F*** It, Dude. Let's Go Bowling.

I go bowling about three times a year, and I'm not particularly good at it. I just kind of swing my arm as straight as I can and hope for the best. After years of doing so, even if it's only three times a year, I've gotten to the point where I consistently get about 100-120 points depending on how lucky I get. I had never broken 130 before.

Last week I bowled 143 in my first game. I was in shock, but I was perversely comforted by the fact that I usually play worse in my second game. My arm starts to hurt about eight frames deep and I fall apart in game  2.

I bowled 161 in my second game. I didn't get less than 9 pins in a any frame, and less than 10 in any but two. In other words, I played really well for just rolling the ball as straight as I can.

Let's look at what happened, figure out a causal mechanism, and see what we can learn from the experience.

Just Do It

It's not unreasonable to assume that I would get better with practice, but so far I had experienced the tiniest of marginal improvements. Getting two PRs in the same night, each by about 20 points, requires more explanation. If it were just one, I would call it dumb luck, but I played consistently well, frame after frame, all night long. I beat a guy who brought his own bowling ball and shoes from Illinois. I didn't just get lucky. I played well. How?

Once I stepped onto that glossy floor, I stopped thinking about anything. I didn't think about technique or how many points I needed to win or the things I had to do the next day. I just walked forward, stared at the pins, and bowled. I let my (albeit minimal) training take over. I literally thought about nothing. I just did it.

If you're trying to be consistently good at one thing, that's how it has to be. You have to get in the zone and perform without thinking about it. Training gets you to the point where that can happen. Obviously this doesn't work if you don't have the training.

Have Fun

I'm a bit of a competitive person. Competition's a good motivator. But motivation's not enough. Heck, I always want to win, anyways. All competition does is stress me out when I'm already motivated to win. The last time I had played before my high score, I played terribly. I barely broke 100 in my second game.

It was for a friendly annual competition at school. The whole time we were playing, one of my teammates would not stop talking about how his team had never lost a game in previous years, how he had had the trophy sitting in his office for as long as he could remember. He said we better win so he could keep it. Even if he was joking around, which he was, it made some part of me anxious not to lose. That anxiety made it hard to focus, to relax, and to get in the zone when it came time to roll.

So, when it's time to focus, relax. Have fun. Joke around, poke fun at yourself and at what you're doing. Keep it light. Life's too short to stress out about work, let alone a game of bowling. If you can enjoy what you're doing, and not just do it to "win," you'll perform at your best.

Eat Lots of Onion Rings and Garlic Fries

The whole time I was playing, I was munching on onion rings and garlic fries. I think the grease helped me let go of the ball more smoothly. So always eat lots of fried junk food when you're bowling. I'm kidding. Don't do that. That stuff's awful for you.


I discovered a treasure trove of motivational videos on YouTube. I think I'm becoming addicted. Look at how many videos this guy alone has: http://www.youtube.com/user/RSDTyler. There's like a whole genre of YouTube video where a guy talks for half an hour telling you that you can do anything you set your mind to if you work hard enough. I'm in heaven.