“Ball up, Feet up!” “Lean in” to Life! “Bounce Back” when Needed! Even Hall of Famers Strike out 7/10 Times at Bat! 

As a Toronontian I am almost ashamed to admit that until a few months ago I didn’t really know who Chris Bosh was. I knew he had played for the Raptors. Knowledge drop complete.

After listening to Bosh on the Tim Ferris podcast (https://tim.blog/2021/05/25/chris-bosh/) and then reading his new book Letters to a Young Athlete, I am officially a fan. He is an intelligent and thought-provoking human. He is forking accomplished! To paraphrase Tim Ferris, any athlete who is successful enough to omit an Olympic medal from their bio should be taken seriously! Honestly, anyone who quotes Rilke and stoic philosophy “has me at hello”!! 🙂

Plus, his story is relatable…we all have a little Chris Bosh in us.

Sure, not the Olympic medal and the 7-feet-plus tall stature…that is part of what is uniquely him. What is oh-so human is his struggle with injury and reinvention.

Let me back up. Bosh had to retire—in the prime of his career—because of blood clots. He didn’t want to retire. He didn’t expect to retire. He tells a story of playing an ordinary game, one that he didn’t really appreciate because he figured he would play hundreds more. After that game the doctors found a second blood clot in his leg—the first clot was in his lung. In an instant he went from a superstar to a liability. He never played again. He had to reinvent himself.

How unbelievably human is that? Whether you have to reinvent yourself in some small “daily life” kind of way (say, you can’t digest dairy anymore and you have had to find joy in almond milk) or because of a major life event (an injury, a change of job, COVID, etc), the point is that reinvention, reflection, thoughtful action, and growth are an inherent part of life! One season ends. Another season begins. Too often we have no idea that the season is coming to a close until after the transition has occurred. We don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone. Bosh quotes an anonymous author: “At some point in childhood you and your friends went outside to play together for the last time and no one knew it”! And they famously paved paradise and put up a parking lot….

I spent my twenties running marathons and racing triathlons, never really appreciating my ability to run. Two years ago I damaged my labrum in my right hip. I probably will never run another marathon. I so wish I could go back and experience my last race. I didn’t appreciate it. I spent the entire event mad at myself for all the things that didn’t go well. That voice in my head—you know the one, the one that sucks out all joy—got the best of me. It robbed me of the experience. My inner critic didn’t make me run better or smarter; it just made me feel deflated. I have had to reinvent myself…I now focus on Pilates and Peloton. I have had to learn that my identity is more than my ability to run.

The point is not to make you feel sorry for me. As problems go, this is a pretty privileged reinvention. I get that. The point is that Bosh—like all of us—had to find purpose and meaning in a life that was oh-so different than he had imagined. Like most of us, he didn’t appreciate the moment until it was gone. His last game wasn’t noteworthy, until it was. My last marathon wasn’t noteworthy, until it was. The last time I kissed my Papa wasn’t noteworthy, until it was. The last day my parents were together wasn’t noteworthy, again, until it was. He never played pro basketball again. I never got to tell my Papa again that I loved him. Believe me, this book has made me ALWAYS kiss my partner, James, goodbye before leaving the house…You never know when something will be the last of its kind.

As you can tell, I think Chris has a lot to teach. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his thoughts and reflections on life, and applying any and all knowledge to health and fitness. Whether you are trying to reach an athletic goal, lose a set amount of weight, prioritize sleep—or simply want to pick-up a few life mottos—I highly suggest pursuing the main take-aways below, picking up his book, or listening to him on a podcast. Try Tim Ferri, Dax Shepard , or Ten Percent Happier!

Not into any of those options? No problem, here are my five main “KBosh-aways.” (Get it? Take-aways + Bosh + “the Kathleen lens” = KBosh-aways!)

My 5 main “KBosh-aways”

Excellent lives include bad days. Successful careers include bad seasons. Good days include bad moments. Hall of fame athletes don’t successfully execute their skill 100% of the time!

A goal of “always winning”—to be perfect—sets you up for failure. Losing is a part of every game, including the health game! Perfection is not possible.

Take a moment to radically accept the above truth bomb. Humans are humans and not robots. It is in our DNA to lack perfection…except of course in our perfect complexity. Don’t just nod your head; really think through what that means. We are perfectly messy, complex beings! :-p

I will say it again, perfect is not possible. Life is about riding the wave of being human; we all have better and worse days! Even top athletes vacillate slightly; they just ebb and flow in a different stratosphere.

The fact that you can’t be perfect doesn’t mean you don’t TRY, that you don’t work hard and aim for mastery; it just means that you must use your humanity as inspiration for growth vs a sign that you are inherently damaged. Think “productive, healthy striving” vs perfectionism!

Think on this: If your batting average is above 300, you will make the hall of fame, yet you will still strike out 7 out of 10 times. Payton Manning will go down in history as one of the greats; his completion rate is 65.3%—he doesn’t complete a third of his passes.

