I’ve always loved September. I think it’s because, for so many years, it meant the start of something new. A new school year, a new team, a new season: the opportunity to refresh, renew, and reset. With the cool breezes and the changing colours, September has always felt like the time to shed the burdens of the year and focus on what is important. As I turned the page on my calendar at work last Thursday, the quote for September unveiled itself in perfect harmony with my feelings for the month: “It is never too late to be what you might have been” – George Eliot.
In the spirit of embracing September, focusing on what’s important and shedding some of the weight of the year, I want to share with you a trick that I learned a long time ago while playing rugby. Sports, like life, are a complicated mind game. Although your main opponent is the other team, your biggest competition often comes from within. When you start losing the battle against yourself, you expose your weaknesses. This usually happens when you make a stupid mistake or do something impulsively that you know you shouldn’t have. When these things happen, it’s second nature to beat yourself up about it. What my amazing coach taught me, though, is the opposite. Your opponent is already beating you up for making that mistake, so there’s no use piling on.
The first few times that my coach yelled, “TREE IT!” when someone made a mistake, I assumed that I had misheard because there are no trees on a rugby field and, well, it sounded ludicrous. One day, I cautiously approached a teammate and asked if I in fact was hearing my coach yell about flora during important rugby matches. To my surprise, I was not mistaken. One of the veterans on my team took me aside and explained a strategy that, to this day, is the simplest yet most powerful tool in my mental health toolkit. She said,
“When you make a mistake, it’s done, it’s over, it happened. During a game, there’s no time to dwell on what you did – you need to shed it. You need to get rid of it and focus on what’s coming next. Your head needs to be in the moment – in every play and every pass, or else you’ll get smoked (literally). So when you make a mistake, take it in your hand, run to the nearest tree and put it there. Leave it there for the rest of the game. It has no business getting in the way of what you have to do for the next 80 minutes. Once the final whistle blows, you can go pick it up and deal with it tomorrow in practice.”
Now, it obviously looked hilarious to outsiders watching me run off the field quickly between whistles and tap a tree, but to me it meant so much. First of all, it meant that you acknowledged you made a mistake. Secondly, it meant that, although you know you screwed up, your head was in the game and you were ready to take on what was coming. And lastly, it meant that you knew what you had to work on next practice.
Everyone makes mistakes, every day. If we spend our time dwelling on them, our heads will never be in the game. So, in the spirit of September and embracing the idea that it truly is never too late to be what you might have been, I encourage you to try “tree-ing it”. Grab the burdens that you’ve been carrying this year and put them somewhere else. This doesn’t mean that they are forgotten, but something else is holding them for now while you stay focused on your goals. And when you get the chance to “practice” (while you take a long walk, listen to music, or whatever it is that you do for self-care), you can pick them back up and work through them.
A friend of mine calls this “doing life laundry”, which I believe is the perfect analogy. Think about it. You are never constantly doing laundry (at least I hope not). If something is dirty, you throw it in the hamper and clean it when you have the time. Treat your mistakes and your burdens the same way. “Tree them” somewhere, then pick them back up when you have the space and energy to work through them.
I believe that the “fall” season is named as such for a reason. Just as the trees let their leaves fall to the ground, send your mistakes and burdens away to allow for better focus and resolve. And don’t be afraid to yell “Tree it!” if you have to… I’ll know exactly what you mean.
About Kathryn Christie
As an HR Consultant with a deep passion for Mental Health, Kathryn spends her days pushing paper and her nights volunteering with the Canadian Mental Health Association as a co-facilitator of the Family and Caregiver Education program. Her passion extends beyond the realm of her volunteer work which has brought her to Healthy Minds Canada to share stories, support and inspiration with her community.