“No, I don’t know why he needs four laundry bags full of ice.”
The concierge was shrugging her shoulders in exasperation as she spoke to
housekeeping. She repeated the instructions. It was 8 P.M., and everyone at the front desk was confused.
I, on the other hand, was a dead man walking. My batteries had hit empty hours before. Cringing with low-back pain, I used a garbage bag of sweaty clothes as a pillow and rested my head on the countertop. The bellboy moved a few feet further away.
After what seemed like an eternity, the riddle of the ice was solved. I shuffled to my room and face planted.
Twenty minutes later, I awoke to a knock on the door and had my 40 pounds of ice. Into the tub it went, and—after taking off my elbow brace, unwrapping blistered toes, and popping anti-inflammatories—I eased into the freezing water. As I lost my breath and the adrenaline hit, an old phrase came to mind: “LOVE THE PAIN.”
My senior year of high school, I read a book called Mental Toughness Training for Sports by Dr. Jim Loehr. My best competitive season of sports—then or since—followed. Throughout that entire period, I wrote one thing at the top of my journal before every wrestling practice: “LOVE THE PAIN.”
Now, I found myself in Orlando, Florida, the same phrase running through my mind.
Months earlier, someone from the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute had reached out to ask me a simple question: “Would you like to learn how to play tennis?” Then they added, “Dr. Jim Loehr would also enjoy spending some time with you.”
I learned that Jim was retiring the following year. He’d worked with Jim Courier, Monica Seles, and dozens of other legends. If I traveled to Florida, I’d have a pro tennis coach for the technical game and Jim for the mental game. Jim himself! And tennis had been on my list for decades. How could I not jump at the chance? So I did.
Now, slumped in an ice bath, there was no jumping.
I’d just finished my first day of a planned five days. Each day included six hours of training, and I already felt broken. My long-standing elbow tendinosis had flared up with a vengeance, making it agonizing to pick up a water glass. Brushing my teeth or shaking someone’s hand was out of the question. Not to mention the low back and everything else.
This is when my mind started running:
Maybe this is just what 40 feels like? Everyone tells me that’s what happens. Maybe I should cut my losses and get back to other projects? And let’s be real: I’m fucking terrible at this, and I’m in pain. Besides, it’ll be hard to get to the courts in San Francisco regularly. No one would blame me if I had to leave early. In fact, no one would really even know . . .
I shook my head. Then I slapped the back of my neck to snap out of it.
No, you can suck it up, Ferriss. This is ridiculous. You’ve barely even started, and this is what you’ve always wanted. You’re going to come all the way to Florida to turn around after one day? C’mon.
Think. Maybe I could play left-handed? Or toss balls to mimic the game, and work on footwork? Worst case, I suppose I could cancel ball work altogether and focus on my mental game?
I let out a long exhale and shut my eyes for a few deep breaths. Then I reached over the side of the tub. Books are my go-to distraction when submerged in ice baths for a testicle-punishing 10 to 15 minutes. That night, the flavor du jour was The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey.
One passage stopped me in my tracks a few pages in:
The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers the true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.
The secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard?
It was with that thought that I dragged myself out of the ice bath and to bed,
where I fell soundly asleep.
THE POINT OF IMPACT
I walked into the training center the next morning and was greeted by Lorenzo Beltrame, my incredibly talented and affable tennis coach.
Jim was around the corner with his huge smile, size 15 shoes, and usual good advice: “Today, do everything more softly: grip more softly, hit more softly . . . Let your shoulders and hips hit the ball.”
The three of us knew today would decide whether we forged ahead, attempted left-handed play, or threw in the towel altogether. Jim didn’t want me destroying myself, and he didn’t want optimism bleeding into masochism.
Out to the courts we walked.
Two hours into practice, Lorenzo stood a broom up in the middle of the net and put a towel on top. My job was to aim for the towel.
I proceeded to hit a seemingly endless streak of balls into the net. There was zero accuracy and constant shooting pain in my arm.
Lorenzo stopped the action and walked around the net. He spoke quietly: “When I was a young player in Italy, nine or ten years old,” he said, “my coach gave me a rule: I could make mistakes, but I couldn’t make the same mistake twice. If I was hitting balls into the net, he would say, ‘I don’t care if you hit balls over the fence or anywhere else, but you’re not allowed to hit any more balls into the net. That’s the only rule.’”
Lorenzo then changed the focus of the drill entirely. Instead of compulsively looking at my target, the towel, I would only focus on what was directly in front of me: The point of impact.
The point of impact is where the ball makes contact with the racket. It’s the split second in which your intention collides with the outside world. If you look at freeze-frames of top professional players in this critical moment, you will most often see their eyes on the ball as it smashes into their strings.
“Ready?” he asked.
He fed me the first ball and . . . it worked like magic.
As soon as I stopped fixating on the destination—where I wanted to hit the ball—and instead focused on what was in front of me—the point of impact— everything began to work. 10, 15, 20 balls later, they were all going where I wanted them to go, and I wasn’t thinking about where I wanted them to go.
Lorenzo smiled, made a twirling hand motion like a bow, and kept feeding me balls. He yelled over to the sidelines, where Jim had just returned from the offices, “Doc, you have to watch this!”
