Last night, some friends invited me to go bowling.  I hadn’t been in an alley in years, and I felt pretty out of my element.

I picked up the over-sanitized rent-a-shoes, lifted a bright green ball, and suited up.  When my turn came and I teetered up to the first row of brown dots, I became extremely aware of the 9 other guys standing only feet behind me, all eyes forward and leering.  The heat and pressure told me to “just throw it…hard,” and maybe the Brunswick gods would grant me grace.

They didn’t.

I realized, after a couple sucky throws and embarrassing gutter balls, that it wasn’t just technique that was causing me to fail.  It was rooted in mindset.

Each time it got to my turn, I got nervous.  When I get nervous, I stiffen up and shut down.  Adrenaline surges.  As a result, my body gets clunky and I throw as hard as I can.  That results in the ball landing nowhere near where I intended it to go.

If we were to break this down mathematically, it would look like this:

Unproductive Mindset ->Body Not Doing What I Want It To -> Sucky Throw + Poor Trajectory -> Increasingly Off Target Over Time -> Goals not met.

To make it less complicated, fear created the wrong body state.  That resulted in a chain reaction of misalignment, making it impossible to reach the objective.

I realized, in real time, that this was going on and that I couldn’t fix it until I was able to change that initial state.  So, through some quick relaxation exercises, visualization techniques, (and perhaps an adult beverage to take the edge off), I was able to settle down.

I’m not saying that visualizing a strike got me one.  But it set me at ease with the lane.  On each frame, I actually took up to 5 or 10 seconds to stand there, without moving, to focus on being in the moment.  Not worrying about who was watching or how I looked, but just being there.  That resulted in a different approach AND a different approach to putting the ball on the lane.  My “throw” became less about power-clunking the ball down towards the lane, and more about gently setting it, straight, in the direction I wanted it to go.

And it worked!  I held my own with a couple pretty damn good bowlers, and much more importantly, I enjoyed being in the moment…as opposed to worry about having control over the moment and how I looked.

When you’re focused on how you look or what people think, whether you’re dancing at a wedding, asking somebody out, giving a presentation, or y’know…bowling, let go.  Realize that your fears are pulling you away from being present.

You are programmed to sound your own internal alarms when your mind thinks you’re in some kind of danger, which in this instance is looking foolish.

When you realize, however, that those fears are not serving you in any way and you work past them, you can actually do the thing you went there to do.

And maybe you’ll suck at that thing.  Maybe you’ll look like an idiot.  But you can’t look like an expert until you look like an idiot for a little while, get past it, and get good.

So, just start and get used to feeling that fear.  The gutter balls eventually turn into strikes in life.  Plus in real life, you don’t have to rent the shoes.