Perspectives from the Past: Jamie Baker
In this edition of Perspectives from the Past, Jamie Baker writes about where he is on his personal journey, how he is (re) training his brain, and how he uses radical gratitude in his daily life and to help others. Jamie Baker played 186 regular season games or the Sharks, scoring one of the franchise’s most memorable goals – the series-winning goal in the seventh game of the 1994 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings. Jamie, a fan favorite, has been a Sharks broadcaster since 2005.
The Battle to Control Your Brain
“I’m trying to come up with, ah, something positive to take away from this, and ah, it was hard because there isn’t much, but, the best thing I think I was able to come up with is this, Gratitude! It seems to me that all we can do is be grateful for the time we had with them, and for the time we have left with each other. And that’s all!”
~ Jimmy Kimmel, during his emotional speech at the Memorial for Kobe Bryant at Staples Center
When I watched Kimmel speak it was hard not to have tears slowly slide down my cheeks, but there was also internal warmth in hearing his words and knowing that all the work that I’m putting in to re-take control of my own brain is on the right path.
I won’t go into all of my past, because Katie Strang of The Athletic documented it, including my struggles, in a wonderfully written article. Here is the link to the article, which is aptly titled “Once at a place of ‘no hope’ Sharks Broadcaster Jamie Baker is gratefully alive.” Here is where I stand today.
COMPASSION FOR SELF
Trying to get back into shape takes time, trying to learn a new skill takes time, trying to become a pro athlete takes time, and trying to change a brain that I wasn’t in control of for about 20 years, well, takes time.
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One of the best things I learned in therapy in the last couple of years was compassion, starting with compassion for self. I was too hard on myself and expected immediate changes. It’s been about two and a half years since my leave of absence from the Sharks, and not surprisingly I have had setbacks. But the setbacks were all short-lived, and they didn’t depict the progress that was being made, if anything, they allowed me to once again use compassion and keep moving forward. The setbacks are now less frequent, and if I have one, they are less common and don’t have the depth they once did.
SETTING THE STAGE
My story today is about what I do to (re) train my brain. Training the brain has many benefits. Example, if you want to lose weight, it’s not your stomach that wants the sugars and processed foods; it’s your brain telling you that your stomach wants it. If you are compulsive about things and you want to make changes, you have to go to the root cause, the brain. If you have control, passive-aggressive, insecurity or anger issues, the root cause, again, is the brain.
The brain is the most important muscle in our body, but for some reason very few people actively train their brain. We educate it, we train our bodies, but do we train our brains, and if so, are we doing it enough?
So Jimmy Kimmel, in preparing for one of the toughest speeches he has ever done, in trying to find an answer, a reason, an anything, came up with one thing; Gratitude. It brings me back to my leave of absence, a time of despair, sadness, and loneliness but also hope, because it’s where I started to research and put together a roadmap to “Train The Brain” so I would never go back to where I had been.
There are different levels of training and what a person can go through. When I trained for hockey, I don’t think many people trained harder off-ice than I did back in the day. I worked with my trainer, Mark Slater, who had a program that was 10 years ahead of its time. I also used to do hill training every summer. I would sprint up the short hill, jog down, and time how long I had until I sprinted up again. I had found a steep hill where each sprint took 30-45 seconds to replicate a shift in hockey. Invariably, I always did those hill sprints until I either threw up or was so dizzy I couldn’t do another one. I would lie down and have to rest, sometimes for 30 to 40 minutes before I could drive home. But what the training did for me, aside from improve my leg strength and power, explosiveness, cardio, and ability to recover; was train my brain to handle pain. I was training myself to handle pain better than other players, more skilled players, stronger players, and faster players. This way I could try and wear them down, and come the third period, when fatigue became a factor, I was trained to excel in this situation, it was almost a comfort zone. It didn’t happen over night, I built up this type of training summer after summer.
Repetition … the key to training! The training helped; I beat the odds as you know and played in the best hockey league in the world, the NHL.
