Archive for the ‘Fear Management’ Category
Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. – Vince Lombardi
It’s admittedly hypocritical of me to use the word ‘perfect’ in the title of this post when I’ve written in the past about perfection being overrated. But the word perfect does actually have a place in personal growth so long as you don’t take it too literally.
True perfection isn’t really the point though. The big idea is that practicing your craft has to be done with a level of respect for how you’ll perform in reality at all times. No ifs, ands, or buts.
The only way to achieve your maximum performance potential is to train your body and mind to do so over and over… and over.
Let’s assume for a moment that talent is overrated (just like perfection). Sure, there are people who are naturally better at certain things than others – they have talent, that’s indisputable – but no one can achieve great heights without lots and lots of practice. As Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers, you need 10,000 hours of practice to be great. Or, really, to even have a chance at being great.
Peter Norvig recognized this pattern as well in “Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years”:
Researchers (Bloom (1985), Bryan & Harter (1899), Hayes (1989), Simmon & Chase (1973)) have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again.
Overthinking is a natural part of life for many of us, even when we’re not aware we’re doing it. Research has shown that overthinking is prevalent in young and middle aged adults, with 73% of 25-35 year-olds identified as overthinkers. More women (57%) find themselves overthinking than men (43%), which is a significant difference. This means the majority of women are overthinkers, and the majority of overthinkers are women.
I’m not a woman, but I am an overthinker. So I guess I’m in the minority… a vocal minority ;) If you find yourself spending an unreasonable amount of time thinking through something, twisting it around in your head until you’ve seen it from every angle and possibility, chances are you too are an overthinker.
There are very few benefits to being an overthinker. Being logical (and therefore unemotional) about taking action has a lot of merit and can have positive results, but there’s a difference between thinking about something just enough – and thinking about something to the point of analysis paralysis. The short of it is, you don’t want to be an overthinker!
Overthinking can occur as a consequence of a decision that needs to be made, big or small, and is typically exacerbated in stressful situations. It’s not limited to decision making however, as it can also rear it’s ugly head whenever something has the ability to cause any level of anxiety or worry. It’s the proverbial thing that “keeps you up at night” and stems from an actual or perceived lack of control over some aspect of life. With a lack of control comes a feeling of helplessness. Overthinking is frequently the direct result. The worst overthinkers actually spend time overthinking seemingly meaningless things to the point that they’ve spent more time thinking about the thing than the time it would have taken to address it completely. What a waste of time and energy!
For years, I was a real perfectionist. Not just a weekend perfectionist mind you, a full-blown “I won’t do it unless it can be perfect” kind of perfectionist. In fact, with a number of things I still exhibit some pretty nasty perfectionist tendencies which I’m working on eradicating.
The reason I started this project (Refocuser) in 2009 instead of 1999 when I first had the idea is because I spent 10 years fighting with myself about how to make it perfect, all the way down to how I’d organize the site’s content on my hard drive. Ugh!
Naturally, striving for your best work isn’t a bad thing… most people would never want to swing to the other extreme where quality and pride in the work are void, because that’s a real slippery slope to mediocrity. But I’ve found that for me, that’s pretty much a non-option given my personality. Keeping my perfectionist tendencies in check doesn’t have to mean that the quality of my output is going to suffer.
What I focus on instead of perfection is doing enough to get the most out of my efforts. The second I start trending towards the familiar “over-focusing”, I force myself to stop in my tracks and self-evaluate. More time spent on an activity very rarely equals higher quality in the kinds of projects I do – in fact, many times, it ends up being counter-productive – so not being a perfectionist can actually improve my work.
More is lost through indecision than wrong decision – Carmela Soprano
No matter what you want to get better at – no matter what your primary objective is -you should always make your training or practice harder than the real thing actually is. While this definitely can prepare your body for whatever it is you’re about to undertake, it’s really best used as a way to convince your mind that you’re ready. This approach is critical to focus because in order to achieve deep and meaningful focus on anything, you can’t have self-doubt permeating your thoughts. You need to be “in it”; you need to not only know that you’re prepared, but you need to know that you’re the most prepared you can possibly be!
This mentality is pervasive in sports where competitors routinely cite how while their opponents are sleeping, they’re training. While their opponents are training, they’re training harder. While their opponents are training harder, they’re training smarter. They need to out-train, out-think, out-practice, out-sleep, and out-diet their opponents. The important thing is to believe you’re doing this. Because if you don’t, you won’t believe you can win or succeed when it matters.
Imagine yourself getting into a boxing ring or starting a race knowing you didn’t train as hard as your opponent. Or stepping into an important meeting knowing that the person you’re presenting to knows more about the material than you do. You’re starting off with a serious disadvantage where it matters most.
Naturally this is a mindset that isn’t limited to sports or athletic events. It’s just as important in the office, in school, in music, or in any pastime where practice or training is essential to long-term success. Put this thinking to use any time you have an important event that involves preparation of some kind. It’s a critical component of fear management – there’s no way to overcome fear of something without having confidence that you’ve done everything you can to prepare. With research, fear can dissipate and your performance can improve.
Fear is a tough topic to cover as it motivates so much of what we do on a day-to-day basis. Even when we’re not fully aware of it, fear has its hooks in us and is dragging us down. Naturally we aren’t talking about phobias or that adrenaline rush you get when you skid to a stop right before rear-ending the car in front of you on the freeway. Fear is so much bigger than that. Fear drives almost all of our actions. Why we do some things and why we avoid others, why we get close to some people and push others away. In the process of life, fear is the single biggest hindrance to goal achievement. It’s just such an important topic to cover.
As I talked about recently in the series on Flow, fear is best described as an acronym: ‘False Evidence or Expectations Appearing Real’ or ‘Failure Expected Action Required’. Fear occurs when we have negative expectations of a situation – even when those expectations are completely unfounded. So many people just assume the worst is going to happen when things are ambiguous. Making this assumption leads to a quick “recoil effect” which isn’t dissimilar from what you do when you actually encounter a negative outcome to an action.