Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don’t Let Your Brain Get in the Way

By Bill Grimes

The Atlantic magazine has an interesting
story in the September 2010 issue about the seemingly inexplicable undoing of the world’s #1 female tennis player. Ana Ivanovic, just 22 years old, won the French Open in 2008. Today she has difficulty accurately throwing the ball up in the air to serve. Her ranking dropped to #58 this summer, and she lost in the first round at Wimbledon. The collapse may not be so inexplicable, and may have lessons for all of us.

University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock says Ivanovic’s inability to do what had become routine for her could be “paralysis by analysis.” She may be thinking too much. Her brain may be interfering with synchronized tasks she had clearly mastered. A healthy teenager can sprint down the stairs, but Beilock says if he were to think about how his knee is bending while doing it, “there’s a good chance [he’ll] fall on his face.”

This doesn’t mean stop thinking about what you’re doing and you’ll be great. It’s not that easy. You must master the skill, whether it’s tennis, golf or public speaking. Learn the subject. Prepare for your game or speech. And practice is critical, as is how you practice.

Beilock’s research indicates anxiety can trigger an “overactive mind.” You need to create some anxiety at practice. That’s why football teams sometimes pipe in loud crowd noise when they practice. When you prepare for a speech, practice in front of people, not just alone at your desk. A comfort level will set in, so when you speak in front of the real audience your mind will get out of your way.

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