoyed during the changeovers.

I have always said that tennis is a metaphor for life: what you do on the court is probably a small-scale version of how you live your life. The biggest criticism some people have of my mental game is that I do not have–or hold back–my killer instinct. Especially when I am facing an opponent for whom tennis is EVERYTHING, and losing is the worst punishment. For me the sport is a sport, a game, a physical challenge that I’d like to improve at and win. However people around the world are starving, refugees, dying. How can I be miserable over the loss of a few tennis points? Not in my nature.

I am definitely competitive and almost always do my best…except when winning is the only thing to the man across the net…the guy who knows his life is over if he loses, who says to his doubles partner, “Take no prisoners…make them bleed…no mercy.” Yes I have heard these words.

In these cases, I notice that I make a lot of errors, when the scores are close. I definitely feel sorry for the guy for whom winning is the only thing. And I think my errors are subconscious…I never make them intentionally.

So here is the gist of what I learned today from my 90-second tennis changeover therapist…with a few other extrapolated conclusions of my own: I shouldn’t worry about the other guy. Losing is his problem, not mine. He has to deal with it, and I shouldn’t worry about his “suffering.” The fact that I have these sympathies suggests one obvious explanation: deep down I have a big need to be liked, and if I beat a player who thinks he should beat me, then I won’t be liked by that loser. It is very important for me to get along with people and have them think I am a great guy. I want to be included and invited back to play another day. I might have some fears that winning will keep me out of the group.

Wow!! Pretty mind-blowing for me. Needs some digestion and reflection time. When I started playing so late in life (just six years ago), I lacked the skills of others who had been playing weekly for 40-60 years. So the first impression I conveyed was of a worse than mediocre player. But I have improved continually, so my current performance is a surprise, when I play someone I haven’t seen in months. They are startled to find that they are losing. They still see me as the beginner they knew earlier. They can’t relate to this guy who is winning points against them. And it pisses them off.

Of course it doesn’t happen all the time or even most of the time. But I see their pain on those occasions when I rise to higher performance levels. Now that I know more about the psychological game that is going on, I am going to beat the crap out of every guy I face.

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Courage Beyond Imagination

I went to a dance recital the other day in which 165 girls, age 10-13, including my granddaughter, performed in groups of 5-20 for maybe five minutes. There were 28 different dances, each group performing twice. Each dance had its own distinctive professional-looking costume.

It was pleasant, mostly mediocre. Lots of parents and friends clapping and shouting for their kids and grandkids. An audience of 750, all of us very supportive. I usually look for one or two girls in a group who have real energy and talent and focus on them. But I couldn’t find more than a couple in the whole two hours.

However there was one girl who was sensational. She stood out so magnificently that I couldn’t take my eyes off of her in both of her performances. What made her so exceptional is that she is afflicted with Marfan Syndrome. She does not have a normal body shape, she couldn’t move as effortlessly and gracefully as others around her, and when the girls in her group would kneel or lie on the ground, she would be the only one standing and twirling as best she could.

People around me were passing out tissues and crying uninhibitedly. I learned that this girl has had around 50 operations to allow her to even stand up, and it was one of the bravest, most courageous accomplishments I have ever witnessed. I picture so many of the “normal” girls fretting that a hair was out of place or that their lipstick was a tiny bit smudged. And then I picture this special girl knowing that people will stare at her, maybe laugh at her, risking embarrassment and humiliation. Not every kid who is a teenager or younger appreciates what an astonishing achievement it is for this girl to chance being jeered at.

I remember giving speeches in front of 200 people, performing in front of 500 as part of a group that had completed a juggling course. I was nervous. I’ve known experienced actors who admit they are scared, maybe even nauseous, before every performance. Yet here was a girl of just 12 or 13 who was wearing her ballerina tutu and moving as best she could, while knowing that it was awkward and noticeably “inferior” compared to all the other girls in the recital. But it wasn’t inferior…it was far far better, because we used different standards in making our assessments.

All of us in the audience accepted that these girls were building self esteem, having fun, learning to be part of a team, enjoying moving to music, discovering the rewards of weekly discipline and dozens of rehearsals. All part of growing up to live in adult society. This special girl, this apparently disabled girl, was no exception. She and her parents were no different than the others in choosing to be involved in this program. It was a blessing, an inspiration and a joy to watch her accomplishment in motion. It was one of the most poignant performances of my life. I feel privileged to have been there and will never forget her.