If Payton Manning can drop a pass, you can miss a workout without letting that missed workout derail you, without letting that miss spiral you into further less-than-healthy choices.

Unrealistic goals simply set you up for failure! If you make your goal to have an “A” workout every day, you will probably end up injured. Making a goal to eat “perfectly” simply gives you daily ammunition to abandon your health ship.

This isn’t just true of health. If you make your relationship goal to never fight, you will end up divorced/separated. The goal is to move from harmony to disharmony and back to harmony with more grace; to bounce back faster and as a smarter ball!! Normalize the ups and downs of life. Build resilience. Learn from losses. Bounce back quickly!

I know, easier said than done. Threading the needle of giving something your “all” without expecting yourself to be more than human is almost impossible…but life is in the trying.

James Clear would say that every choice is a vote for the person you want your future you to be, BUT you don’t need to be perfect to “vote” a new healthier version of yourself into existence. No one needs 100% of the votes to get elected to office. What is required is a majority. Or, as I tell my clients, “It is not what you do between Christmas and New Years that counts. What matters is what you do from New Years to Christmas.” It is your norms—your habits—that matter, not your one-off actions. Think about the average of your habits.

So, here are some questions for you: How is your bounce back? How could you improve it? How is your mindset? How could you improve it? What is the average of your health habits? How can you increase your average?

Part of being successful is recognizing your weaknesses. Instead of ignoring them or using them as fodder for a shame spiral, use them as rocket fuel for self-development!

Ball in the air, feet in the air

I have shortened this to “ball up, feet up”! (And FYI, this is from the intro chapter by Pat Riley.) This motto is my new obsession.

Through COVID, one of my coping mechanisms has been playing softball with James. James is my Pat Riley. Well, he is my lobster (because lobsters mate for life), but part of his job as my lobster is to coach me on softball. James keeps reminding me that my habit of “waiting” to see where the ball will go means I am consistently one beat behind. I need to run, and as I run assess if I will catch the ball. If I don’t get it, at least I am closer when it drops. I need to JUST START—BALL UP, FEET UP!

I like to think of sports as a mirror and a model for life, and thus I apply this motto in almost all aspects of life. If I am scared at work, if I need inspiration to have a tough conversation, if I don’t want to give my workout my “all,” I just say, “Kathleen, ball up, feet up…Lean in. If the game is in play, you better give it your all.” It is too easy to stand back, scared…to see where the chips land. Don’t wait until you know you will 100% be successful at something. Try. Worst case, you don’t make it but you learn from the experience. If you start, you are closer to the ball. Tweak as you go.

You are not going to catch every ball, but you will drop the balls you don’t run for. Also, and possibly equally critical, NO ONE catches every ball (i.e., No one wins at everything in life). All you can do is own your process and keep on bouncing back!!

“Live” your way to the answers

By “live” your way to the answers Bosh means that through doing you learn, and as you learn you develop whispers of the answer, you develop your next layer of answers.

Bosh notes that part of what Rilke taught him was that part of being wise is accepting that you don’t have all the answers right now. And that’s okay.

Not only do you not have to have all the answers, you CAN’T have all the answers. No one does. All you can do is stay in the game and learn.

This “live your way to knowledge” approach is critical when trying to achieve any health goal. You can’t read your way to improved tennis skills, better food preparation literacy, or healthier habits…You have to LIVE your way to those realities. Sure, someone can tell you how to swing a golf club or suggest that you stop eating when you are full, but you have to live your life to know if you even want to swing the club, if eating past full is even your real health roadblock, and how to embody that knowledge.

As I tell my clients, you don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to get great. All experiences are just data. Live. Act. Analyse the data. Implement the data. Repeat.

You have to “earn the right to be skilled.” It takes practice to produce mastery. We all know this truth bomb, but really digest it. To paraphrase Stephen Richards Covey, common knowledge is often not common practice.

It is through the living that you become mature enough to actually put advice into action. In life and in athletics you can’t evolve further than your proximal zone of development. You learn. Then you learn a bit more. When long-term clients have a lightbulb moment, they often say something like, “Why didn’t I do this before? I should have known this or how to do this.” Nope. You can’t know what you don’t know, and you can’t learn what is not within your zone of development. This sh*t takes time….and patience…and persistence.

Be the person who is curious. Who asks questions. Who learns from everyone. Learn to lean in to the questions. Again, to quote Bosh quoting Rilke questions are “like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.” Work to find the key so you can unlock the room. Learn the language.

“Live” the questions now so you can gradually (often without knowing it) “live your way to the answer.” There is no clear roadmap. You can’t escape the “suck”—the work needed to learn and grow iteratively. Don’t like this? Find that stressful? Well, tough, we don’t really have a choice. As Susan David would say, wishing for a life with no stress is a dead-person’s goal. Stress is an inherent part of life.

