The power of being unconscious

Lucy shot cropI’ve been an NFL football fan for as long as I can remember.  And to be specific, I’m a long-time-and-forevermore Denver Bronco backer.  Chances are that if you too grew up in Denver, we bleed orange together.

As a young girl, I would organize my Sundays around game time, put on my Orange Crush t-shirt, and spend the next three hours emoting dramatically as the game twisted my emotions like a huge mound of taffy on the pulling machine.  How many times have I been completely consumed by the thrill of victory and the utter agony of defeat… ah, but it felt so good.

Watching football as a young girl, I would occasionally hear the commentators praise a player who was playing “unconsciously.”  What??  He looks aware to me, in fact the replay of the super-human one handed catch shows his eyes bright and wide, tracking the spinning ball into his hand.  Pretty conscious, I’d say!

What did they mean, and why did what sounded like a bad thing, come off as high praise?

As I grew as an athlete myself, especially into my adult years where my games are played in off-work time, I began to get it.

Each week I put in about 60 work hours, often running at high speed through my entire day.  The Xbox business does not halt, and letting up means slowing down innovation.  In tech, keeping pace is min bar.  To lead, you must set the pace.

Think, think, think.  Strategize, plan, execute.  All day long, every single day.

It’s a cool adrenaline rush, honestly, and I love pushing my brain like that.  But the benefit of these calisthenics is only half of what I need to operate at my highest level.

And this is where I turn it – OFF.

I meditate, each morning, and it has become like water for me.  I wither without it.

But the form of quieting my conscious brain that I was unknowingly developing, was through sport.  Soccer to be exact.

I’ve played soccer since I was tiny, and continue to play on three teams and coach a girls select team as well.  I love it for the camaraderie, for the fitness, for the competition and pure fun of it.  But beyond all of this, for my state of mind, my being, I need it.

When I’m really on my game, I’m in the pure flow of it.  I execute plays, passes, shots, but I’m not over-thinking anything.  I’m playing on instinct.  I’m playing unconsciously.

Like the birds who fly in formation, veering this way and that without any planful intention, they are in the flow as one.  This is the same as great teams, and great athletes.  Profoundly present in the moment, an inspired athlete embodies elegance, flow and intuition.

Unconscious.

You may not be an athlete, but my advice to all the parents out there, and all the young girls and boys – play sports.

My goodness, there are too many benefits of sports to list in a short blog post.  But or all the concrete goodness of sport – strong bodies, confidence, work ethic, collaboration skills, camaraderie – I posit that one of the most critical skills we’ll be fostering is that of learning to be unconscious.

And to The Girl, young and old, I say get out there.  And get each other out there.

1 in 3 high school girls in this country play sports, compared to half the boys.  Not only will our daughters have a higher likelihood to have success in education and employment, lower rates of teen pregnancy and obesity, and an understanding of what it means to be part of something bigger than ourselves, they will experience a spectacular form of unconsciousness that is simply good for her – mind, body and soul.

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