Don’t try too hard. Don’t overthink routine processes. Tame your greed. Inoculate yourself to failure. Try always to approach things with a “beginner’s mind“.

When performers choke on what should be routine actions, it is because they want too much. As they begin to overthink, they become loss averse (“losses loom larger than gains“) and self-conscious, and the focus on self distracts from the task at hand, which would be better performed on auto-pilot [Chib]. Athletes know this. Singers know this. And adults know this, too. As Alan Watts, the great popularizer of Zen in the West, remarked in a lecture on meditation: “…men will understand…you can’t force yourself to have an erection by muscular effort…Women will understand…you can’t force yourself with muscles to have an orgasm…” And it is not just swings, shots, and orgasms that excessive striving corrupts. It is marathons too: “Most runners will record significantly faster times when they take walk breaks because they don’t slow down at the end of a long run.

In Zen there is something called “beginner’s mind”, a sort of openness, which includes and accepts the possibility of failure. In a book by this title, Shunryu Suzuki says:

Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.


References and further reading:

Vikram Chib et al. 2012-05-10. Neural Mechanisms Underlying Paradoxical Performance for Monetary Incentives Are Driven by Loss Aversion. Neuron

Malcolm Gladwell. 2000-08-21. The Art of Failure. The New Yorker

Sam Glucksberg. 1962. .The influence of strength of drive on functional fixedness and perceptual recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Daniel Kahnemann. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus

Jonah Lehrer. 2012-06-05. The New Neuroscience of Choking. The New Yorker

Shunryu Suzuki. 1970. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Alan Watts. 2000. Still the Mind. New World Library

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