As the big basketball tournament begins, my thoughts turn to legendary basketball coach John Wooden. Wooden loved to quote Abraham Lincoln, who said, “If we magnified our blessings the way we magnify our disappointments, we’d all be a lot happier.” Granted, Wooden was a man who had plenty of on-court blessings; his record of 10 NCAA national championships for UCLA will probably stand forever. But he had his share of disappointments as well. His hope was to keep his focus on the blessings, and not to dwell on the difficulties.
This is hard. Life’s difficulties tend to stand out in relief for us, a glaring beacon for us to focus on. Shifting our gaze to blessing takes practice. This is something Coach Wooden knew a lot about. We don’t get better at anything unless we practice, practice, practice. When we realize we are obsessing about our disappointments, we have an opportunity to rebalance our perspective to something or someone who has been a blessing in our life.
Lent is about rebalancing our spiritual practice. Practice implies that we work at getting better; we dedicate time and energy to our spiritual life. Here are some steps to practice focus on the positive.
- Notice what comes to mind. What is taking up mind-space?
- Be a non-judgmental observer. Whatever your brain is preoccupied with, no need to beat yourself up about why you keep ruminating on something. Just notice, and give yourself permission to let that thought drift downstream.
- Habit-stack your gratitude. Gratitude changes your brain chemistry; adopting a stance of gratitude can be life changing. It’s easier said than done, but habit stacking is a process where you take a thoroughly engrained habit, like pouring your first cup of coffee each morning, and layering on a new habit like naming one gratitude. When you pour that cup of coffee each morning, add one gratitude. You won’t forget to have coffee—and stacking the new habit with an older one increases the chances that you’ll incorporate the new habit.
We tend to be better about setting intentions than acting to help our intentions become a reality in our life. Remind yourself that you are striving for practice, not perfection. Just as we practice shifting our thoughts back to gratitude, we can shift our practice back to our intentions, and try again.
Wooden’s teams didn’t achieve legendary success by throwing up their hands when they’d missed the mark. They achieved success by understanding that missing the mark was an essential part of the process of getting better, stronger, and more cohesive. No matter what one day or one game brought, the next day was about practice.
Wooden was a man of faith. He believed in praying for guidance and wisdom. As we begin another sacred season called March Madness, maybe you have wondered what the team chaplain prays for with the team before a game. Rest assured; with John Wooden, it was not to ask God for a win. That, he believed, was too selfish. Celebrate the journey through the tournament and the community as well as the “One Shining Moment.”