This week I am in Odessa, visiting the family of my wife. Odessa is a beautiful city, and a pleasant mix of sunshine with a light breeze give the perfect whether conditions.
The other day we went to play bowling, a game I haven’t played since I was maybe 10. In the first match my strategy was to through the bowl in a swift and straight way, without losing much thought on technique. Miraculously I won the match consisting of 10 rounds. I even had few strikes! Felt so proud.
Of course my wife, her dad and nephew insisted on revenge. I sensed a bit of pressure as to whether I would be able to perform that well again, so I started watching the games of our neighbors, and especially one guy who consistently scored very high. I carefully observed the technique of this semi professional, and immediately believed to have found a winning formula.
When we started the rematch I started to really focus on my new repertoire. I was determined to play even better than before. And then it happened: Four turns in a row my bowl sank right into one of the tracks that are positioned of both sides of the lane, guiding my shots into disaster.
I finished the game last, with less points than a little girl who was playing next to us, and who through her bowl with all her might against the floor, as if she thought the goal of the game was to create underground tunnels.
Losing in itself didn’t disturb me. What felt so annoying was that with my extra determination I was not able to replicate the effortless result of the first game. It reminded me of the many times I saw world class tennis players collapsing in important matches, serving one double fault after another. So I started thinking about what happened and quickly came to some conclusions.
I discovered how trying and over analyzing can be counterproductive, as it inflicts too much self imposed pressure. At the same time, I also appreciate that when things come too easy, we risk becoming bored and careless. Therefore, finding the right balance between pressure and effortlessness is what results in peak performance.
This balance can be found by working hard on routines that become unconscious skills and can be applied inkey moments. For example, working on bowling technique can be helpful, provided one practices it well enough so it can be performed without conscious effort, when competing. The same applies to mental skills that enhance concentration and a relaxed state. These can be practiced to the extend that they come naturally when needed.
So in short, practice makes master. By fine tuning our skills we continuously engage in a struggle that enables us to improve. At the same time, it is critical in my view to let go and rely on the abilities we have, when performance is required.
Within this context, overthinking a winning streak is a receipy for disaster. So next time I do well in family competitions, I vow to enjoy my momentum, rather than challenge my luck:-)