BTW I learned that Michael Phelps has Marfan Syndrome. Who’d have guessed? He has certainly used his unusual body shape, longer fingers and arms to set Olympic records in swimming competitions. Maybe the girl I saw dancing will be as fortunate to discover some milieu in which her distinctive qualities can transport her to unimaginable successes. A lesson for all of us normals.

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Some Athletes Actually Kill Themselves To Win

This article asks if female long distance runners are prone to depression and even suicide. They may be too hard on themselves, as they try to be perfect at everything in an obsessive, unbalanced and unhealthy way. Is this what it takes to be a winning athlete? This is drive for victory I have great difficulty relating to. But then I think my tennis-playing is a game, and I am amazed by those who view it as a war that takes no prisoners.

Here is an excerpt:

The women who succumb to those impulses are consumed by the need to win a battle that simply cannot be won; a battle to be the best at everything, all at once.

Like the gymnast and the ballerina, the distance runner is often defined by drive and compulsion. She is an endurance athlete. As such, her days revolve around the demands of her sport: 50, 60, 70, 80-mile weeks, weights, cross-training—and, above all, a complete focus on her body, its abilities, and its inabilities. Hers is a sport without mercy. Every race has one, and only one, winner—often determined by a fraction of a second. In running, results are clearly defined and indelible. Unsurprisingly, the distance runner has a tendency towards obsessive-compulsive behavior. She is willing to spend every day fretting over the extra mile or half-mile, the quarter of a second, the extra hour of sleep, and the infinitesimal margin of victory. She is competitive, driven, and, sometimes, crazy. She is Captain Ahab, and victory is her white whale.

Perhaps even more than their male counterparts, female distance runners are perfectionists and control freaks. This is hardly unusual in a society where the woman is expected to do it all. But it is particularly apparent—and, often, destructive—among the already-driven and already high-achieving population of distance runners. Stories of eating disorders abound. In many cases, those are only the tip of the iceberg. For women like Holleran, Ormsby, and Wazeter [ed note: who all committed suicide], the obsession is not just about training. Nor is the compulsion solely about food. The drive for success—or, rather, victory—extends to the classroom, society, and every other aspect of life. In the same way that the woman on Wall Street is expected to be a perfect mother, the woman on the track is often expected to be a straight-A student, team leader, social role model, and everything in between. Kathy Ormsby was known for taking her class notes to workouts. Madison Holleran’s depression was apparently triggered by what she considered a sub-par 3.5 GPA.

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Living With Aches And Pains

If I play tennis tomorrow and Sunday as scheduled, I will have played 10 times in 12 consecutive days. I am now aching slightly somewhere most of the time. My friend Joe says he is ALWAYS aching. And I imagine the pros are as well, even though they are 40-50 years younger.

I am not at all used to pain, discomfort and illness. Blessed with good genes and avoiding many of the foods/drinks/drugs that are bad for humans (my chiropractor father said, “you are what you eat”), I am totally spoiled by continual good health. So aches are an unfamiliar experience. And though I can attribute them to the extreme activities these days, when I am playing tennis 2 1/2-4+ hours each time, I still mind that there is any ache at all. Totally irrational and unreasonable.

If I were a pro or a lifetime athlete, I probably wouldn’t give it a thought. I am remembering an earlier article about Matt Hoffman, who said “If I died with a body that wasn’t completely wrecked, then I’d feel like I completely wasted it.”

I am very conscious that if I make it to age 80, and I am in good enough shape to still play tennis, then my game is likely to be weaker than it is now. That is only seven years away. These days I am still improving, on the upswing. Just learned a new stroke today from Joe (the slice backhand…rotate those shoulders and throw the racket like you would a frisbee). Yet at some point, a downhill slide of poorer performance will take over. It is inevitable, and I can see it in older players at the courts.

Should I push hard, while I am able? Or start taking it easier?. Not accept so many extra matches, where I am asked to sub for traveling or ill players? But I love the game so much right now. I know, I know…it’s a high-class problem. Hopefully I will not seriously damage any body parts. And in the meantime, I am having fun…

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Confusion In Tennis And Life

Although I only have two scheduled tennis games a week, I just subbed in three others…so I played five times in five days (twice in one of those days). A total of 13 1/2 hours including serve practice. I was so tired that I slept 10 hours one night. Exhausting. Worse than that, my team generally lost. So I still need lots of work.

