© 2020 by Nat Ballenberg

Lessons From The Year 2018

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

I like to take the final few days of each year to reflect on the past 12 months. I take a look at the life data I’ve collected - weird things like how many protein bars I ate , how often I got up to pee in the middle of the night, and the number of times I made fish; as well as more normal things like how often I called my Mom, went into the city, or saw my friends - in order to create specific, trackable goals for the new year. But I also pull out my journal, grab a pen, and think back in an attempt to figure out what I’ve learned. This year I decided to turn my notes into a post. I hope you enjoy.



The Fundamental Dichotomy of the Universe

... or the idea of Yin and Yang, impacted my 2018. Many of my ‘aha’ moments were the realization that two competing concepts needed to be merged into one. I realized that:



1. Everything new is old.

In reading The Inner Game of Tennis (1974) I discovered numerous passages that, knowingly or not, describe best coaching practices in a way eerily similar to the constraints led approach. This shouldn’t be surprising, as Nikolai Bernstein - the motor learning pioneer I know the most about - released the English translation of his seminal work The co-ordination and regulation of movements in 1967. But the trend of non-verbal, external cueing and environmental manipulation seems to be new to the baseball world.


For years coaches used verbal cues to direct body parts to do (sometimes ridiculous) things. (I was certainly told to push my hands to the ball when I hit and hold my balance point when I pitched.) Yet if we look at the great players of first ⅔ of the last century, I bet most of them grew up learning to hit by playing stickball on the streets and throw by chucking rocks at barn doors. And how many great Latin players of the past developed their skills with milk carton gloves and taped up baseballs?


So everything new is old, and I’m sure in a few years we’ll find some nuggets of gold in what we’ve recently discarded as antiquated.



2. Reading deeply and reading widely are both valuable.

Several years ago I decided to start reading more. It was a great decision, and I am much better because of it. But I would speed through the good books and come away from them having learned little, while taking forever on the bad ones while learning even less.


This year, finally, I learned to stop reading bad books. Once I deem that my time is better spent elsewhere, the book is done. In this way I get to test out more books, but I also get more time to spend on the good ones. Now, when I get a great book, I cherish it.


If it’s great novel I let the prose linger. I indulge in the pages. I make it last. If it’s a great source of information I soak in the words. I highlight. I make notes. I rewrite my takeaways. I actually learn.


This style allows me to read more books. I can quickly move on if I don’t like one or read quickly if it’s decent. But it also allows me to read more deeply when needed.



3. Complexity and simplicity are inseparable and contradictory opposites.

Getting away from a reductionist mindframe is one of the biggest takeaways from Strength Training and Integration: A Coordinated Approach. Moving away from a=b is also the direction the world is heading. The world’s biggest companies collect enormous amounts of data and use machine learning algorithms to determine the best course of action in many aspects of business. Baseball too is moving towards the world of big data. Every pitch provides rows and rows of data on ball spin and movement. Every batted ball creates more data on both the offensive and defensive side.


With that being said, over-complicating something is never good. It would be a fool’s errand to show most pitchers their entire trackman file. Sure, some would love to see it - and those who want that info should certainly get it - but for most people it’s just too much. Instead, we need to be able to condense all of the data into one or two actionable items.


The same goes for someone like me who is trying to collect data. Over the past few years I’ve attempted to collect fairly complex, user-input driven workload data from my pitching staff. But it was too much, and I ended up with rows and rows of sparsely filled sheets. While moving away from reductionism is a good thing, trying to look at everything at once - and seeing nothing - is far worse than really understand one thing. This coming season my plan is to start with just one row of workload data, and to fill it up.


Once that’s taken care of I can consider making things more complex.



4. Giving is receiving.

The importance of human connection is something I’ve always intuitively understood. I grew up watching my Dad run a small business and realized early that the interactions he had with people were intensely genuine and positive. People loved him because he honestly cared about them. This led to truthful conversations, quality problem solving, and lots of laughs and smiles.


I picked up several of these qualities. I am truly excited to see people I care about, and I don’t hide it. I care deeply about friends and empathize with the problems of strangers. I laugh and smile often and usually have an overabundance of energy.


But there are some pieces to the human connection puzzle in which I am lacking. I do not keep in touch with those I rarely see, including former co-workers, best friends, and those on the edges of my circle. 2018 taught me that I need to do a better job of reaching out to these people.


Humans love small gestures. Sending a link, writing a note, or giving a small gift can go a long way towards growing the relationships with people I see everyday as well as those I haven’t seen in years. By providing value to these people I can give them something while maintaining our connection and growing our bond.


One of my goals for 2019 is to bring joy and surprise to others. So if you haven’t heard from me in a while don’t be surprised (just joyful) if you hear from me soon.



5. Life needs balance.

This is the crux of the whole thing. On my quest for a great life I would like to have everything. I want be extremely happy, do great work, build fantastic relationships, spend time alone, bring joy to others, work long hours, sleep a ton, workout forever, binge watch Parks and Rec, and read lots of textbooks. These things can’t all fit. I can’t maximize every one of them. But life is not about maximizing each individual thing. It’s about maximizing the production possibility frontier of the things I value.


The goal then is to find the combination of work and play, exercise and rest, quiet time and social engagement that leads to the best outcome in the long run. Non-stop work is as unsustainable as watching two seasons of The Office every 24 hours.


So this year I will balance my loves, and when I start feeling overwhelmed I’ll take a 10 minute walk outside, because those things are game changers.



Here’s to 2019!