On Second Thought: Lessons from Frozen Blueberries

frozen blueberries

The pictures that follow seem odd at first. It’s not unreasonable to ask why I took pictures of frozen blueberries and felt compelled to share them via my blog.

I had an epiphany recently when adding frozen blueberries to my smoothie. Typically, the blueberries look like this.

Frozen Blueberries is the bag

In this state, they are frozen but separated. Most importantly, they don’t stick together; if they do, they’re effortless to break apart. This is ideal because when they are loose and separate, I can have more control over my destiny regarding the number of blueberries I want to include in my smoothie since they are individual and easy to fit in ideal amounts.

And while the above picture represents the state of my blueberries, most of the time, there are those rare and annoying exceptions where they are clumped together like this.

blueberries and almonds

Admittedly, this picture could be a more high-quality picture. It turns out my phone has a cracked lens. I didn’t want to lose this seminal moment to capture a meaningful image and convey vital insight. This picture was taken after I put this large clump of frozen blueberries in the blender, along with almonds. Only afterward did I realize I could have taken this picture from my tablet like the others. Oh well, you must go to war with the army you have, or think you have, versus the one you wished you had. If someone didn’t know what this picture was, it would be a reasonable guess that it came from an electron microscope capturing molecules. 

When frozen blueberries melt and then freeze again, they end up stuck together, and it is very hard to break them apart. The chemical composition has now changed permanently in clearly suboptimal ways from a smoothie perspective because it is much more difficult to control their quantity, and one can often end up with large clumps in the blender, resulting in an overconcentration of blueberries. The picture above clearly depicts a case where I was using blueberries that, unfortunately, had been left in the car longer than was ideal after purchasing them, so they ended up melting only to be refrozen after they were put into the freezer. The result was Frankenstein’s blueberry monster.

So, what was the epiphany that came from observing the behavior of frozen blueberries?

I found parallels between this and human fallibility and how we often take actions or conjure up thoughts that change our pristine states and can result in negative thoughts, frustrations, unrealistic expectations, traumas, and triggers sticking with us in ways that make us less flexible, fluid, and takes us out of a state of flow into one of rumination, self-absorption, negativity, fear, anxiety, and distraction. We let our pristine state melt away and then refreeze these traumas, insecurities, triggers, etc. so that they end up sticking with us and taking away much of our freedom, joy, and overall well-being. 

As I progress through life, the more pertinent and true I find Shakespeare’s line in Hamlet that says: There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.Click To Tweet

I have written extensively about my love of tennis and the lessons I have derived from training and playing matches. At the heart of tennis is problem-solving because, with an average match having somewhere between 150 and 250 points (best of three), each point is a laboratory in which to discover opportunities to capitalize on weaknesses and to identify tendencies in your opponent as well as for him to do the same with you. In addition, inevitably, there will be periods of frustration coming from missed shots or poor placement that led to your opponent causing you to make an error or he or she hit a winner. Every moment requires thought, anticipation, and action to figure out where to place the ball, with what pace, height, speed, and spin, how one’s opponent may anticipate and react to your shot, where he will return it, etc. The point is that we are always learning, adapting, and, most of all, problem-solving because they are inevitable and numerous, and we will never defeat challenging opponents without cultivating and sustaining a problem-solving mindset and approach to the game. And, of course, this also applies to life off the court.

At the U.S. Open last week, Billie Jean King was honored by Michelle Obama for the 50th anniversary of her starting the movement to create equal pay between men and women in tennis. Billie Jean King is famous for saying that “Pressure is a privilege,” which I constantly remind myself of when I’m feeling tense and nervous on the court. I’m so lucky to be in this situation that there’s no place I would rather be. 

Billie Jean King

Many years ago, Billie Jean King was asked about what sets champions apart, and this is what she said: A champion is afraid of losing. Everyone else is afraid of winning. Champions keep playing until they get it right.Click To Tweet

Back to the Bard and thinking. This may sound strange, but thinking can be one’s biggest enemy on the court and off of it. I don’t mean the type of thinking that entails observation, analysis, strategizing, and planning, but the type of thinking that hijacks our minds and translates into physical dis-ease caused by our minds taking off (“losing our minds”) and unable to return on its own volition. The result is rumination, obsession, stress, anger, negativity, and anxiety, just to name some of the most powerful byproducts of a hijacked mind. 

Thinking that leads to these feelings of dis-ease has almost no value. At the same time, skillful thinking along with thoughts, particularly second thoughts that can stop the hijack potential of the first ones, are immensely valuable as they can produce feelings of joy, lightness, ease, centeredness, and serenity and can lead to us being much more present and feeling more alive.

This thinking-light approach is also critical to effective playing and problem solving on and off the court if we intend to get it right, as Billie Jean King said was the principal goal of champions. We can’t solve problems and navigate through the maze of life unless we are present and clear-headed, and these come from minimizing our reactivity and taking in information and stimuli in a calm and understanding manner. One more epiphany that just came out of writing this blog.

React —–> Regress

Process —–> Proceed

When we let negative thoughts, catastrophizing, ruminating on the past, and obsessing about the future dictate our thinking, we become like blueberries that have melted only to have been refrozen. These pathologies become stuck to us and cause us to get in our own way. This makes it extremely difficult to get unstuck, and we lose more freedom to direct our lives in the most beneficial ways since we have transformed into reaction machines. We end up regressing and no longer moving forward. Our goal is to do the necessary work to rewire ourselves from reactivity to reflective and thoughtful processors of the stimuli that bombard us every moment. By processing and creating that gap between stimulus and response, we put ourselves in a position to proceed and ultimately succeed.

I have earnestly applied a no-thinking approach on and off the court over the last couple of weeks, and it has been helpful, although there is still so much ground to be gained. After I lose a point, I know it is extremely difficult to control my first thought, which might be negative, such as “That was a dumb shot” or “What are you doing?” etc. But I then tell myself I’m entirely in control of the second thought and that the first was only a thought. So, I say “thought,” which usually stops that thought from taking on a mind of its own and spinning a negative narrative that I can’t break free from and carries with me into the next point and potentially beyond. And suppose something happens off the court that would typically lead to frustration, upset, anger, and anxiety. In that case, I once again will say “Thought” after the initial one to depersonalize it and defuse it. It’s clearly a work in progress, but it has been quite beneficial in improving my mental state.

I have written before that one of my mantras is “If I’m going to internalize, then I better fertilize.”Click To Tweet

In other words, I try to turn my thoughts into fertilizer to transform the negative into life-enhancing nutrients. 

The following picture results from what turned out to be a very smooth smoothie despite the large clump of blueberries with which I had to contend. This was not only mentally satisfying because I used this experience as a “teaching moment,” but it was also very tasty and nutritious. Another form of fertilizing!

Blueberry smoothie

As I was finishing this blog, I switched over to Twitter (a.k.a. X) and saw this on my feed that I think is such an appropriate way to bring this blog to a conclusion.

James Clear August 31, 2023

I encourage you to test out a thinking-light diet over the next couple of weeks. See if you can break the power of your first thoughts from leading you down a road to nowhere by taking charge with a more helpful, healthy, and effective thought. I think you will improve the odds that you’ll be able to be bigger than the situations you’re in and be pleasantly surprised by the results.


One comment on “On Second Thought: Lessons from Frozen Blueberries
  1. Mark Skowronski says:

    Walter Isaacson’s biographies are great. He only does living person bio’s if the subject person has no say in what’s published. For a biography of the digital age read his “The Innovators” and find out why HAL 9000 (2001 Space Odyssey) sings “Daisy”.

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