Your Evil Non-Bowling Twin

All of us have had those shots when everything felt right. You're in balance and leveraged at the line, you got all of the ball, and it was effortless! You feel like you didn't execute this shot deliberately. It just happened somehow. It was luck. Not!! Instead of getting angry or frustrated that you don't repeat them, realize that you can perfectly execute the shot. You CAN do it, you just don't. Why not? Most of the time it's because you let your evil non-bowling twin run the show.

We all have an evil non-bowling twin. She's the judgmental side of us. The real bowler in you can do it. Your evil non-bowling twin doesn't believe that or trust that part of you. (To all the Mildreds out there - forgive me; I had to name her something...) Mildred wants it very badly. She is driven and demanding and judges everything, attaching false values to your actions. She thinks you have a short memory or don't hear well or are stupid. Actually, the opposite is true. You don't forget anything, hear everything, and are certainly not stupid. After throwing that great shot, you know forever which muscles to contract and when to contract them in order to do it again. You remember every action to repeat that shot.

Mildred says things like "stay behind the ball, now come on, stay behind the ball, stay behind the ball..." In an effort to do so, you squeeze the ball, tighten your armswing, purse your lips, tighten up your cheek muscles, grit your teeth, and frown. How is any of that going to help? You use all kinds of muscles you don't need to try and obey and guess what? "You geek," she says, "you'll never learn - you can't do the simplest things..." By demanding so much Mildred is responsible for the error, but piles the blame on you. This undermines your confidence, your stroke gets worse, you become frustrated and angry. Trying too hard is one of the most destructive and self-defeating things you can do.

Conscious trying produces negative results. As soon as you try to exercise control, you lose it. Mildred incessantly assigns a positive or negative value to an event. Judgment involves thinking (always a bad idea when on the approach!). If Mildred judges the shot is bad then she gets into diagnosis. Why was it bad? She gives a myriad of instructions about how to fix it. Even if your shot is good, Mildred interferes. Why was it good? "Okay, now whatever you did that time, do again. Come on, bear down..." She tries hard to get you to try hard by giving lots of instructions. This ends in more judgments, more thinking, and self-conscious performance. You become less fluid, more frustrated, and the judgments grow in intensity. Paralysis by analysis.

These judgments become self-fulfilling prophecies. You begin to believe you're not any good, can't bowl. Who would want you for a partner? You begin to live down to these expectations. If Mildred tells you often that you can't make a 10 pin, you can't. If the expectation is that you will miss the 10 pin, you will fulfill that expectation.

Your peak performance never comes when you're thinking about it. Your efforts must be perceived as they are. You can only do this when personal judgment is absent. You can be so absorbed in the process of judging you never perceive the shot itself. For instance, you will sometimes know a shot is not your best effort as you're on the way to the line. If it strikes Brooklyn, you're pleased with the result. The key is this - if you're angry and demanding because it wasn't a pocket shot, or worse, feel like you deserved it for some past injustice - you will program yourself to fail. Don't get crazy over it. Simply observe your ball reaction and decide that the next shot will be a good one. Don't analyze that Brooklyn to death. As surely as you choose one of the many reasons it could have happened, Mildred will start using the worst four letter word she could use - don't. Don't pull it, don't get up there after your ball does, don't screw this up, don't hit inside your target....

What should be happening is that you MERELY OBSERVE the shot. Don't allow a value judgment of 'bad' or 'good' to be assigned to it. That breeds trying harder. We've already discussed how destructive that can be.

Don't judge results. In fact, don't judge at all. Merely observe. Allow the player in you to read your ball reaction and learn from it. By ending judgment, you don't ignore what is. You just neither add a value to it nor subtract a value from it. Things appear as they are - undistorted by the assignment of 'good' or 'bad'. They can then become resources for you instead of events that influence your self-esteem. This is nonjudgmental awareness - a mindlessness that allows your actions to flow spontaneously. It is Mildred's mistrust of your ability to perform which causes her interference and instruction and your clenched teeth and pursed lips.

