As soon as I was old enough to swing a bat without propelling myself to the ground, my Dad gave me my very own plastic bat. He taught me how to stand, to keep my eye on the ball, and to always follow through. We spent so much time together, him tossing that whiffle ball, me hitting it (or at least making a valiant effort to). Eventually, we switched to a metal bat and a tennis ball, and I soon got both coordinated and strong enough to hit it over the neighbor’s fence. Batting practice moved to the driveway, where my goal was to hit it into my across-the-street neighbors’ front yards and—after that time I had to apologize to a neighbor for a small dent—not into any cars parked on the street.
When I was old enough, I joined a community softball team. My parents, brother, and grandparents were my personal cheering section, which was wonderful. But sometimes other friends or family came, and then I wanted to show off. And you know what happened? I messed up. I focused on the fact that they were watching. I tried to kill the ball, which really meant I would swing too quickly and get a strike instead. By the time the game was over, I’d feel disappointed in myself and like I’d let both the spectators and my teammates down.
I quit softball once I got to high school, mainly because the stress of fielding a ball coming straight at me going way-too-many-miles-per-hour became too much. But my love for batting cages has never waned. During an especially frustrating time in my life, I went with the intention of de-stressing. I got some okay hits in here and there, but mostly, I just whiffed, which meant my supposed cathartic activity became a source of more frustration.
I finally I realized I was trying too hard, just like I’d been all those years before when I’d been determined to impress people. With every swing I was thinking, “Kill it!” and, because I let my brain take over, I swung too hard, too fast, and didn’t let my body do what it instinctively knew how to do. Hence, an embarrassing string of strikes.
At some point, I finally realized what was happening. I took a step back and let go of my intention of stress relief. I reminded myself to follow through, then cleared my head, stepped back into the batter’s box, and let my body take over. I started smashing the ball like nobody’s business, hitting line drives and what would’ve been homers if the net hadn’t been there. The feel when the ball hit that sweet spot, that satisfying “thwack!,” the power I felt as I watched the ball fly far and fast—that’s exactly what I needed.
The thing is, my thoughts have tended to take over in all areas of my life, not just when I’m in the batters’ box. That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple years learning the fine art of getting out of my head and trusting my instinct. If something’s not going right or just feels off, I take a step back to see what’s going on, then change my approach as needed. And when something does feel right, I try my damndest to go for it, even when fear or “yeah, but…” thoughts try to hold me back.
I have to tell you, it’s way less stressful when you can quiet the voices in your head and listen to your heart instead. There’s a peace and clarity about it that I don’t think I can accurately describe. I’m not saying it’s easy or that I’ve fully mastered it; it’s been a process with a learning curve that sometimes feels like a steep, winding mountain road covered with ice. Sometimes I’m better at it than others, but all I can do is keep trying, and it’s making a huge difference in my life.
The proof? Instead of getting caught up in worrying about what people might think, I published this blog post. And as I sit here not worrying whether anyone other than me will ever read this, you just did.
Katie Baron: life coach, freelance writer, animal and nature lover, musician, relentless optimist