Think about the last time you were in the flow of achievement and then you stalled. What happened? What did you suddenly become aware of? In all likelihood, you started to ‘think’ about what you were doing while you were doing it.
Matthew Syed in his book Bounce talks about the ‘choke’ that sportsmen and women experience for no apparent reason that results in their performance diving. These are high achieving elite athletes with years of practice and experience in their field and yet they suffer apparently inexplicable and seriously big performance failures.
Huge chunks of what we do in our lives is learned unconscious action – the obvious is the stopping at a red light behaviour. If you break down all the individual learnings that constitute these unconscious behaviours you’d probably disintegrate into a jibbering wreck of processes and would not be able to function because of the protracted time it would take you to follow all the instructions that make up each action or behaviour. So it seems that we do stuff well because we’re not really thinking about it.
That’s not to say we can all just be good at everything. As Matthew Syed emphasises, we need to practice, a lot, over and over, in order to achieve excellence. Once we do that, the behaviour becomes set in our unconscious and we can perform. We still need to practice and we still need to be aware, but we are dealing now on a higher plane where the practice and awareness relate to the ‘getting better’ bit of our performance. The process is one where you learn the behaviour to the point where t is unconscious – so, you don’t think about what you are doing when you are driving for instance, as this has become an implicit memory. Choking happens when our anxiety is such that we feel we need to take conscious control over something that should be done automatically from implicit memory.
This is the point when we perhaps we need to draw on other skills and techniques to prevent the choke. Stepping out of the moment, concentrating on the breath, taking the time-out to make a break in the pattern of your behaviour. Find out how some performance coaching can help you gain perspective.Take the pressure off by thinking that this is about more practice, there are other opportunities out there and this is one on the way to that, not the biggest and best and only win of your life.