What game? Wastebasket Free Throws of course! And YES, I’m serious! Take a wastebasket and set it up against the wall at the spot farthest away from you in the room. Not a corner though—that would make it too easy. The wastebasket needs to be situated just far enough away that ringing it will be difficult but not impossible.
Go, ahead—don’t just sit there. I promise when you get back that I’ll explain WHY we’re doing this.
All right! Now of course you’re going to need something to throw into the basket. I do not advise using bowling balls, dumbbells or anything that has the remote density of a landscaping stone. (The sheet rock in your walls thank you!) Personally, I recommend crumbling up 8-10 pages of used paper. New paper costs money, so don’t use it unless you absolutely have to. (Use those joke emails that you printed from Uncle Ned—they’re actually not that funny the second time, and plus, what’s the likelihood that you’ll ever live to see a sheep, a Rabbi and Bill Clinton playing billiards anyway?) However, if you must use new paper, don’t worry, it’s a very small investment of raw materials compared with the personal insight that you’re about gain.
Today, our task is to do some self-examination. And we’re going to do it in a fun and unconventional way. Here the thing though: If you’re willing to invest the 3-5 minutes needed to do the following exercises then I promise that you will learn some things (maybe even a lot of things) about yourself that you probably didn’t know previously. However, the catch is that you have to do the exercises while reading along for the first time. It will become clear why in just a few moments…but for right now just trust me. Following along in your head will not produce the best results. Ready? Let’s do it!
Exercise #1: Stand or sit in a place that’s the farthest unobstructed place in the room from the basket. Now make 10 free-throws trying to get as many of them into the wastebasket as possible from this position. At the end of 10 throws note how many baskets you made. Did you hit more or miss more? Good. (See I told you it would be fun.)
Exercise #2: Repeat the 10 free-throws from the exact same position but observe: are the baskets that you’re missing falling to the right or left side? (Keep in mind that often we hit the right side but it bounces out to the left. The main idea here is to see if your throws are ‘pulling’ to one side or the other.)
WARNING!: Last chance kind of thing here. Do NOT proceed forward until you’ve done the above exercises. This may sound crazy but with the information that’s coming next you will not be able to go back and do Exercise #1 or #2 accurately because the knowledge that I’m about to share with you makes ‘clearing the slate’ impossible.
Quick Break and some Explanation
You probably don’t realize it but the above exercises revealed a lot about yourself and how you unconsciously face challenges. How so? Well, for one you probably assumed that the point of these exercises was to see how many baskets that you could make out of ten throws. But while that is somewhat useful knowledge, today we’re looking for something much deeper and more profound. For instance, take your choice of where to put the waste-basket in the room. What made you choose where you put the basket? Maybe the farthest spot in the room was occupied by a bookcase and you chose the second best spot. Did you move the entire bookcase just to be able to do this exercise? Believe it our not, statistically, some people did. Did you choose your spot to make it easier to hit the basket than you could have? Many did. But on the other hand, (again statistically speaking) some people not only put the basket against the far wall but stood outside in the hall to make their free throws more of a challenge. Did you try to throw the paper straight in or did you try to let it bounce off the wall? Were you disappointed when I said not to place the basket in the corner because that sure would have made the challenge easier? Many of you decided to not play the game at all and just ‘visualize’ the experience despite my warnings to do otherwise. No matter what mix or variation of these you chose just observe and acknowledge it.
The point of these first two exercises was to show us something about the way that we sometimes unconsciously respond to challenges. Now, I’m by no means saying that the decisions that you made in a tiny game of wastebasket free throws reflect the exact choices that you make in pursuing your goals in life BUT I am saying that there is a direct correlation. This is mainly because in these exercises we didn’t know what criteria we were actually being tested for and therefore could not modify our behavior to match expectations. This allowed us to ‘crack open’ our head and get a glimpse of how our mind may be unconsciously ‘wired’. For instance, if we were feeling extremely motivated and passionate then we probably did everything in the exercise according to instructions. If we were tired or feeling particularly uninspired then we probably didn’t do the exercises at all or we set the wastebasket at a place that easily within reach of our current level of throwing. Again, the idea is not to kick yourself if you didn’t do the exercise but simply to notice the choice you made and understand why.
How far away did you put the basket? Was it easy to reach? Was it difficult? Did your shots pull to the right or the left? Did you find yourself not making enough baskets and choose to step forward a little or find that you were making too many baskets and step back to make it a little more difficult? This can tell us something too about our comfort level or even our level of pride. Again, just acknowledge your choices. You’re seeing things about yourself that the mirror never shows you.
See, you have lots of self observation and personal insights going on! I’m proud of you!
Two Last Exercises
Now, let’s get back to the free-throws! This time we’re going to make a different set of observations that will relate a very important principle that we need to understand firmly if we are ever going to hit our ‘free throws’ in life.
Exercise #3 – Do ten more free-throws. However, if in the previous exercise you missed the wastebasket to either the right or left then slightly exaggerate or overcompensate your throws to try to correct your shots. Try doing overhand, underhand and over the shoulder throws to see if that helps—do granny shots if you have to! All right! Did you make more baskets? In your opinion, did compensating help? (There is no right or wrong answer. You will either hit more, less or the same number of baskets.)
Exercise #4 –Let’s do one final set of 10 free-throws, HOWEVER, this time we’re not going to just stand (or sit) in the same place. With every free-throw you make take a long stride closer to the basket. If you reach the basket before you get to 10 then just drop the balls of paper down into the basket one at a time. All right! (Here’s some no-brainer questions but please humor me and answer them.) Did you make more baskets this time? Why? Did hitting the basket become easier as you got closer to it?
We all have ‘free throws’ in life—‘baskets’ that we want to make. However, we often find that the biggest obstacle that we face in achieving those goals is OURSELVES. The problem is that consciously we may know exactly what we want (better career, happier marriage, secure family, etc.) but unconsciously we sabotage and even stack the deck against ourselves. One of the ways that this happens is that we ‘set up’ our throws in a way that’s either is way too easy or way too hard. Or worse, we try to skip steps and ring the basket from way too far way. This leads to frustration and discouragement because inevitably we miss far more baskets than we make.
The WAY of Character Building offers us an opportunity to break this cycle. It allows us to do what we accomplished in Exercise #4 and move systematically (step-by-step) closer to the basket. See, the distance between us and the basket is relative to the amount of character needed to reach our goals. This includes self-discipline, honesty, sense of quality, service, faith, education, etc. The more of these traits that we develop and ingrain in ourselves the closer we are (or rather the more capable we become) of accomplishing those goals. Mastering little challenges help us to build momentum for accomplishing big ones. For instance, to obtain better career options we might need to get more education, wider experience or learn to sell ourselves better. For a better marriage we have to do things like: show up, spend time and learn to give without expectation, receive without complaint, etc. The knowledge, understanding and experience we gain by overcoming little challenges helps us build momentum towards reaching our larger goals. At last, when capacity of our character matches the quality of our goals then accomplishing them will be just as easy as standing over the wastebasket dropping crumpled paper into it.
Until next time…