Bill Buckner was one of the most prolific first basemen of his generation. In a career spanning more than two decades– from 1969 through 1990–Buckner set a single-season record for assists that stood for 25 years.
But in spite of his long and productive major league career, Buckner is most famous for one single play.
In the sixth game of the 1986 World Series, while playing for the Boston Red Sox, he let a ground ball hit trickle through his legs in the bottom of the tenth inning, allowing the game-winning run for the New York Mets, who would go on to win game seven and extend a Red Sox title drought.
That single play earned Buckner the dubious title of the biggest scapegoat in the history of sports as Boston’s superstitious fans blamed him for extending the notorious Red Sox curse that dated back to Babe Ruth.
But the craziest part of this story is what Buckner said weeks before that game in a radio interview:
The dreams are that you’re gonna have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you’re gonna let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs.
Two years after that fateful play, one of basketball’s all-time greatest players died unexpectedly at age 40. “Pistol” Pete Maravich is the Division 1 all-time leading scorer who’s considered one of the best offensive players of all time, college or pro.
During his 4th season in the NBA, Maravich made the following statement during an interview with his hometown newspaper:
I don’t want to play ten years in the NBA and die of a heart attack at age forty.
Pete Maravich started his NBA career in 1970. He retired in 1980 and died of a heart attack on January 5, 1988. He was forty.
As incredible as both accounts are, can they be attributed to simple coincidence or did Bill Buckner’s seemingly innocuous comments lead to his life-altering miscue? Even worse, did Pete Maravich’s off-hand remark hasten his death?
We will never know for sure, but recent research into neuroscience and behavioral psychology reveals the surprisingly close connection between our thoughts, words, and outcomes. As Moawad shares:
I’ve seen studies in the Harvard Business Review pointing out that negative external talk can be four to seven times more powerful than positive communication. So let’s keep it simple. What if we just didn’t say stupid things out loud? What if I made only that one change?
That sounds simple enough—but most of us are not aware of the self-defeating expressions that can come out of our mouths during casual conversations with no appreciation for their collateral damage.
As a professional football fan, I recall reading about a comment made by Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver Muhammed Sinu at halftime during Super Bowl LI, with his team enjoying a commanding 28-3 lead:
They still got Tom Brady on their side. There’s no lead that’s safe.
If you recall, the game ended in the greatest second-half comeback in Super Bowl history, led by you know who…Tom Brady.
Super Bowl upsets aside, how often do you find yourself projecting negative expectations that devalue or deflate in your everyday language?
“I really don’t want to be here today.”
“With my luck, I’ll probably end up getting fired from this job.”
“I’m so bad with names.”
According to psychologists, our subconscious mind interprets what it hears literally, causing the words that come out of our mouth to shape our reality.
According to those same psychologists, out of the roughly 50,000 thoughts our brain processes per day, 40,000 of them are negative.
We are far more likely to undermine our intentions than fortify them.
As alarming as these stories are, they’re not reserved for professional athletes. We all encounter challenges, obstacles, and pressure situations that shape our lives. Here are 4 simple strategies from Moawad’s toolkit to help you activate and maintain a positive and resourceful mindset:
1. Shift your thinking into neutral. The self-help solution to stressful or unexpected events is to think positively, which rarely helps because it seems phony and self-manipulative. Neutral thinking conversely acknowledges the past—good or bad—but recognizes that what happens next is impacted largely by what we do and say and by what hasn’t happened yet. Moawad further explains:
Neutral thinking means accepting the idea that when something good or bad happens, it happens. Instead of getting caught up in the negativity of a bad past or a mental or physical mistake, you just accept that it happened and move on.
2. Lead with behaviors, not feelings. Most people let their feelings dictate their actions. But, as Moawad teaches his athletes, the more you pay attention to your feelings, the less you empower your capabilities and training. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is a great example: At 5’10” he was considered too short to be a starting QB in professional football. But during his entire career among the elite players in the NFL, Wilson has chosen to behave like the best quarterback in the league and let his feelings and attitudes catch up to his behavior. Moawad clarifies:
You can behave your way into feeling better, but you cannot always “feel” your way into acting more effectively.
3. Watch your words. Although it’s difficult to control our internal self-talk, we can choose how we externally verbalize our thoughts to others. As the Buckner and Maravich stories illustrate, verbalizing your negativity has an exponentially greater impact than merely thinking negatively. Moawad explains that saying things out loud actually creates a subconscious plant in your mind that gives it more power. Even off-the-cuff comments intended to be humorous or sarcastic can affect our subconscious minds in unintended ways which we don’t understand.
4. Stand guard at the door of your mind. One of the most consistent themes of Trevor’s messages in his book, YouTube videos, social media posts, and podcasts is how casual most of us are in what we allow into our consciousness every day. If you watch the news every day, it increases your possibility by 27% that you’re going to say you had a bad day, he contends. In addition to the news, Moawad coaches his clients to screen what they listen to and who they connect with, and he backs his advice with science:
A 2015 study in the Annual Review of Neuroscience examined multiple previous studies and found that negativity can lead dieters to overeat; can lead people to accept smaller, more immediate rewards instead of bigger, long-term payouts; and can lead to aggressive behavior. Negativity inhibits our ability to delay gratification—even when delaying it would help us in the long run. A 2014 study published in Neurology linked higher levels of ‘cynical distrust’—another term for negative thoughts—with a higher incidence of dementia. In other words, thinking negatively could actually kill you.
Although we often cannot choose our circumstances, we do have the power to choose how we respond to them every waking moment of every day.
By making small adjustments to our mindset through disciplined and purposeful thinking, we can live each of these moments in a way that brings out our best.
How would you rate yourself in managing your mindset? Which of these 4 strategies resonates the most with you?