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  • Mindy McCarthy

Control your second arrow

In Buddhist teachings, there is a parable that goes something like this:

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied, “Yes, it is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”

While we cannot control our outside environment, we can change the pattern of shooting the second arrow after the first.

That second arrow typically comes in the form of self-blame or judging yourself for what happened to you. An example of a second arrow would be like a basketball player turning the ball over and fouling the player who stole the ball a few seconds later. There was one bad situation that was made worse by the way the player reacted to his turnover. Learn how to respond to situations instead of reacting. Next time you find yourself cycling into your “second arrow,” stop and recognize the pattern that you are seeing. Say to yourself, “I see you, second arrow.” This helps you realize that what you are thinking is not actually reality but just your interpretation of it.


Another way of taking the power out of the “second arrow” is to practice self-compassion. If someone close to you was going through the same situation as you, what would you be saying to them? Would you still be as harsh with them, or would you show them some compassion and grace? Practice some more self-compassion to help you handle the stress of bad situations instead of turning them into “second arrows.” This technique of showing yourself some grace also helps you leave what happened in the past. Whatever occurred is in the past and can no longer be controlled, but how you respond to the situation is 100% in your control.


Think about some arrows that you may be experiencing right now. One thing many of us are enduring is the covid-19 pandemic. While the illness and regulations that have been placed on us are out of our control, how can you prevent a second arrow from occurring? Are you choosing to pout about not being able to see your friends and family or play your sport with other people around, or are you going to choose to focus on your individual training and what you can do to get better during this time?

One of the best things you can be working on right now is your mindset. Begin focusing on your positive self-talk, goal setting, visualization, and relaxation. All of these mental skills can be accomplished without being around other people. Just as you do in physical training, expect some resistance. Understand that your body does not get physically stronger after just one workout, and the same goes for your mindset. Keep making progress with your mentality that will greatly improve your performance when you can get back to playing as you did before.

You are in full control of the second arrow.


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