To help out, five different players volunteered on their own to tell me the “right” way to hit a serve. I was amazed by a video I was sent that showed the way professionals serve, and this one broke it down, so that for the first time I understood what I am supposed to do. Or at least what a professional is supposed to do. One coach told me to ignore it all. Another coach told me there is no such thing as muscle memory. Someone said hit harder. Someone else said just place it accurately. Rotate this way…no that way. Stand like this…no do it like that.

Pretty confusing…I decided that all the suggestions sounded good, took pieces that I liked from each person’s advice , and will practice some mongrel approach to see what happens. Oddly enough, my serve was going pretty well before the video arrived by email. I am just trying to improve it.

Of course I think life has the same challenges. People live it different ways, with different abilities, and most will not hesitate to tell you what should work for you. Everyone is after the same goals: enough money, good health, satisfying relationships, career success, fun, various degrees of excitement and adventure, and maybe a tiny bit of wisdom that makes it easy to deal with daily problems. It’s taken me decades to reach some of these goals and objectives. Yet it is often a struggle to handle the latest issues…like the abdominal pain that concerned me a week ago…which may just be a strained muscle and not a deadly disease.

At least I am still in the tennis game, striving to be one of those guys in his 80’s who plays a few times a week. And good enough now to keep on being invited back to fill in with players who are better than I am. Lucky me.

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Shamed And Confronted By Matt Hoffman

Looking for Netflix dance movies, I was directed to a documentary about BMX pioneer, Matt Hoffman. At 14 he came out of nowhere Oklahoma and won competitions that earned him magazine covers and stardom. He was 38, when the film was made, and is now 42. He invented many tricks that other pros imitated, took more air than anyone, and even did stunts that impressed Evil Knieval: like being pulled by a motorcycle to 50 mph, so he could fly up a 24-foot half pipe and rise 26 feet higher! The video above shows that record…and also him crashing a few times in the attempt.

Matt invents amazing  tricks

Matt invents amazing tricks

Watching all his crashes is awful. But most poignant for me is his attitude about his body, which a buddy said he viewed as just another bike part: “If I died with a body that wasn’t completely wrecked, then I’d feel like I completely wasted it.” He also said that he wakes up knowing that each day there is a good chance he will die.

23 surgeries. 100 concussions. 300 stitches. 2 comas. 60 broken bones. You see him doing his own suturing to a pedal gash on his leg, so he doesn’t have to waste time going to the hospital. AND WITHOUT ANESTHESIA! Like Rambo.

So here I am trying to be as healthy as possible, to live as long as possible in good shape. Matt is trying to reach some unprecedented level of physical performance and has no fear about death or injury. His father and wife accept that there is no stopping him. In fact the dad built early half-pipes to support Matt’s passion.

Really confronting. Not just food for thought, but a huge feast to digest.

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You Have To Laugh At Life

hahahahahahaha. Ya got me!

So just ONE day after my last post about how fragile Life can be, I start having shooting pains in my abdomen—about 12 of them over the last three days. Like an ice pick stabbing in my right side. Of course it’s the weekend, so I don’t rush to the doctor. But should I go to the emergency ward?

And I had just had two really intense workouts, so I was admiring my abs and feeling strong and healthy. By yesterday I was reading about appendicitis, hernia, diverticulitis, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, looking at pictures of human anatomy, changing my diet, wondering how I could have an ulcer, fearing I am bleeding internally, thinking maybe I tore muscles, also feeling slight tingling up my right side and extending to my triceps. I mean this is crazy. I am SO healthy.

Yet here I am worrying about illness and death. Terrible. Are all these fears just a few millimeters below the surface of my daily mental life? Are these the anxieties I and others live with all the time? Pathetic. But nerve wracking.

So I changed my diet immediately, because the pains often came on when I started eating. I gave up gas-producing carbohydrates. I threw out some prepared foods. I drank more water. I semi-fasted. I skipped a daily yogurt. Maybe I was having modest food-poisoning? Maybe I had caught an intestinal bug. I didn’t have fever, shakes, dizziness, etc.