What you can do is find the work that has meaning for you. To quote Bosh quoting Jerry Seinfeld, “The blessing in life is when you find the torture you are comfortable with.”

Mastery takes intentional practice. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle takes work. Food prep and daily motion takes advance planning. So…find movement and healthy food you can tolerate and connect your choices to something more important. With a larger “why,” spending the time planning healthy meals and keeping yourself strong has significance…You want to be fit and vital for your family, for your sport, for your volunteering, etc.

To finish, here is Rilke’s full poem.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Do the work. Do the work. DO THE WORK!!

Why? Because we can’t control the product, we can only control our process (i.e., the work).

Why? Because “practice makes better.”

Practice is the only path to mastery. No matter how gifted you are, you will never reach the top of your genetic window without hard work. What you practice is what you automate. What you practice is what you weave into your nervous system. What you practice is what becomes second nature!! Practice is what allows for the “flow” of mastery.

You “play the game you practice”!

This is true for basketball, but it is also true for meditation, exercise, relationships, etc. You meditate to sharpen the skill of noticing a thought and “pulling yourself back.” Meditation trains the brain so that when something stresses you out and you want to say “F off,” you can note the desire and pull yourself back. You exercise on regular days, so it is a habit, so when crap hits the fan during your life, movement is a non-negotiable. You practice communication on normal days so that when you are angry and stressed you can helpfully express your needs.

“We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training”!

Bosh didn’t utter the above quotation (Archilochus did), but Bosh might as well have. It sums up his philosophy nicely. I say this to my clients on a daily basis. Why? Because I am trying to instil in clients that they have to practice all of their health habits when life is “normal” so that when life throws them poop—and it will—they have the skill and habits to weave and duck and still fit in their daily movement and vegetables!! The more ingrained a habit the harder it is to abandon when life gets in the way!

How much practice is needed for mastery? Who knows? And in some ways, who cares? Malcom Gladwell is famously quoted as stating you need 10 000 hours. Robert Greene says 20 000. The truth is, it takes what it takes. Plus, this is not an “achieve it and stop” kinda thing. Once you master something, you keep practicing…You just practice at a higher level!

Solve for a particular problem

Bosh has an entire section delving into feedback. Net being, when offering criticism always solve for the specific problem vs attacking the person as a whole. The target of the feedback should never be to embarrass or to shame; it is to make the person better. Communication should bring out the best of a person, not make them feel like a piece of poop.

Bosh quotes Eisenhower as well: “Don’t criticize personalities.”

In short, look at actions, not people. To use Brené Brown’s language, guilt is okay but shame is not. Guilt shines light on an action. Shame equates the action with the person’s worth as a human. Not only is this the more compassionate, human avenue, but equally as important, treating the problem vs the person will garner better results. Shaming someone simply makes them hate you and resent the interaction. You might get forward action for a moment, but not for a lifetime. Humans need to know we are being seen, heard, and valued. As Bosh says—and I would argue he is paraphrasing Maya Angelou here—no one cares what you say until they know how much you care.

He is talking about external feedback. I want to take this one step further. I agree with everything he says AND I think the biggest hurdle is learning how to apply this compassionate yet productive feedback inward. Most of us need to reimagine our self-talk. Self-talk matters. If you mess up, for sure, hold yourself accountable, BUT do NOT shame yourself. Shaming yourself WILL NOT create positive, forward, productive action! If you fall off your health horse don’t catastrophize the fall. Don’t equate it with your worth as a person. Learn from it and move on. Solve for a particular problem like “minimizing late night eating” vs going down the rabbit hole of “I am a failure in my health because I binged last night.” Remember, it is all about the bounce back! As Robin on Peloton would say, say goodbye to the inner critic and say hello to the inner advocate!

Final words

I loved Bosh’s conclusion, so I will share it with you. He says “I can tell you all about being a champion and how to reach your goals. I can try to inspire you…but I can’t do it for you. What comes next is up to you.”

Working is winning. Keep working and learning and being curious. You can’t skip the “suck.” You can’t even guarantee success. You can only guarantee that you will act with integrity and keep on bouncing back as many times as needed. Lots of people put in hours of work and don’t reach the mountain top. I could practice for years and never make the Blue Jays as a baseball player. That is not in my genetic window…But I can work to be the best softball player I can be. How long exactly will it take me? Who knows! Greatness would not be that impressive if you could say “I will give X hours and get Y results.” Life doesn’t work that way.

In Kathleen speak, the above can be summed up as, “It doesn’t matter what works for your mother or your favourite celebrity. Find what intrinsically motivates you. Find health habits that are convenient enough that you can do them on a daily basis. Find health habits that you can tolerate, maybe even enjoy. Find the work that is meaningful to you.”

Learn and then rinse and repeat!