Don’t let context sabotage your performance

We all know the saying “Practice makes perfect”, but that is a misguided notion.

Many have come to accept it and believe it, perhaps even repeat it like an affirmation, but only because it has been drilled into the subconscious mind by authoritative sources over and over again.  The best that practice can do is make someone prepared. Instead consider this alternate and more realizable saying: “Practice makes prepared.”

How is practicing to be perfect working for you? Is it leading to frustration, tension, loss of interest or counterproductive thinking, or even worse, poor performance?

When we practice toward perfection our focus becomes narrow and causes us to lose contact with the surrounding environment. Very often while practicing to perfection we practice in a sterile, highly controlled environment that itself has elements of perfection. The lighting is perfect; the temperature is perfect; the acoustics are perfect; the room is perfectly quiet, and so on. Every surrounding thing is conducive to practicing to perfection.

On performance day, when reality takes over, the senses may be shocked by poor lighting, heat or air conditioning running out of control, a room that booms and echoes, a loud and distracting crowd, and shoes or clothes which suddenly feel restrictive and uncomfortable.  Then distress takes over as that perfectly practiced performance begins to degrade and feelings of awkwardness, clumsiness, detachment from our self emerge. The inner critic, having nothing positive to say, begins disapproving of the performance which has taken a turn for the worse. Yet things went well during practice. Why did they instead go wrong during the performance?

When we learn to do things within a certain context, or framework, it is easiest to recall what we learned in the same or similar context. Context is the situation or environment, so to speak, in which learning or recall takes place. Our emotional states also play a role but let’s ignore them and only consider context.

Memory recall studies were done with skin divers. Divers learned things in two different contexts: while wearing a diving suit on dry land and then under water. Their recall performance was tested on land and under the water. Divers who learned on land demonstrated best recall on land. Divers who learned under water recalled best under water. Divers that were tested for recall in the opposite context from which they learned had poorer recall. The research proved that the best recall occurs when the recalling context matches the learning context. If that is true for recalling memories then it can also be true of performance activities—the recall, which had preceding practice sessions—the learning.

Each of us is a huge collection of memories. We would be nothing without memory. Everything we do and accomplish comes about from our carrying out actions based upon or adapted from our memories. It is impossible for us to do something that we haven’t learned to do. Yet we can implant within ourselves by means of self hypnosis a “future memory” of the ways we wish things could be, of a changed and improved life. The subconscious mind recognizes that future memory as a goal and does all that it knows to achieve the goal.

How to reduce your sensitivity to context changes

Use self hypnosis to build resistance to the kinds of conditions that you find detrimental to your performance. Go into self hypnosis; create a future memory by imagining your performance the way you would like it to be in the presence of the distraction. Visualize, imagine or just know that the distraction no longer has a negative influence upon your performance, and how your performance is greatly improved. You do this by imagining yourself perform, by viewing yourself as if you are watching a movie of yourself performing. It could be a 2-D movie as you might see in a regular movie theater, or on a television screen. It could be as if it were in 3-D movie where you could move in and around yourself, observing from many different directions. It can even be like a slide show. No matter the form it takes, it is important to observe yourself just like others see you.

After self hypnosis during a regular practice session just imagine that same distraction taking place. Role-play the performance you want to give. You might even set up your practice area to mimic the distraction: play several radios at the same time, turn the lights down, or shine bright lights in your eyes, make the environment uncomfortable, wear uncomfortable clothes, or wear your actual performance clothes, etc., and notice your reactions and resulting performance. Doing this will give you feedback on how much more work you may have to do with self hypnosis. Then supplement with more self hypnosis mental rehearsal sessions.

Do all this for one type of distraction at a time until it is resolved, and then advance to the next distraction. By following this method you will achieve consistency in your performance regardless of how the performance context differs from your practice context.

In summary:

  • Identify the distraction(s);
  • Use self hypnosis to create a future memory of good performance in the presence of a single distraction while doing mental rehearsal;
  • After self hypnosis do a practice session with one real or imaginary distraction;
  • Note the quality of performance/feelings and assess the need for additional self hypnosis sessions;
  • Complete work on one issue before addressing the next.

Of course all of this applies to many learning and recall situations, such as: academic studies, music performance, sports, public speaking, and more.

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