Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Focus on the Pitch

David Brooks commemorates Opening Day with one of his baseball-is-a-metaphor-for-life columns.

A few years ago, a former professional baseball player mentioned a book that had made a great impression on him. It was called “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching,” by a sports psychologist named H.A. Dorfman. I read the book one spare evening, though, as you may have noticed, I’m not a pitcher — and no major league organization has expressed interest in making me one.

The book left an impression on me too, mostly for its moral tone. Dorfman offers to liberate people from what you might call the tyranny of the scattered mind. He offers to take pitchers, who may be thinking about a thousand and one things up on the mound, and give them mental discipline.

Others are eloquent about courage and creativity, but Dorfman is fervent about discipline. In the book’s only lyrical passage, he writes: “Self-discipline is a form of freedom. Freedom from laziness and lethargy, freedom from expectations and demands of others, freedom from weakness and fear — and doubt.”

His assumption seems to be that you can’t just urge someone to be disciplined; you have to build a structure of behavior and attitude. Behavior shapes thought. If a player disciplines his behavior, then he will also discipline his mind.

[…]

By putting the task at the center, Dorfman illuminates the way the body and the mind communicate with each other. Once there were intellectuals who thought the mind existed above the body, but that’s been blown away by evidence. In fact, it’s easiest to change the mind by changing behavior, and that’s probably as true in the office as on the mound.

And by putting the task at the center, Dorfman helps the pitcher quiet the self. He pushes the pitcher’s thoughts away from his own qualities — his expectations, his nerve, his ego — and helps the pitcher lose himself in the job.

Not long ago, Americans saw the rise of a therapeutic culture that placed great emphasis on self-discovery, self-awareness and self-expression. But somehow the tide seems to have turned from the worship of self, and today’s message is: transcend yourself in your job — or get shelled.

A fitting reminder from opening day.

Except the Yankees got rained out yesterday.