Give yourselves a big hug …

A delightful article in The Times (by the delightfully named Tara Parker-Pope) this morning suggests that rather than pushing ourselves ever harder, we ought to be nicer to ourselves – This, it insists, may well be good for our health – ‘Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.’ Ignoring the fact that it’s nice to see data accepted as a plural, it is interesting that the focus here is on eating and weight, quite the modern obsession.

Those of us who admit and, quite possibly, embrace our Englishness may well find the idea of writing ourselves a letter of support somewhat odd. After all, we probably wince when anyone compliments us at the best of times – almost as much as when someone complements us.

One-size-fits-all is always a strange thing to read, and the implication is that this one size doesn’t fit anyone quite right. Will ‘self-compassion’ work in other areas of life, such as sports, or work? Well, it seems to depend on the area. How is the area in which you wish to improve your performance assessed? Is it objective, or subjective? It matters not how much self-compassion one has in a sport dominated by statistics … the numbers simply don’t lie. They also fail to tell the whole story, but they are a pretty good indicator. In areas where one’s status is reliant on the perceptions of others – and there are many, many of these – it may just work. Simply presenting oneself as comfortable with one’s performance can give the impression of competence. No matter whether it is displaced or not.

The attitude with which a task is undertaken is something which is vitally important. And it must be relative to the task at hand. As with anything, it’s a question of balance. And one size most certainly doesn’t fit all. There is a time for self-compassion, for accepting that there are some things which one cannot quite control, and which one cannot quite manage. There is also a time for self-criticism, for accepting that one was an utter idiot, that one made the wrong decision, took the wrong path, put too much chilli in … and using that experience as an impetus to ensure it never happens again.

It’s almost time for the cricket to start again. Six weeks or so of nets and we’ll be off. Last year, I batted rather well in nets, in training, but out in the middle, I froze. Both literally and figuratively. A couple of small misjudgements, coupled with a bit of bad luck, and suddenly I was stuck in a run of ‘bad form’. Bad form in cricket is a self-fuelling bandwagon, with each mistake chipping way at the self-confidence … and the confidence leaks to the fielding side. It’s as if there’s a share available, and the true battle is less between bat and ball as it is for the pot of luck available. The body follows the head, and when on a bad run, the batsman clams up, rooted to the spot, and doesn’t survive long.

The body language encourages sledging, and the sledging, while not necessarily in itself effective, tells the batsman he looks vulnerable. One doesn’t sledge a player who’s taking control of the field. There’s a fine line at the crease between confidence and bullishness, between not wishing to get out and being so scared of it that one cannot bat, between thinking about one’s technique and knowing that it’s too late to worry about it.

The batsman’s first epiphany is realising that it is impossible to score runs from the pavilion – don’t get out, and runs will come. The second movement is when the thought process changes from ‘don’t get out’ to ‘what shall I do with this ball’.

Technique is what one hones off the field. Being coached by your partner in the middle drains your confidence and hands it to the opposition. In the middle, it’s about bat and ball – the shot, the technique, the style, simply doesn’t matter. It is making the ball hit the middle of the bat. That’s really all that counts.

When the ball hits the middle of the bat, whether this is literally in the game, or metaphorically in the other world, you may still lose your wicket. You have not meekly surrendered your wicket, but thrown down the gauntlet, and told the fielder that it’s up to him (or her) to get you out. Then it’s a question of how good they are, and how much they believe in themselves.

If you are still caught, then that is the time for self-compassion. You did everything right, and lost that particular battle. That’s the game. What you didn’t do was do something which infuriates. Which, in my case, once infuriated me so much I subsequently punched a (very neat) hole in the dressing-room wall. As the opposition captain remarked, ‘if only you batted the way you punch’.

The next week, that was exactly what I did.