There is a secret to peak performance. Watch the greats in any field and you will see this secret in plain sight. Some do it consciously, some intuitively. But they all do it. And so can you. It’s as easy as watching a movie.
Watch a great athlete, a great musician, a great speaker, a great gardener – a great anything. You’ll notice they almost always project a very relaxed state of mental focus from which their superior work seems to just flow. It’s that state that’s called flow, or sometimes “in the zone.”
To get into this quasi-magical state where you too can access your highest-level abilities, all you need to do is relax, slow down the thoughts in your head and let your mind go quiet, remove your ego and get out of your own way, and allow your best-performing self to emerge in a state of relaxed mental focus.
Yes, that’s all. Easy.
While this elusive state seems all but impossible for most of us, there is an easy way to access it if you know how. As easy as watching a movie.
Your Life At the Movies
Last week, we discussed how to stay calm when interacting with a difficult person simply by observing the person in a detached way as if you are watching them on a movie screen. You can learn the step-by step of how to handle a stressful person here. But the basic method is simply to watch and observe, noticing the space between you and the person. That person screaming and waving his arms is on a movie screen in front of you.
Creating this sense of space between you and him allows you to not get sucked into his negative energy and instead maintain control of your internal response. Paradoxically, by conceptually removing yourself a bit from the situation, you enter a state where you can better handle the situation and find more productive solutions.
This same detached “at the movies” mindset also works wonders to get in the zone, upping your performance levels when you are doing – virtually anything. Just step back and watch yourself do whatever you are doing, as if you are watching yourself in a movie.
You’ll notice that watching yourself, you quickly create a sense of openness, a sense of space and a quasi-detached mental state that makes it much easier to simply perform your task. I say quasi-detached because in one sense you are mentally stepping back, but at the same time you will find that you are actually far more immersed in the task than you normally would be.
Normally, you have a whole lot of thoughts racing through your head. Thoughts that tell you you’re not good enough, or you’re embarrassing yourself, or someone watching you doesn’t care for your work, or something is too difficult, or you don’t feel like it right now. Thoughts that get in the way of what you’re trying to do, but that you feel powerless to stop.
By mentally stepping back and simply watching yourself as if you’re watching a movie, you enter a different frame of mind where you become more detached from those thoughts and can just focus on the task at hand. The thoughts may sometimes disappear. And even if they’re still there, they’ll usually come at you at a slower rate and with far less intensity.
Turning Your Work Into A Movie Just Like The Greats Do
Vladimir Horowitz is widely regarded as one of the greatest concert pianists ever. What set Horowitz apart from other great pianists? He knew the movie secret.
As jazz pianist Kenny Werner writes in his book, Effortless Mastery, “When Vladimir Horowitz played, you could see absolute stillness and concentration as he ‘watches his hands’ play the piece.”
You would think that a great pianist would be intensely concentrating, making sure to hit every note perfectly, actively blocking out distractions. But no, Horowitz instead took a relaxed and playful approach, and just watched his hands play. Like he was watching a movie of himself.
What does that look like? Here’s Horowitz in his later years, hands weighed down by arthritis. That didn’t stop him. He just watches his hands play – take a look and you’ll see:
To be clear, if you walk over to a piano right now and watch your hands play, you’re not going to sound like Vladimir Horowitz. You still need to put in the years of arduous practice. But if you use the movie approach while practicing, you’ll find yourself progressing much more rapidly.
Rather than getting frustrated by your mistakes, you’ll be in a frame of mind where you quickly notice what’s going wrong and how to fix it. And you’ll get used to playing in a relaxed state where you enjoy what you’re doing and mistakes are less likely.
You may have no aspirations to be a concert pianist. That’s ok. The movie method works with just about anything.
If you want to improve your jump shot, watch yourself do it. You’ll find an ease you didn’t know you had. And you’ll more quickly notice and correct any imperfections in your shot and perform better under pressure.
If you’re giving a speech, watch yourself giving it both while practicing and during the real thing. You’ll readily notice if your timing is off or you need to inflect your voice differently. You’ll find it easier to project confidence as you speak.
If you’re procrastinating, instead of thinking about all the reasons you don’t want to do the task, see if you can observe yourself do it. Make a game out of it. Observe yourself writing a report. Observe yourself doing anything. You’ll quickly be in a different and much more effective headspace.
As with playing piano, observing yourself as if you’re in a movie will not substitute for hard work, whatever your endeavor. However, observing yourself will make the hard work easier, the progress faster, and the execution of the task better.
Observing yourself for peak performance really is easy. What is more challenging is sustaining it. You won’t find it hard to watch yourself perform a task, but keeping that state of mind going for an hour is a different matter.
Practicing this technique consistently will make sustaining it – and all the benefits that come with sustaining it – far more doable. Give it a try. A little effort invested in the movie method at the beginning will reap untold benefits over the long-term.