Well, I’m doing it again, this time I’m coming up with a training regimen that is going to allow me to have control over my own brain. I’m not stopping, as a matter of fact; I’m just getting started. Here is what I’ve come up with so far, with help from many resources including my therapist at Nugent Family Therapy (where I also did 30 sessions of Neurofeedback), my psychiatrist, After The Impact Foundation, the NHLPA, Centre for Neuro Skills, One Hit Away Foundation, Journey Pure, Azzolini Chiropractic Neurology, The Amen Clinic and many different articles and books whose information, if used regularly and properly, help re-shape the way you think and act.
In November of 2017, when I was really struggling, I received an email on the perfect day from the perfect person. My daughter Reilly was obviously concerned, and forwarded an email to me. The email was initially from Pastor Rick Warren, as Reilly subscribes to his emails. This particular email caught my attention and was exactly what I was looking for at the time, some type of mantra that I could work with.
In the email it said; “Radical Gratitude means you’re going to walk through life being grateful in every situation, no matter what — in times of plenty, when times are tight, when times are good, bad, right, wrong, whatever. You can develop an attitude of gratitude by choosing to be grateful in every situation. The act of radical gratitude actually serves others.”
I must have read it ten to fifteen times. For everything I have been through, I decided right then and there that I had not been grateful enough in my past, and moving forward I wanted gratitude at the forefront of what I did and who I was.
I have been doing a daily gratitude journal since that day. Yes, I miss the odd day, but that’s rare. I use a moleskin planner and use one page a day to write what I’m grateful for. On average, I do it 27 to 28 days a month. Here are some typical things I write in my gratitude journal:
- Thank you Lord for another Day
- Grateful for my comfortable bed and a good night sleep (If I don’t sleep well, then my entry would look like this … grateful for my comfortable bed, didn’t sleep well, but at least I was comfortable.)
- Grateful for clean water, hot coffee and the food I’ll eat today
- Grateful for my hot shower
- Grateful for my clothes … the sun … the rain … a stranger who smiled at me …the beautiful trees … the sunset etc..
One of my favorites is the following, and it’s the essence of gratitude:
- Grateful for having money to fill up my car with gas
Instead of wishing I had a different car, a better car, I’m just grateful I can fill up the one I have. I’m training my mind to be grateful for what I have, and that’s all. As Epictetus, who was a Stoic Philosopher, so eloquently put it “he is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
DAILY INTENTIONS (& AFFIRMATIONS)
I use the Law of Attraction Planner to start everyday. I already have an intention for the month and week, and then each day I write four daily intentions. I use a lot of the same ones, but it’s repetition, and starting my day with positive thoughts. Examples include some of the following: radical gratitude, compassion, non-striving, kindness, be mindful, mindful productivity, let energy flow, control perceptions, empathy, listen intently, reasoned choices, control impulses, stay centered, consciousness, is that so, empower others, cherish each moment, present moment awareness … and many others.
On Sunday, I prepare my planner for the week with the same ten quotes and a list of other affirmations and positive intentions, and add a new paragraph to study that week. That paragraph will have something to do with training the brain. It takes an hour or two to set up my week … I put on some music and enjoy every minute of the training. Repetition …. The key to training!
The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t. To a Stoic, you are a product of your training. A mind that isn’t in control of itself, that doesn’t understand its power to regulate itself will be jerked around by external events and unquestioned impulses.
You must put in place training and habits to replace ignorance and ill discipline. Only then will you begin to behave and act differently. Only then will you stop seeking the impossible, the short-sighted and the unnecessary.
I was fortunate to learn about The Daily Stoic back when I started this journey to re-train my brain. I’m on my 3rd year of reading this book. All you have to do is read one page a day, this book of meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living. I have so many quotes from this book: I don’t understand how it’s not part of the curriculum in schools. Here are two of my favorites (they are two of the ten I write in my planner every Sunday.)
