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A Sports Cliché that Can Improve Your Daily Life

Photo by Jed Villejo / Unsplash 

"Take what the defense gives you."

Our local high school basketball coach was working with his talented but very young (8?) son. The father guarded his son. The son made the wrong move and turned the ball over.

His father said, "Take what the defense gives you."

By this, he meant that his son needs to drive to the basket, pass, or shoot . . . all depending on what the defense is doing.

I guess it's pretty common advice, at least if your player has all three skills. Although I normally find sports cliches about as insightful as cologne commercials, I think that cliché, with slight modification, offers a solid piece of advice for living.

The cliché modified: "Take what the day gives you."

I woke up with a migraine yesterday. It wasn't the type of debilitating migraine that results in sequestering oneself in the dark for hours, vomiting, and whimpering (migraines and hangovers are often scarcely distinguishable), but it was bad enough that I knew I'd be brain-dead the rest of the day (did I mention migraines are like hangovers?).

But I didn't really care.

I just kind of shut down, content to zombie the day, kind of like a person can find a certain amount of contentment from having the flu, assuming he has a robe and a good TV.

I suspect it's because the migraine shrinks the prefrontal cortex, which is where our planning, calculating, analyzing takes place. Such mental activities bring cares. If the prefrontal cortex shrinks, it takes its activities with it, taking the cares with it. The result: a sense of calm, even contentment, at the prospect of a wasted day.

It was, I realized, a good example of taking what the day gives you.

I'm a planner. I like to know what the day is going to bring. It lets me be ready, to be efficient, to be successful.

It also makes me into a jackass when the day presents something I didn't expect or, worse, something I don't like and didn't expect.

My approach also suffers from a debilitating paradox: the practical approach is impractical. I like to know what the day will bring because it lets me be more practical, but as a practical matter, I never know what the day is going to bring so the entire approach is impractical.

I suppose some people have the luxury of knowing better than others what the day will bring, but is that really a good thing? Nassim Taleb says that those who know what the day will bring are the most dead.

If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead – the more precision, the more dead you are. The Bed of Procrustes.

For the fully alive, it would seem Taleb believes, every day is unpredictable.

If he's right, I'm pretty freaking alive. I never know what the day will bring.

But instead of letting it demoralize me, I ought to embrace it. I should be happy I'm alive.

I should take what the day gives me.

A flurry of phone calls from clients that prevent me from getting my projects done? Okay. I might have to work a little later or tell the clients waiting for the projects what happened. Big deal. I'm making money.

The phone dies, making me wonder if anyone wants my help anymore, which will mean my family will starve? Well, that's hardly likely and such mental ruminating is bad for the heart, mind, and soul.

An acquaintance stops me in the middle of the day to ask "just a quick legal question" that, though it's quick to ask, takes a long time to answer? Maybe it's an opportunity to model Christ . . . or maybe he's delaying me just long enough that I won't be in my office when a terrorist attack hits it.

Stuck in a traffic jam? Good time for that podcast. Rainy? Great day for that book. Sunny? Great day for the garden. Out-of-town company? A prolonged opportunity to come out of my self-absorption and introverted ways, no matter how awkward and energy-depleting.

Every day, every minute of every day, has its advantages, if we'll only take what the day, or the moment, gives us.

Not only would Nassim Taleb seem to agree, but there's a host of spiritual advisers that recommend the same thing: live in the present moment (Brother Lawrence), abandonment to divine providence (de Caussade), surrender to God (Jacques Philippe). It's part of those virtues that spiritual writers from all backgrounds counsel: self-denial, detachment, resignation.

Of course, it could all get to be too much.

My wife and I come from large families, with many extroverts. I have a professional skill set that, by its very nature, is meant to provide useful advice. The combined result of those two things: a lot of people want a piece of my time.

If I were to accommodate everyone all the time, I'd be like John Vianney, sitting in the confessional for 16 hours straight. I possess neither the fortitude nor holiness nor bowel control skills to do such a thing with even a modicum of equanimity.

But still, the cliché is there and, for the most part, works: Take what the day gives you.

It's better than trying to tell the day what to give you.

The former can be a path to grace. The latter is an impossible path of frustration.