Going 90% is better than 100%

When practicing physical abilities like playing a sport or playing an instrument, you are encouraged to give it your all. Or, as coaches in my childhood suggested: “You have to give 110%!” This will often accomplish suboptimal results. When you put all your strength and focus in a specific movement, you are trying to control the process too much. Your conscious mind cannot deliberately control all the specific muscles that need to be activated in exactly the right sequence. You’ll contract some muscles too much and the movement will be imprecise. (Check out The Inner Game of Tennis for more.)

The same seems to happen with creative activities like drawing or writing. When you’re trying hard to squeeze a masterpiece out of yourself, it just doesn’t happen. You’re drawing blanks or producing mediocre work. I ran into the same problems when focusing too hard on solving math or coding problems.

A good trick in such situations is to try easy. Instead of putting in 100% of your effort, tell yourself you’ll try at 90%. Relax. Trust your body/mind to know what needs to be done. If it’s a physical activity, do a few practice shots to get you into the right mindset. Right now you’re not expecting perfection, just practicing. Then go.

Same with other activities. Do a few practice strokes with a pencil/brush or write a few gibberish sentences to get the cobwebs out off your mind. You’re not producing a masterpiece, just enjoying a days work with your craft. It might be good, but it might not. And that’s okay. 🙂

All credit for the idea goes to Mark Levy. I’ll end this post with a quote from his book, Accidental Genius:

Robert Kriegel was once training a sizable group of sprinters who were battling for the last spots in the Olympic trials. During a practice run, Kriegel found his runners to be “tense and tight”—victims, apparently, of “a bad case of the Gotta’s.” Conventional wisdom would have dictated that these highly skilled athletes train harder, but Kriegel had another idea. He asked them to run again, only this time they were to relax their efforts and run at about nine-tenths their normal intensity. Of this second attempt,

Kriegel writes:
The results were amazing! To everyone’s surprise, each ran faster the second time, when  hey were trying “easy.” And one runner’s time set an unofficial world record.


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