NOT RIGHT NOW, MILDRED

How to deal with Mildred? Now that you know her habits, you can begin to recognize when she starts to affect your performance. Some days she'll seem much more vocal than others. Trying to shut Mildred up by telling her to do so doesn't work (in case you hadn't noticed). The power of suggestion and negative reinforcement all combine to be your current dominant thought and so, of course, you execute the current dominant thought. That's an extremely important statement. YOU EXECUTE THE CURRENT DOMINANT THOUGHT. That's why there is so much emphasis on thinking positively. For instance, you have experienced at one time or another that as soon as you think 'Don't pull it", you go right up to the line and pull it. Do not think of elephants. As soon as you read that, an elephant appeared in your head. That same reaction happens when you think, ‘don’t pull it’. You see a picture in your mind of a pulled shot and that is exactly what your body executes – the picture in your mind.

You probably haven't learned to stop Mildred yet. She's quite powerful. What you can do, though, is put her off. "Not right now, Mildred" is all you have to say. This acknowledges her need to communicate but just says we'll do it later (later never comes). There are no 'don'ts' in this sentence, so negative reinforcement or suggestions are not present. This is extremely effective in dealing with that judgmental side of you and allows the player in you to relax and therefore to perform up to your capabilities.

You can also use positive self-talk to block Mildred. You must be careful, though. Your instruction to yourself must all be in positives. For instance, "Make a good shot" is quite a different statement than "Okay, now, don't send it too wide". The first example is positive and focuses on the overall feeling of the shot, not analyzing each of its components. The second is negative, emphasizes negatives, and will produce negative results. In the second example you are allowing the fear of the outcome of events to control you. If you let it wide, Mildred is full of recriminations. If you'll relax and make a good shot, no recriminations will be necessary. If Mildred tries to judge either shot, "Not right now, Mildred".

MILDRED'S ATTIC

Mildred can be pretty clever in how she gets to you. Instead of her usual instruction / punishment mode, she can lead you away from what you can control. You can never control lucky pinfall and lane conditions. If you allow yourself to get caught up in believing that these things will affect your performance, they will. Your only opponents are the lane conditions and the pins (in that order) no matter who's on the pair with you or what scores are being posted. You cannot control those things and therefore cannot be concerned with them. Mental toughness is developed. You've heard that your altitude is determined by your attitude. That's true. How good you can be is directly affected by your attitude about what you can't control.

I'm sure there have been times when you feel you just can't concentrate. "Now where was I standing on this lane?" You can't seem to get focused or stay focused. You meant to move your target on that lane and then forgot. I call these trips to the attic. Mildred has an attic cluttered with all kinds of things - what happened at work, the guy who cut you off in traffic, the woman who won't get up when it's her turn to bowl, your poor effort in this league last week, the ball that feels like it was drilled for someone else, etc.

As you travel down any road in your car, you are only subconsciously aware of the white lines which divide the road. They are just a blur. You don't see each one as a separate entity. Your mind does not focus on each one. Next time you are in your car, try looking at each stripe individually. You'll become almost dizzy with the effort. Your mind filters this information so that you are not cluttered with more input than you can handle. When this filtering fails, you are in Mildred's attic.

Everything in the attic seems to bombard you with its individuality. People six lanes away on the approach bother you. You hear someone laughing in the background. Someone's sneeze wrecks your approach. You can hear the suddenly loud hiss of the air conditioner. You can't get the thumbhole to feel right. The onions on someone's nachos are particularly pungent.

Your mind cannot possibly cope with all this data. Acknowledging these things as a whole instead of an each is a self-preserving function. In Mildred's attic, you are on overload. Concentrating is impossible.

This mental state is difficult to abandon. When you can't leave the attic, it's not going to be a good night. NOT RIGHT NOW, MILDRED is an effective method of dealing with it. It takes practice and determination. Attic days will never go away. Instead of worrying about how often they happen to you, concentrate on how much LESS often they are occurring because you are determined to succeed.

You are more powerful than Mildred and by developing a disciplined mental routine can put her off. It is a matter of deciding who's the boss - the you who can bowl or the Mildred who must constantly validate her existence by passing judgment on your performance. As long as Mildred is in control of your game, you are destined to fail to reach your goals. YOU must take charge of your game.

WINNER OF NATIONAL WOMEN BOWLING WRITERS ASSOCIATION CONTEST