I’ve been through the cycle many times before. Sudden insight; ego inflation. This time, I was thinking of performance. I’d been mulling over ideas about intensity of focus, the importance of relaxation, and the ebb and flow of stress and recovery. Then, at some inopportune moment, it came to me:
On or off?
That was the question I needed to ask myself. What mode should I be in at any particular moment? For example, when I’m writing, I need to be On. Focused. Walled off from distraction. Alone with myself, with my chosen tools, with my predetermined intent. But when I’m spending time with my partner? Then I need to be Off. Not thinking about the things I should do, need to do, can’t do and don’t want to do. Not devoting even a sliver of my attention to problems or opportunities, weaknesses or strengths.
Of course, there’s one final step to the cycle above. Sudden insight; ego inflation; ego normalisation. The storm provoked by insight settles and I resume my normal pace and method of operation. It’s similar to the process that occurs in the aftermath of a near-death experience. For a while, the hue of the world is changed. Everything looks a little different. But then it fades. The world ceases being so rich and so sharp and goes back to being fuzzy and muted.
However. I’ve recently taken another step in my thoughts about performance and the idea of modes, the idea of “On or Off?” I’d originally conceived of it as a duality, an either-or. In reality—like most dualities—it is a spectrum. That, in itself, is hardly worth remarking upon. But what is worthy of notice is the different areas of the spectrum that different people occupy. At one end of the spectrum is “100% Off”. At the other is “100% On”. The hypothesis is this: peak performers, first, are able to get closer to the poles, and second, spend most of their time there, avoiding the middle ground.
Mediocre practitioners exist in the “kinda domain”. When they relax, they’re still processing some thoughts and ideas concerning their work, and when they work they’re not fully attentive. Distraction and wandering of attention has to be constantly fought off. Peak performers, on the other hand, can work with an intensity that blazes, that is uncomfortable to witness or be the recipient of. It is ferocious, savage in nature. But they can relax with absolution too. They can separate themselves and their work with an impermeable, impenetrable barrier.
So, perhaps, instead of exhorting myself to decide between being “On” or “Off”, I should be urging myself to be “More on” and “More off”.