A gigantic grin spread across Jim’s face. “Well, look at that!”
It flowed, and it kept flowing. The more I focused on the point of impact, the more the rallies and games took care of themselves. My elbow somehow hurt less, and I made it through the entire five days of training.
It was glorious.
THE DANGER OF BIG QUESTIONS
Most of the time, “What should I do with my life?” is a terrible question.
“What should I do with this tennis serve?” “What should I do with this line at Starbucks?” “What should I do with this traffic jam?” “How should I respond to
the anger I feel welling up in my chest?” These are better questions. Excellence is the next five minutes, improvement is the next five minutes,
happiness is the next five minutes.
This doesn’t mean you ignore planning. I encourage you to make huge,
ambitious plans. Just remember that the big-beyond-belief things are accomplished when you deconstruct them into the smallest possible pieces and focus on each “moment of impact,” one step at a time.
I’ve had a life full of doubts . . . mostly for no good reason.
Broadly speaking, as good as it feels to have a plan, it’s even more freeing to realize that nearly no misstep can destroy you. This gives you the courage to improvise and experiment. As Patton Oswalt put it, “My favorite failure is every time I ever ate it onstage as a comedian. Because I woke up the next day and the world hadn’t ended.”
And if it seems like the world has ended, perhaps it’s just the world forcing you to look through a different, better door. As Brandon Stanton put it, “Sometimes you need to allow life to save you from what you want.”
What you want may be that towel in the middle of the tennis court, the compulsive goal that’s preventing you from getting what you need.
Keep your eye on the ball, feel what you need to feel, and adapt as you go. Then the game of life will take care of itself.
THE POWER BROKER
During my second lunch in Orlando, Jim told me the story of Dan Jansen.
Dan Jansen was born in Wisconsin, the youngest of nine kids. Inspired by his
sister, Jane, he started speed skating and, by age 16, he had set a junior world record in the 500-meter race. He decided to dedicate his life to the sport.
Dan earned his way to the top but was plagued by tragedy at every Olympic Games. His pain peaked at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Hours before his 500- meter race, Dan found out that Jane had lost her battle against leukemia. He fell in the 500, crashing into the barriers, and did the same several days later during the 1,000. He had arrived in Calgary as the favorite for two gold medals, and he instead went home with a death in the family and no medals.
Dan came to expect bad luck, and he began working with Jim Loehr in 1991 to correct course.
At the time, many people thought it was impossible to break the 36-second barrier in the 500. This “impossible” had seeped into Dan’s head, and he started writing “35:99” at the top of his journal pages to counteract the doubt.
The 1,000-meter race was also a problem . . . or so it seemed. It gave him too much time to think, too much time to create self-defeating loops in his own mind.
So, every day for two years, Jim had Dan add another reminder next to “35:99” in his journal: “I LOVE THE 1,000.”
On December 4, 1993, Dan finished the 500 meters with 35:92, breaking the 36-second barrier and setting a world record. He broke it again on January 30, 1994. Dan landed at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, in the best shape of his life. He had one final chance at an Olympic medal.
In “his event” of the 500, he took eighth place. It was a devastating loss. The curse of the Olympics seemed intact.
Then came the 1,000 meters, his nemesis. It would be his last race at his last Olympics. He did not fall. He stunned everyone by blowing away the competition, setting a world record, and winning a gold medal in the process.
Dan had learned to love the 1,000, and he became a national hero.
It’s one hell of a story, right?
Now, you might say, “That’s inspiring and all, sure, but what if you don’t
have access to Jim Loehr?”
At age 17, I didn’t either. I read Mental Toughness Training for Sports in a
bunk bed, and it changed my life. To learn from the best, you don’t need to meet them, you just need to absorb them. This can be through books, audio, or a single powerful quote.
Feeding your mind is how you become your own best coach.
To paraphrase Jim: The power broker in your life is the voice that no one ever hears. How well you revisit the tone and content of your private voice is what determines the quality of your life. It is the master storyteller, and the stories we tell ourselves are our reality.
For instance, how do you speak to yourself when you make a mistake that upsets you? Would you speak that way to a dear friend when they’ve made a mistake? If not, you have work to do. Trust me, we all have work to do.
This is where I should explain my old friend “LOVE THE PAIN.”
“LOVE THE PAIN” isn’t about self-flagellation. It’s a simple reminder that nearly all growth requires discomfort. Sometimes the discomfort is mild, like an uphill bike ride or swallowing your ego to listen more attentively. Other times, it’s far more painful, like lactic-threshold training or the emotional equivalent of having a bone reset. None of these stressors are lethal, and it’s the rare person who pursues them. The benefits or lack thereof depend on how you talk to yourself.
Hence, “LOVE THE PAIN.”
Earlier in this book, Brian Koppelman mentioned that he considers Haruki Murakami the world’s best writer of fiction. To boot, Murakami is an excellent long-distance runner. Here is what Murakami has to say about running, which can be applied to anything:
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, “Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore.” The “hurt” part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.
If you want to have more, do more, and be more, it all begins with the voice that no one else hears.