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The Downward Spiral

When we cling to the troubling emotions that result from an obstacle or loss, we abandon the present for the past. In short order, we find ourselves using our personal resources to wage an internal war instead of using them to handle what is going on now and move forward. By focusing on a past problem it becomes easy to believe that things have taken a turn for the worse. In not being awake to the present, we magnify the original loss, allowing it to produce a ripple effect of additional problems. These, in turn, take us even further off a course of growth. We must stay cool under fire and fully in the present to glean the most we can from every experience and achieve success.

In Josh’s Words:

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As a competitor I’ve come to understand that the distance between winning and losing is minute, and, moreover, that there are ways to steal wins from the maw of defeat… Musicians, actors, athletes, philosophers, scientists, writers understand that brilliant creations are often born of small errors. Problems set in if the performer has a brittle dependence on the safety of absolute perfection or duplication. Then an error triggers fear, detachment, uncertainty, or confusion that muddies the decision-making process.
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I have always visualized two lines moving parallel to one another in space. One line is time, the other is our perception of the moment… When we are present to what is, we are right up front with the expansion of time, but when we make a mistake and get frozen in what was, a layer of detachment builds. Time goes on and we stop. Suddenly we are living, playing chess, crossing the street with our eyes closed in memory. And then comes the taxicab.
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In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre. In competition, the dynamic is often painfully transparent. If one player is serenely present while the other is being ripped apart by internal issues, the outcome is already clear. The prey is no longer objective, makes compounding mistakes, and the predator moves in for the kill.
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Further reading: Chapter 5: The Power of Presence, Chapter 6: The Downward Spiral

From THE ART OF LEARNING by Josh Waitzkin. Copyright © 2007 by Josh Waitzkin LLC.
Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc

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