For the moment I feel OK. But these kinds of extreme frights are ridiculous. How do I stop them?

…20 minutes after writing this, I read a column about trauma that started like this and just embarrasses my feeling any anxiety about a few stomach pains. Life is fragile and also totally relative.

Tragedy has twice visited the Woodiwiss family. In 2008, Anna Woodiwiss, then 27, was working for a service organization in Afghanistan. On April 1, she went horseback riding and was thrown, dying from her injuries. In 2013, her younger sister Catherine, then 26, was biking to work from her home in Washington. She was hit by a car and her face was severely smashed up. She has endured and will continue to endure a series of operations. For a time, she breathed and ate through a tube, unable to speak. The recovery is slow.

…two days after writing this, the nurse practitioner at the doctor’s office told me I had probably strained a muscle, and I should take it easy for a few days: fewer reps, less weight, if I insist on my daily exercising. Today is the 27th, and I seem to be healing…

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Life Becomes More Fragile

I was a bit scared this week, when someone had to stop playing after just three games and said it was his heart. Should he go to the hospital? Are his tennis decades at an end? It was the same court, where a man just dropped and died at age 85 some years ago.

Two summers ago, I played doubles with a man in his early 70’s who stopped after just a game or two. His playing days ended right then. Too much pain in a leg after giving it a few weeks rest, I think. This August he was riding his bike and his heart gave out. How awful.

At my local indoor courts, I always see the “old-men’s game,” because they are there five days a week at 8:30 AM, and range from mid-80’s to 90 years old. Some can hardly run or move quickly. But I long to join them, if I make it to their phase of life. For now I admit that there is a tiny bit of anxiety that any serious ache or pain might signal the end of my athletic days…maybe my life. A constant fear that I can usually dismiss and forget about it.

Anxiety is a deadener in its own right. Millions have it, own up to it, try to overcome it with drugs, meditation or therapy. I know a retired cardiologist who dealt with life and death issues by burning up his tension running a few miles every day. And many friends talk about their fear of those doctor visits, when they might hear the dreaded diagnosis that will lead to no more: sports, athletics, frivolity, and life.

When I watch the deer and birds outside, they are constantly alert to danger from predators…every time they put their heads down to eat. In a developed country’s middle-class society, we generally don’t have to worry about being cut down physically by bullets and bombs–though car crashes are a risk–but there is still the reality of the doctor saying we too have a terminal illness. So it goes. Whatever. It’s why I play while I can and strive to live healthfully.

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Improving Your Tennis Or Your Life

In the last week, my tennis game has jumped to a higher level…in the opinions of those playing with me. I can feel it too.

Among the reasons for my stronger strokes and serve is great advice from a high school classmate I saw recently who has been a tennis coach for decades. Marilyn gave me suggestions that I have been working on for two weeks…and then it all came together during four tennis matches in the third week. I was the best ever. Everyone was surprised and commenting. My net game was also terrific, and I had few unforced errors.

I have always said that Life is a Smorgasbord, and you have to sample all the dishes to find out which ones you like. Marilyn told me to do things that were very different from other instructors I have taken lessons from and watched on video. So I was eager to experiment…anything to hit a harder ball with accuracy. Her techniques work for me…so my game is now at a new and much higher level…this is really fun. Especially when I can startle people who think they are going to dominate me.

Of course I think the same lesson applies off the court and in your everyday life: keep experimenting, don’t ever give up, maintain your enthusiasm, don’t be afraid to change old habits, embrace new ways that might be better. Unfortunately I see that most people are too comfortable with their established routines to risk failing in new efforts.

A Zen parable asks you to assume you only have one arm and hand and are holding a small bit of water in a glass. Now consider reaching for the pitcher that has more water. Most people realize that they have to put down the glass first, AND AT THAT MOMENT THEY HAVE NOTHING. So they hold back and settle for the smaller amount/achievement/standard, etc.

Would you take the chance of losing everything to go for a bigger life? Most of us are very cautious in that situation. It’s scary to try a new way of relating to people or changing careers or making money. That’s way people generally stick with what is familiar and do things the way “they have always been done.” Which is quite difficult in these days of constant and rapid change.

Luckily hitting the tennis ball differently isn’t that big a deal. So I took the chance and seem to be winning the bet. We’ll see how long this peak performance continues…

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