One day when I was in Japan, I hopped on a train to take a short trip to Osaka to explore the city. I’d often see both adults and children often with English phrases on their clothes, some of which didn’t make much sense. The reason for that being because most Japanese people don’t understand English very well. It’s probably similar to how westerners often wear clothes, get tattoos, or otherwise display Kanji or other Asian characters. This might be a surprise, but whatever you think those Chinese characters say might not be what it actually says.
So anyway, on this train I saw a little kid with his dad. The kid had a Nintendo DS and he and his dad were talking about Pokemon and they were passing the game system back and forth playing the game. The kid was wearing a cap with some English on it and I tried my best to discreetly stare at the kid’s cap to decipher what it said without looking too incredibly awkward. Surely it’s intimidating to notice a big bearded foreigner staring at your kid so I tried to be as subtle as possible. I had a bit of a hobby out of enjoying silly things that non-English speakers wear in English.
After a few subtle brief glances I initially made out that the boy’s hat said this:
Huh? I knew what it was actually supposed to say but I got a kick out of that phrase. I thought, “oh it’s just another funny example of crazy mistranslated English on clothing. How funny! Or how depressing!”
It turns out that the text on the hat was designed a bit strangely and there was a small “don’t” in between two larger lines of text.
Of course you’ve probably heard this one before, but here’s what the hat really said:
What an excellent piece of wisdom. If you don’t take a shot, you’ll never make a shot. It’s so simple and so clear.
Yet how many of us are right now at the free throw line in life? Stalling for time, dribbling the ball, the crowd and our teammates hushed in anticipation, the sound of the ball bouncing echoing through the court over and over, as we stare at that elusive hoop scared to death that we’ll miss.
You know you’ll have to take the shot eventually. What are you so afraid of?
I used to play basketball in middle school. I was pressured to play by my parents partially because I was skinny and tall among other reasons. I wanted to meet those expectations and succeed. I had to make those goals. But there was a problem. I was terrible at scoring points in the game. As the tallest player on the team I could stand directly under the goal and shoot the ball and catch it as it fell back down. I would then repeat that two or three times as I missed each time until I decided to pass it to one of my teammates farther away who was a bit more accurate.
I’m almost done with the basketball metaphor I swear. Bear with me.
Anyway, you can imagine shooting a free throw. You know you have to shoot. You’re afraid to, but you do it anyway. What’s the worst that can happen?
Well, of course, you can miss. You can fail. And with me, it happened a lot. Being the center I was fouled all the time and I was given loads of free throws each game. And even while not being surrounded by hands slapping at the ball and bodies crashing into me, I didn’t make very many shots.
I’d miss a lot. And I mean a LOT.
But even if we fail and fail and fail, eventually we’re bound to succeed. For every shot I missed, I was ashamed. I was embarrassed that I had such poor aim, or such poor ability to stay cool in stressful situations. But that shame motivated me to practice. I practiced shooting baskets almost every day and slowly got better and better at those awful free throws. Each failure came with a slight motivation, a little push in the direction of success. I ended up missing fewer shots. I was getting a little more successful every game, albeit slowly. But it was happening.
Outside of the court though, in real life, we have more choices when we’re confronted with “taking a shot” or making a decision. In Basketball we have to take a shot. We can take all the time we want until we shoot the ball. But in real life, it’s entirely possible to keep stalling. And keep stalling. It’s possible to never make a decision sometimes. If we really want to do something, it’s possible to just forget about it and never even try.
Some people actually have the attitude of the original phrase I thought I read on that boy’s hat. “I MISS 100% OF THE SHOTS I TAKE.” That’s where the fear comes from. Missing. Losing. The fear that we may never succeed. If we’ll never succeed anyway, why try? We keep telling ourselves that we’ll fail. Maybe that attitude was a serious contribution to my missing so many shots in the first place. Of course my skill improved but I also stopped fearing failure. If we keep telling ourselves, over and over,
“I miss 100% of shots I take.”
“I miss 100% of shots I take.”
“I miss 100% of shots I take.”
We will. We’ll miss all of the shots we take. We’ll miss all of the shots because our negative beliefs about ourselves are overriding our ability.
We need to shift our attention back to the phrase “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and take that to heart. The only way to success is to actually do the thing that can bring you success in the first place, even if you may fail. Because if we fail, we fail. We’re no worse than where we started. In fact, we’re likely better for it because we learn how to draw slowly closer to success. But if we succeed, we’ve done it! We’ve reached our goal! We’ve made the decision! We can be on to the next step in our journey!
This metaphor is directed toward myself too. I have plenty of decisions I’d like to have made decisive progress on long ago. Part of this is trying to motivate myself to take action, even if something is a little risky. I just ought to let that ball loose into the air and let gravity take over and hope it lands where I aimed.
To wrap this up, the simplest way to increase your likelihood of success in everything is to simply try. We’ll never succeed in anything if we don’t get to the point where we actually take that step and do it. Nike has it right. Just do it, as they say.
So I encourage you as well to consider the things in your life that you’d like to DO and then consider what’s getting in your way from doing them. If you’d like to comment we can work those things out. Definitely sharing and hearing other people’s hurdles will help the both of us work toward our goals in a decisive way.