Thursday, August 5, 2010

Overthinking and Clutch

"One of the ironies of human psychology is that desperately wanting something can make attaining that thing all the more difficult. When stakes go up, performance often goes down. In one study, subjects practiced sinking a putt and got better as they went along — better, that is, until the experimenter offered them a cash reward for their next shot, at which point their performance took a nosedive.

This is because we pay close attention to what we're doing when what we're doing matters, and though close attention is helpful when our task is novel or complex, it is positively destructive when our task is simple and well practiced. Golfers in another study were told either to take their time and think about their stroke or to step up and swing as quickly as possible. Although novice golfers did better when they took their time, expert golfers did worse.

The lesson from the laboratory is clear: thinking about tasks that don't require thought isn't just pointless, it's debilitating. It may be wise to watch our fingers when we're doing surgery or shaving the family dog, but not when we're driving or typing, because once our brains learn to do something automatically they don't appreciate interference. The moment we start thinking about when to step on the clutch or hit the alt key, our once-seamless performance becomes slow, clumsy or impossible. "
Setting aside personal experience, with which this jibes perfectly, this also could explain "clutchness"  and why so many famed clutch players (Jordan, Bird, Kobe, Brady, Tiger, Pedro, Beckett, Jeter, Ortiz, etc) are described as being "cold-blooded assassins". They have the ability to tune out the size of the moment and just deliver in the way they have trained themselves to. It's a mental detachment that keeps them in "flow".

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