Relax? Are You Kidding Me?

I’m fascinated by the deepest biological reasons that create world-class performance. When you strip it all down, we are a fantastic arrangement of water, carbon and chemistry and we’ve evolved to this delightful fantasy that with our big brains we can just THINK our way to world class performance.

That’s a cute myth.

The key to a great performance lies in our brains and to a certain extent, in our bodies – what we’re physically capable of. But once we’ve done the training and honed our skills to as fine a point as we can, all the writings tell us to turn off the conscious brain and just go play.

Go find your favorite sports psychology book and flip past the chapters about preparation, visualization and 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and stop at the part where it talks about putting it all together.

Let me take a stab at summarizing it:

Trust yourself that you’ve done the work. Believe that you will be successful. Relax. Just go play.

All maddeningly abstract instructions; my overly-educated brain can’t do anything with them. What do you mean by “believe“? Relax? Are you kidding me?

Our slow, thinking brain holds all our questions of belief, limits and fear of failure that show up physically as tightness and hesitation. We leave that putt inches short; the passing shot just catches the net cord; we can’t find the strike zone to save our life.

We want control and grasping for it is the only way that small, thinking part of our brain can contribute to performance. But the irony is that we approach our best performance by ignoring that part of our mind that has worked so hard to get us to right here. The brain that taught us our skills. The brain that got us out of bed on cold mornings to train. The brain that denied us that cake.

Thanks for all that. Now, stop talking to me.

All I can see is the ground three yards ahead, nothing beyond. My whole world consists of the ground three yards ahead. No need to think beyond that. The sky and wind, the grass, the cows munching the grass, the spectators, cheers, lake, novels, reality, the past, memory – these mean nothing to me. Just getting me past the next three yards – this was my tiny reason for living as a human.

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

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