I don’t know where I got the idea that I should feel 100% awesome on tournament day. This false conviction seemed to branch off the myth that the other competitors weren’t nervous, that they felt READY and I should too. This type of “supposed to” caused me extensive grief. I end up spending significant time and energy learning lessons I am smart enough to figure out on my own all along.
There was a very freeing passage in the book Maximum Performance by Laurence E. Morehouse, Ph.D. and Leonard Gross in a chapter called “Stop Trying So Hard.” The chapter basically posits that excessive effort often leads to excessive tension which stands in the way of speed, precision and our maximum performance.
There was a period some years back when I took every opportunity I could to interview athletes who had either just broken a world record or bettered their own record in an event to a remarkable degree. ‘What happened?’ I asked each of them. ‘Tell me about that performance from beginning to end.’ By the time I had interviewed a dozen athletes, I could predict almost exactly what each of them would say. The scenario went like this:
I didn’t feel well that day. I was nauseated and felt weak. As a matter of fact, it crossed my mind to ask the coach to scratch me from the event. But before I knew it, my event was called. I hardly remember starting. All I knew for sure was that I was in motion. I don’t remember any particular moment during the event. It all seemed so easy. At the finish, the way the crowd was cheering told me I’d done well, but I had the feeling that if I’d only tried a little harder I could have done much better.
…These athletes are telling us something about maximum performance that every one of us can apply in our daily lives. If you’re exhausting yourself trying to achieve, that’s about all you’ll do.
I have experienced this type of physical uneasiness on some of my best days in competition. I didn’t feel great physically, but the fact that I decided to go on allowed me proceed with reduced expectations. There is something interesting that happens when I let myself off the hook of trying too hard which removes pressure and frees me up to be more instinctual and sharper. Also psychologically, this helps me embrace the day where I felt cruddy before competing. “This feeling is what proceeds a great day” is a much stronger mindset than “I don’t feel well.”
Do the work in preparation for the event, and then let that work show on its own in competition. Being shifted too far to the “try-hard” end of the spectrum can be just as detrimental as “not wanting it enough.” Balance is key and tuning in my ideal mindset is one of the main reasons I compete.
Have you ever had a performance that surprised you?