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Keeping calm during streaks

What can philosophy teach us about reacting to long streaks of winning or losing.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

I may be late to the party writing about the past winning and losing streaks of the Cleveland [ball club], Arizona Diamondbacks, and Los Angeles Dodgers. We’re in the final week of the season and there are many more topics of interest. But I’m trying to go back to my roots with regards to Philosophy — especially stoicism.

In my youth, I was always prey to my own emotions. Quick to anger, I easily felt shame and dealt with bouts of depression, and acted rashly during moments of euphoria or gloom. Any trained psychologist could tell you that none of that is healthy. We must try to reign in our emotions, rather than bottling them up or letting them run amok.

During my University years, I majored in Philosophy and started reading some of the works of the Stoics — especially the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Among the subjects that Marcus Aurelius wrote about, he would talk about always acting with your emotions in check. A Stoic must, above all, always be able to analyze a situation and be able to act virtuously. Decisions are not meant to be taken lightly and should be done when a person is at peace — akin to the phrase: “Don’t make promises when you’re happy, and don’t talk back when you’re angry.”

This helps a person keep calm and be able to think rationally about their current situation; what can be done to improve it, and what could happen that might make it worse. Things could always be worse, which is why a person, according to the Emperor, should always be content — though not naive — with his situation.

Lately, I’ve been trying to work again on some of the tenets of stoicism: especially how to calm down by reminding yourself that things could always be worse — or conversely, when things are going well, remind yourself that things can always take a downturn.

And what a coincidence that I started re-reading about this when three streaks of winning or losing started!

As a Dodger fan, having the team losing 15 out of 16 games, while the Diamondbacks went on their own 16-game winning-streak, was very stressful and worrying. Usually, I try not to panic — something I was successful with until around the tenth consecutive loss — but with Arizona slowly creeping up on the Dodgers, and Cleveland gaining ground for home-field advantage, my stoic line of thought lost track, I was constantly cycling between remaining calm and becoming a nervous wreck.

Sure, eventually all three streaks were snapped. And yet, we all celebrated Cleveland’s winning-streak record*, and were amazed that the Dodgers — a team that dominated most of the season — could suddenly look so bad.

*I consider the Giants’ 26-game streak an undefeated streak because of the tie.

In the aftermath, Los Angeles still has the best record, Cleveland has almost secured home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, and Arizona has more than ensured that the Wild Card will be played at Chase Field.

In hindsight, though my stoicism fell through — I was able to recapture it after the losing streak ended — I do take away one lesson from the Dodger clubhouse.

During this streak, there was [reportedly] no inner turmoil within the team. Everybody kept calm and was sure that the streak would be snapped the next day. This is a lesson for team. Everybody kept calm and was sure that the streak would be snapped the next day. This is a lesson for every aspiring practitioner of stoicism: blaming others is easy; but it is better to analyze the situation, understand it, and realize that, when compared to the grandness of the universe, our problems are small and our situation can always improve or be worse.

Cleveland’s situation obviously improved. And it was amazing! The Dodgers’, on the other hand, was a most valuable lesson.

Philosophy branches out into all aspects of life. In this case, it was stoicism’s turn.

Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and BP Bronx and is constantly geeking out over baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.