For heaven’s sake, just start!
Imagine you are a sportman intent on improving your mental approach to your sport. So, you are motivated, you have set SMART goals, you are ready. But day after day passes and you don’t start on improving your mental game. Welcome to the real world where people find that mental work tends to be much harder than physical work. Prof. Daniel Kahneman popularized the dual processing mind model in which System 1 is the intuitive, automatic, sub-conscious and fast system. System 2 is the rational, conscious and slow system. System 2 is hard work and humans avoid using System 2, instead defaulting by preference to System 1 rules of thumb (heuristic) decision making. So, what we are trying to ensure in optimizing your mental game, is to be mostly in System 2 for the training, planning and preparation phases, but mostly in System 1 for the execution and competition phases. First is just to get started.
Let’s use a hypothetical example: Peter (an imaginary person) is a typical average level practical pistol shooter, who struggles to move to the next level. This could be any other sport or even work environment. Practical shooting is used as an example because it is a unique sport which sets high demands of both System 1 and 2 mentation.
Peter has had some coaching and even a completed a workshop on improving his mental game. Despite all this, he is not quite sure how to actually start his programme and …, well the sport and movies on TV are hard to resist. He realises that nothing happens by itself, but what now?
Here is some advice
1. Peter should start by making a written checklist of exactly what has to be done. This he should do from course notes if he has taken a workshop, or from wherever he gets his information, whether books by champion shooters, YouTube videos, or whatever. The reason is that people who do not know exactly how to proceed, often seem immobilized by all the decisions that have to be taken, a form of analysis paralysis. Read about checklists in The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande.
2. Now that he knows what needs to be done, the next step is choice architecture; increasing or decreasing the transaction cost of factors in his life so as to enable him frictionlessly to attend to his sport practicing. He should increase the transaction cost to watch TV or YouTube sport by ensuring that it is more difficult to access these activities (be creative). For household peace, others in the household may unfortunately also have to be considered!
3. He has already decreased the transaction cost to do his physical and mental practice by drawing up the checklist. Next would be to ensure that everything needed to do his dry firing (simulated shooting without ammunition), his live firing and his mental preparation is immediately and easily available, in such a condition as to be immediately usable. This would include the equipment, the checklists, the physical and mental programmes, arranging the environment and circumstances. The less your mind has to work in order to get started, the more chance you have of actually starting.
4. In actually doing the physical and mental practice, System 2 has to be engaged. Developing those expert heuristics is hard physical and mental work, there are no short cuts. You then have to be mindful and focus, exercise engrains heuristics and heuristics become habits. Wrong heuristics become wrong habits. Having to correct and relearn wrong actions is much more difficult than doing it right the first time.
5. Procrastination is a bastard. There are many ways to deal with it, but for now just get started with energy. Rush into the task and just do it! Once you have momentum, it will become easier.