By Damian Hughes bestselling author on the Psychology of Change
I have recently written a biography of the great boxing champion Marvin Hagler. Understanding the habits and routines of great performers in any industry provides fascinating insights which can be applied to pretty much anybody.I love one simple idea, about when to think (and when not to), which goes as follows.Draw an imaginary line that separates your practice space from your performance space. When you’re inside the Practice Zone, your brain is fully switched on. You’re thinking, strategizing, planning. But when you step across the line into the Performance Zone, you click off your mind and just play.This idea comes from Marvin Hagler who would draw an imaginary line about a yard before he entered the boxing ring. He deemed the area behind the line as the ‘thinking’ zone and the area in front of the line as the ‘play’ zone. In the thinking zone, he would receive feedback from his coaches and think about the next round, his strategy, which punch he wanted to throw, how he would defend from an attack. Then once he had figured out what he wanted to do, he would cross the line into the ‘play’ zone, turn his mind off and spar (or ‘play’), like he had done millions of times before.
There’s plenty of brain science that supports this method (MRI scans show that the more skilled an athlete is, the less they’re thinking). And of course we know that top performance happens when we relax and go on autopilot, letting our unconscious brain do its magic. But I like it because this Practice/Play Zone idea could be applied to lots of stuff beyond sports.
Think about arriving home at night. We create a zone where we complete our phone calls and emails before we step into the house and then a zone where we give our families our undivided attention. Or how about when delivering an important presentation? We could have a zone where we plan and design, and then a zone where we relax and deliver a fluid performance.
The idea also highlights a paradox at the heart of striving for greatness. Marvin Hagler declared that, “During practice, thinking and planning are my friends. During performance, however, thinking and planning are my enemies.”
You can’t avoid this paradox; you need to build a routine that embraces both sides. You essentially have two brains, the conscious and unconscious; so the best way to improve is to give one zone to each.
How can you create your own Practice/Performance Zones?
To understand more how you can shape and create a winning environment, How to Change Absolutely Anything, is brimming with simple and impactful ideas.
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