Mayweather-Pacquiao: Optimal Arousal

Boxing

I may not be a die-hard sports fan but, like most people, I love a great battle.  Today is difficult for me because not only am I amped up for the fight tonight but I also need to carve out some time for the Kentucky Derby.  This could be the first year since 1978 that we see a Triple Crown winner and I don’t want to miss seeing each race.

The Mayweather v. Pacquiao fight shines the spotlight on how each fighter performs best at differing levels of arousal.  Mayweather is pumped while Pacquiao is relaxed.  Mayweather mannerisms are flamboyant while Pacquiao is reserved.  If I relied on activity alone, I would choose Mayweather.  If I relied on records, I would choose Mayweather.  But I won’t choose Mayweather to win.  I will choose Pacquiao mainly because I address large challenges the same way Pacquiao does.  I perform best when I am relaxed.

Sports psychologist, in addition to a myriad of other things, help athletes achieve optimal arousal levels.  This is a delicate balance between anxiety and relaxation.  If the athlete is too relaxed, he or she will not feel they are completely ‘in the zone’ and motivation will be sub-optimal.  If the athlete is too anxious, he or she will feel rushed and out of control.  Optimal levels of arousal are key to performing in the ring and performing at work.  Once you know the level of arousal that is optimal for you, you can adjust your environment to help you perform well.

There are just two steps to working within your prime arousal state.  The first step is identifying your optimal arousal level and the second is to change your environment.  It sounds so easy but it can be a little tricky.  Optimal arousal changes with the environment.   (Crap!  The longer this blog gets, the more it sounds like a how-to in the erotica section. From here on, I will try to limit my use of the term ‘arousal’.)

Identify Your Optimal Level

  1. Think of the last few times you performed extremely well.
    • What was the finished product (i.e., presentation, negotiation, analysis, etc.)?
    • Who, if anyone, helped motivate you to see the project to the end?  How did they try to motivate you and were they successful?
    • How much time did you have to prepare (e.g., were you given ‘adequate’ time to prepare or was the task ‘sprung’ on you)?
    • When you delivered the finished product, did you feel you were ‘in the zone’?
    • What was the physical environment during preparation and during performance (i.e., busy, quiet, noisy, solitary, etc.)?
  2. Think of the last time you performed poorly and ask yourself the same questions above.  Try to tease out the differences during the prep and perform phases.

What Does This Tell Us?

As I answer these questions, one thing becomes crystal clear.  For the preparation phase, I perform very well when I’m in a frenzy to gather information, interview and chat with resident experts, and put the product together.  I need lots of activity to keep the momentum going .  However, for the performance phase, I need to bring my arousal down to yoga-level.  Sometimes I will take a quick nap or just stare out the window before a presentation because it clears my mind and I truly feel like I’m prepared.  However, if my boss is reading this, I never take naps at work or stare out windows because I’m always producing awe-inspiring work.  I also don’t write blogs at work.

When do I totally get knocked out of the ring?  Well, there are so many examples of this so let’s just use a bulletized form to demonstrate proximal causes of my defeat:

  • When I move directly from a tense situation to presenting a project; my arousal level is too high to think straight (ha!  another double entendre)
  • When you give me too much time to prepare a project.  Yes, I’m actually complaining that you gave me too much time.  Since it didn’t trigger my arousal threshold, I completely forgot about the whole thing
  • When my preparation phase doesn’t have a lot of activity and I don’t get to interact with a lot of people

How Do I Change My Environment?

You typically cannot change the way in which you receive tasks but you can change how you respond to them.

I mentioned above that I perform poorly when I have too much time to complete a project.  Now, I simply move my ‘internal due date’ back until it triggers my arousal threshold.  If I have something that is due in 12 days but I know if should only take 6 days to complete, I will establish an internal ‘due date’ of 5 days.  Why?  Because if it isn’t a challenge, I don’t want to do it.  Come on!  This shouldn’t surprise you.  I’m the one who competes to see who can get the dog to poop faster.

It’s harder to change your environment when you have inadequate time to transition.  I had to do a presentation without enough time to decompress from my last discussion.  When I stepped up to present, I forgot everything I wanted to say.  I stumbled over the words and ended up taking an on-stage break to sip some water.  I didn’t need the water; I needed 10 seconds to clear my mind and breathe deep.  I continued the presentation in a better (but not great) frame of mind.

Practice Your Optimal Level of Arousal

To me, transitions are key to getting in the zone.  I listen to music to get pumped up for an activity and practice meditation to calm myself.  For the next few weeks, find music that motivates you keep moving through the road blocks.  At other times during this practice, find ways to reduce arousal (anxiety).  Sometimes I use calming music while other times I use mental pictures.  Find what works for you and implement it to begin performing your best.

As a side note, when I took the 10 seconds to clear my head, I envisioned a mental picture that I’ve been using for over six years.  It is a memory from hiking the hills behind Avalon on Santa Catalina Island.  I sat in the dust and watched the colorful homes dotting the harbor while tiny sailboats bobbed in the blue water.  Just thinking of it now relaxes me.

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