Optimal Performance Starts With Training Your Mind

Training to hit that sweet spot — engaged, focused, excited, a bit nervous—that puts you at the top of your game

You step out into the stadium, stage, auditorium, conference hall — in front of an audience of 1,000, 20,000, or two million. What will you do? How will it go? How will you harness your mind at this moment?

You walk to work, sit at your desk, open your mind. Today you strategize one of the big ideas of your life that transforms your business and takes your thinking in a new direction. How does your mind come up with the answer you’ve been seeking for so long?

The more I conduct (and the more I think about how we think, learn, engage our minds and perform under pressure), the more I understand that there is an extraordinary potential for us:

  1. To perform better if we understand how to train our minds for performance
  2. To harness an understanding of our minds from our performance experiences (as we learn to pay attention and be aware of the extraordinary in performance realities)

As a conductor, I have good and bad moments in concert performances. I can let performances happen to me, or I can govern their path. I like to think that I have a lot of power and control over what happens with the music, what happens with the moments. I’m supposed to have power and control. I’m the conductor. I’m the visionary for the interpretation, the instigator of incredible climactic moments, tension or foreboding darkness, the all-aware listener — responding and guiding a musical adventure.

But as a performer, I know that this doesn’t always seem so easy. Sometimes magic happens, and sometimes things don’t line up the way I want. I think too much. I get in the way.

If I truly want to have power inside a performance, where do I get it from?

Well, yes, it starts from hard work — from preparation, years of building knowledge, understanding from learning and experience. But, while that might prepare me to be a conductor, it doesn’t completely prepare me for performance.

Performance is something beyond that. It’s a world that resides between surprise and what’s planned, power yet flexibility, hard with soft, strong and weak — and it’s a mixing of all elements into one concentrated black hole of energy — the minds of the other musicians, the setting in that moment, the audience, the emotional mood, the whim of the night, the history of the world.

This is something that’s critical to a great performance:

One part of our mind has to be strong and defined (powerful, planned, pre-created) and another part of our mind needs to be soft (open, spontaneous, bendable) and able to notice new details, potentials, and shades of possibility in the moment.

If you’re writing an essay, running a race, delivering a speech, or thinking big in a moment — this is performance — these are events. Events are performances.

Success in performance comes down to the control we have over our thoughts, our ability to understand our own brains, and to harness this potential. What’s the point in working so hard to prepare for something and then losing control when we need it most? What’s the point of preparing for a moment, but then not having the skills to harness the moment itself?

That’s what this article is about — how to train our minds to harness the potential of every performing moment.

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