Information Over’flow’

16 10 2015

One of the most common challenges in high pressure performance situations is the ability to focus.  Distractions come in all types, from all directions, and at varying intensities.   So how on earth do we concentrate when we need to in the moments that matter most.  Learning to focus can sometimes seem like a tumultuous process with little success but that is usually because we don’t understand how our brain works.

So let’s see if we can simplify it down to the basics of what you really need to know….

First, we need to understand working memory.  Your working memory is simply the information that your brain can pay attention to in any ‘one moment’.  To help give you a visual, think of your working memory as the cup in the picture above.  Now, this your working memory, or the cup, has a very limited amount of space available, around 5 pieces of information at any one moment.

What is happening when we have trouble focusing is that we are allowing our working memory to be flooded with WAY more than 5 pieces of information that is often irrelevant to the situation.  For a visual, think of these piece of information as the marbles in the image above.  This information could include thoughts around those watching you perform, the consequences (good or bad) of your performance, previous performances you have experienced, the weather, etc. When we are not careful and selective about what information (marbles) we are allowing our working memory (cup) to be filled with, we are left with and overflowing, distracted, and probably low quality performance.

The best way to make sure our working memory (cup) is filled with the most accurate and helpful information, we must be deliberate about what we what fills that space.

As a performer…

Decide prior to your performance what the 3-5 most important pieces of information (marbles) are to your task.  This will prime working memory (cup) to only allow those items to enter.  If they change throughout the performance, that is fine.  However, make sure that you are being selective about which information you let in because once your working memory cup is full the remainder of the information marbles, even if they are relevant and helpful, will automatically be filtered out.

As a coach or leader…

Understanding working memory for those you lead can help you lead them to success! The athletes working memory is very limited so, you as the coach or leader you need to being give them limited and specific pieces of information (marbles) to place in their cup.  Instead of telling them to focus or concentration (which most athletes aren’t sure how to do), tell them a couple of items (marbles) you want them to focus on.  If you give them too much information their brain will filter it out, so be selective with the information you identify.

Our brains are designed to respond best to limited and specific information.  Focus during a performance can be largely improved if you understand how your brain works.  Simple and specific is best for ‘in the moment’ focus.

Your challenge this week is to think about a performance or practice you having coming up.  Selective 5 information (marbles) or less that you want to fill your working memory (cup) prior to the performance.  If you notice yourself drifting to other information, distractions, etc. simply ‘refocus’ by naming those items to yourself in that moment.




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