3 Mindset Lessons from Derek Jeter

This week, Derek Jeter, New York legend, got the call to the Baseball Hall of Fame. With 99.7% of the vote, he fell just one ballot short of joining teammate Mariano Rivera as a unanimous inductee. Pitchforks came out, but his response to it was not only typical of Derek Jeter, but one which revealed a lot of wisdom and an advanced, winner’s mindset.

That made me want to do this post. As I’ve said many times, you are who you associate with, no matter how remote. Listen to the right people and you will begin to absorb their thoughts and habits, making you more successful. With that in mind, here are three choice passages from Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame press conference earlier this week.

Dealing with failure

I signed [a minor league contract] the day after my 18th birthday and now all of a sudden you’re playing against the greatest players in the world, and I’ve been doing it [playing baseball] my whole life. I was completely overmatched. I had to learn how to deal with failure. When you’re growing up a lot of times you don’t have to deal with that. It helped prepare me for what was to come in New York. – 26:50

When you’re a child, you get nothing but praise. People will magnify your talents and downplay your failures. For the infamous “soyllennial” generation (sadly, mine), it was worse, and often extended into adulthood, with participation trophies and safe spaces.

Most of these people never had to deal with situations where their inflated self-importance was so obviously exposed. In baseball, cognitive dissonance is harder, because no matter how many delusions your brain might create to maintain your self-importance, they won’t help you to hit a 95 mph fastball. So you better get over yourself, adjust, and realize that you aren’t all that – fast.

This was the situation Derek Jeter was talking about. He did great growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but it was a different story when he went to the minor leagues. He needed to readjust, deal with failure, and use it to grow. Derek Jeter did it and it helped to prepare him for the much greater pressure of playing in New York, which he handled magnificently.

There’s a lesson in there for us all. Dealing with failure is one of the most important skills you can develop. Derek Jeter would not have gotten into the Hall of Fame without it.

Derek Jeter Hall of Fame

Controlling your attention

Reporter: What would you most like to ask or say to the one writer who didn’t vote for you?

Jeter: See, that’s where our minds are a little bit different. I focus on the ones that did. It takes a lot of people to all agree to get you to this point, so I’m not thinking about that. I’m happy sitting on this stage right now and that’s something that doesn’t cross my mind. – 30:04

This is the classic Derek Jeter response I talked about above. Derek Jeter always controlled his attention positively during his career. Earlier in the Hall of Fame press conference, he talked about how he would always just be thinking about the next game, whether he won or lost the last one. That kept his mind focused.

Derek Jeter carefully cultivated the habit of focusing on the things that were in his control, in turn elevating them in importance in his mind, as Cialdini notes in Pre-Suasion.

This is important, because our tendency is to focus on the negative. For example, the fear of loss is a more powerful motivator than the ambition for gain. Derek Jeter consciously chose to focus on the positive things about what he could do during his career, rather than focus on things people were saying about him or the opportunities he missed.

You saw the same thing during the Hall of Fame press conference – and he said it immediately, which shows you that the belief is genuine. Why focus on one holdout when your career was so great that it got all but one baseball writer to elect you to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot?

Derek Jeter doesn’t dwell on the trivial nonsense. He focuses on the big picture and his own actions. It obviously made him more productive as a player and, it appears, happier as a person. Contrast it with Alex Rodriguez, who evidently let the negative talk get to his head. This drove him to steroids and ultimately, away from the Hall of Fame.

The instant gratification generation

(When asked about the decline of black participation in baseball): “The younger generation, I think they’re into instant gratification. If you see a player playing college basketball, the next year, they’re in the NBA. If you see a player playing college football, the next year, they’re in the NFL. If you see someone playing college baseball, they disappear for three years, even if they’re the best, before you see them in Major League Baseball. So I think kids nowadays…they want to go towards…not the easier route, the fastest route.” – 44:12

Zion Williamson finally made his NBA debut this week, on the same day as the Baseball Hall of Fame press conference, in fact. He was an instant ratings draw, fresh out of college. It was a good example of what Derek Jeter had just said.

Obviously, people are going to play the sports they’re good at, but Jeter’s words are a good warning to the rest of the population, including you. The impulse toward instant gratification is one of the biggest plagues we face. It breaks down all discipline and drive to higher aspirations. Instant gratification only invites consumerism as a substitute for human life.

Delaying gratification is not only a sign of high intelligence, it’s crucial if you’re going to accomplish anything meaningful, because nothing that’s meaningful is easy. If you can’t live with delayed gratification, you’ll probably give up before your idea has a chance to take off.

So in sports, instant gratification and taking the fastest route might work (at least if you’re an elite college player trying to get in the NFL or NBA), but it won’t work under almost any other circumstances.

You need to develop discipline, as Derek Jeter did throughout his Hall of Fame career.

Read Stumped to further develop a Hall of Fame mindset.

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