We hear a lot about mindfulness these days, but what we do not hear much about is mindlessness, yet it’s vital for consistent peak performance. Mindlessness is about getting out of your own way, or avoiding the potentially destructive habit of overthinking.
Here’s the point: When your goal is to achieve something that requires consummate skill, speed and dexterity, or simply supreme proficiency, such as winning the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, you must train till your body and mind become so attuned to what is required, it reacts far more quickly that it could ever do if you had to consciously think about what to do.
Moreover, once you reach that stage of absolute mastery, you can perform at your peak with far fewer mistakes and lapses of concentration – as long as you don’t allow your mind to interfere or wander.
Imagine Roger Federer receives a 100 mile per hour + service from Raphael Nadal. He reacts instantly, intuitively – almost instinctively, as if his body knows what to do. If he had to think about it, he could never return such a blistering serve. The same applies to Nadal. That’s why only people who train themselves to the very top level, and then step aside, can win Wimbledon.
Usually, the loser is the one who allows his concentration to waver, just for an instant. Mindlessness does not mean you lose focus, it enables you to focus like a laser.
Here’s another scenario, this time closer to home. When I write an article for this magazine, I will think about a subject I want to discuss and then I sit down before a blank screen. More often than not I start typing and after the first couple of sentences, I seem to switch into autopilot.
I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m in the moment and before I know it half an hour has passed and 500 or so words have appeared. Sometimes I ask myself, where did that come from? Did I write that? It feels as if it came from another place.
Please don’t take me too literally. I realise it has actually come out of my brain and it’s not some esoteric phenomenon. But when it happens in the way I describe, it almost always has a flow that I hadn’t consciously worked for, and that, I believe, gives the activity a spiritual quality.
This only works when you do something you love and have a talent for, but it doesn’t just happen. Many hours of diligent practice are required until you develop mastery. Only then will you be able to trust and let go to allow something within you to automatically produce something better than it would have otherwise been.
How many hours has Federer devoted to his art? How much gruelling dedication has Nigel Kennedy given to mastering the violin? How much agony and frustration did Michelangelo suffer before he could produce his masterpieces?
I’m trying to teach myself to play the piano but I still have to think about it, and of course the results are mediocre. I know it’s because I don’t do anywhere near enough practice. That’s the only way to get to the mindlessness stage. If that ever happens I’ll be able to relax and enjoy making music that flows without conscious effort.
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