- “You have control over your mind – not outside events, realize this and you will find strength.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
- “To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.” ~ Seneca
I also have The Daily Stoic Journal and each day there is a morning and evening reflection. For the morning reflection, the book asks you a question, typically pertaining to the topic of the day in The Daily Stoic. The evening reflection is just reviewing your day, writing down the things you potentially did well, or need to work on.
Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present and non-judgmentally to the unfolding experience moment by moment.
Easier said than done! But, within the realm of mindfulness is meditation, which I do on a regular basis, often using the Calm App. There is also just breathing, and I caught on to a technique where I would breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. I do that throughout the day to calm my mind, to reel in negative thoughts or often just prior to going on a broadcast. I call the 4 sets of 4 — breathe, relax, notice, choose. When I breathe, I think of compassion, when I relax, I think of kindness, when I notice, I think of gratitude, and when I choose, I think of love. Repetition … The key to training!
I am going to share a couple of excerpts that I use on a mindfulness cheat sheet I created. These excerpts come from the book “The Art and Science of Mindfulness” by Shapiro and Carlson. These excerpts are motivation for me; they are what I want, what I am pursuing and why I am training my brain.
- “At the deepest level, mindfulness is about freedom: freedom from reflective patterns, freedom from reactivity, and ultimately, freedom from suffering. Mindfulness can transform our relationship to what is. As a result, the strength of our unexamined and highly conditioned patterns can begin to diminish. Greater degrees of freedom from reflective habits or perceiving and reacting can arise spontaneously. We can make more deliberate choices guided by a clarity of seeing and a deep knowing what is true within ourselves. And so we begin to train our minds, to cultivate the ability to observe the mind with the mind. And we start in the present moment, because that is the only place we can start.”
- “Mindfulness requires effort and discipline for the simple reason that the forces that work against our being mindful, namely, our habitual unawareness and automaticity, are exceedingly tenacious. When we commit ourselves to paying attention in an open way, without falling prey to our own likes and dislikes, opinions and prejudices, projections and expectations, new possibilities open up and we have a chance to free ourselves from the straightjacket of unconsciousness.”
Awareness is the greatest agent for change, and change happens when you become conscious of the present moment. This is my pursuit. I don’t regret not pursuing it sooner, I’m grateful I’m here today, another day, to work on being present.
I’ve mentioned The Daily Stoic and The Art and Science of Mindfulness, here are a few other books that have impacted me: ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’, ‘Ego is the Enemy’, ‘Wherever You Go There You Are’, ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ and lastly, the one book that has impacted me the most, ‘A New Earth”.
Here are two quotes from Eckhart Tolle who is the author of The New Earth.
- “The voice in the head has a life of its own. Most people are at the mercy of that voice; they are possessed by thought, by the mind. And since the mind is conditioned by the past, you are then forced to reenact the past again and again.”
- “Instead of ‘watching the thinker,’ you can also create a gap in the mind stream simply by directing the focus of your attention into the Now. Just become intensely conscious of the present moment. This is a deeply satisfying thing to do. In this way, you draw consciousness away from mind activity and create a gap of no-mind in which you are highly alert and aware but not thinking. This is the essence of meditation.“
No one said training was easy; no one said training was for the light-hearted. I ran hills until I threw up for a reason. I’m studying consciousness and the present moment and working on it daily, for a reason. It’ll take time … great, I love that, because time is what perseverance is all about … and that’s all.
I haven’t even mentioned the importance of nutrition and exercise to the brain. Trust me, it’s important. I try and eat well 80% of the time and I exercise regularly. I love my CorePower Yoga; when they are open I go to hot yoga 5 or 6 days a week. When they are closed or I’m not near yoga studio’s (for instance the cottage in the summer) I run and do push ups and other forms of exercise.
If you have gotten this far, I’m grateful. If you choose to train your brain, there is no better time than to start now, and if you choose that, I’m grateful.
Here’s another quote, this one is also in my planner and I read it everyday. Repetition … The key to training!
- “It is thru gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Sign me for that up!
With Radical Gratitude …