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7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Playing Basketball

7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Playing Basketball

I’ve played basketball for over a decade, but it was only recently that I realised what a brilliant metaphor it is for life. I’ve lost loads of games in my career. Probably more than I’ve won if I’m really honest. I’ve also probably missed more shots than I’ve made.

At the beginning of my career, I didn’t have a lot of success. In training and whilst practicing, I was really good. I was assertive. I made shots. I led my team. I just played how I knew I could. But I could never put it together in a competitive environment, in actual game. As you can probably imagine, this drove me crazy. In the end, though, things did change. They got better. Much better actually. If you’re intrigued (come on, of course you are) then read on. If you like metaphor (and basketball), you’ll love this:

1. I play better when I’m relaxed.

When I’m frustrated, I play terrible. I force things. I get upset. I take bad shots. I ignore my teammates. I’m easily agitated. And, it’s hard to snap out of.

When I’m relaxed, I play great. I play free. I don’t force anything. I read the game. I let it come to me. I take my time. I’m patient. I make better decisions. It’s easier to get “in the zone.”

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I’m also able to better focus on the most important thing: winning. How many points I scored, how many rebounds I grabbed…these things cease to really matter. All I care about is winning. And, seeing as that’s what I care about, my play follows in accordance.

2. Assertiveness leads only to great things.

If I drive to the hoop assertively, I’ll likely score or get fouled, or both. If I go after a rebound assertively, I’ll probably get it. If I play assertive defense, my counterpart will get flustered and make mistakes. The more assertive you are, the quicker you get what you want.

There’s a delicate balance between assertiveness and aggressiveness though. When you’re assertive, you know what you want and you go after it with focus. But, you’re also relaxed enough to be smart about it. When you’re aggressive, your thoughts become clouded, or you just don’t think. You act heavy-handed and make mistakes as a result. You might momentarily get what you want, but it doesn’t last, because how you got it is unsustainable. Assertiveness is the choice you want to make.

3. I worked really hard for a long time to get better.

This is simple. I could only hazard a guess at the amount of shots I’ve taken in my back garden, at the park, and at practice over the years. It’s well into six figures, I’d say. And that’s not even practicing every single day. I’m not a professional basketball player. So how many more shots would I have needed to have taken for that to have been realistic? Double? Triple?

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You work hard and you work smart because you know it’ll be worth it. I didn’t absolutely love every minute of basketball practice, but I did it because when I went out on the court to play I wanted to know that I’d be good. That I could make shots. That I was worth putting on the court.

I knew I could play because I’d spent years and years getting better; the evidence was right in front of me. Or, even better, the evidence was me.

4. Self-esteem = performance

I used to be great in training. I’d play relaxed, free, smart. I shot well. I made good plays. I read the game easily. Overall, I played about as well as I could most of the time. I was always one of the best players. However, the thing that frustrated the hell out of me was that I couldn’t ever seem to replicate this in games. I’d always kind of freeze up. Everything took a lot of effort, and I didn’t always reap much reward. It was so annoying, and I remember being upset after a lot of games because I just hadn’t played how I knew I could.

The reality was that I didn’t think I was good enough. Didn’t think I could do it. It was like I didn’t think I was allowed to play at my best (If this resonates with you, check out The 3 Things That Will Give You Stronger-Than-Iron Man Self-Esteem).

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Once I let go of these extremely limiting beliefs, it was almost like magic. I started playing how I did in training. Relaxed, assertive, making shots… it felt fantastic. This was what I’d been waiting for all this time. I’ve since won championships and individual awards, and it’s all down to a shift in how I was thinking, not my physical skills. I just developed a deep belief that I was good enough and I was allowed to just go out and play and actually have fun with it. It works infinitely better and is a hell of a lot more fun than the alternative. Shocking, I know…

5. It’s a team game

You can’t win a basketball game on your own; you just can’t. You need your teammates. I’ve been on teams where I’ve been the best player and I’ve tried to win the game on my own. It’s not fun. I got frustrated that I was having to do everything, or, rather, thinking that I had to do everything. I ended up playing selfishly and resenting my teammates. The best teams I’ve played on have had lots of good players and we’ve played well together. Everyone plays to their strengths and we help each other do that. Because of that, we won more games and had more fun. I know which option I prefer.

6. Score

If you want to win a game of basketball, you need to be able to put the ball through the hoop. If this isn’t a metaphor for setting and achieving goals, I don’t know what is. If you want to score, you have to shoot. To become a great shooter, you have to practice. The reason you practice? Because you want to become great. Because it’s important to you. Because that’s who you are.

The top teams in the NBA shoot around 50%, but usually lower, which is another great metaphor for achieving goals. Sometimes you miss. Sometimes you fail. You won’t succeed every single time, but you absolutely will succeed. If you’ve worked your ass off to keep getting better, you’ll take better shots and score more points and be a more effective player. You will succeed.

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I also find that the tougher the shot, the more satisfaction I get from making it. That’s something I didn’t truly realise until writing this article, and is a good lesson to remember!

7. Letting go

Each team has so many possessions in any basketball game. You’re going to score a lot of baskets, and you’re going to miss a lot too. You might as well accept it. In the NBA, the highest level of basketball in the world, most players shoot around 50%, if not slightly lower. Which, for the math geniuses amongst you, means they miss about 50% too. These are the best players in the world, and they “only” make half their shots. If they took each miss with them to the next possession and thought about it, worried about it, obsessed over it happening again…what do you think would happen? Might they be frustrated? Might they lose confidence? Think they suck? Probably. Does that sound helpful?

It’s important to let go. You gave the ball away? Let it go. You missed a crucial shot? Let it go. Why would you hold onto it? There’s nothing to gain. Learn from it and move forward.

How do you let go? You have to trust yourself. If you trust that letting go is the right decision, then you can live with whatever the result is of that decision.

Featured photo credit: Air/Thomas Hawk via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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