Get Lazy to Get Tough
My approach to mental toughness emphasizes working with what our brain instinctively and naturally wants to do. I show clients how to take advantage of our brain’s innate inclinations and, often, I make them do stuff that goes against convention.
Take being lazy, for example. Many clients are surprised when I strongly suggest they be lazy or do absolutely nothing for a while. I’m not talking about a 10-15 minute break, because everyone gets that idea. No, I’m talking about taking a whole afternoon or evening off to do nothing, or a whole day if they can manage it.
We have been socially programmed to think laziness is bad when, in fact, our brains instinctively need it. Why? Because the brain strives to conserve energy and carry out tasks in the easiest and most efficient way possible. That means doing something, especially difficult tasks like performing under pressure, is best achieved when the brain is rested and fresh and replenished, not when it’s stressed and tired and grumpy.
When I present this idea, my clients provide three telling reactions. The first is that they don’t have time. Oh, the irony! The second is that they’ve never done it. Fair enough, that’s what I’m here for. The third is that they are extremely uncomfortable with the concept. Like a lot of people in our multi-tasking world, they believe they should go-go-go all the time and if they aren’t burning the candle at three ends they are somehow lazy, unmotivated, undedicated, or lesser than. I say, “Balderdash!” and then I explain why being lazy is vital to the human condition and important for superb mental toughness.
A large part of becoming mentally tough and tougher is being so supremely confident in yourself and your abilities that you can enjoy significant idleness without compromising your competitive edge or breaking any absurd fallacies about dedication or motivation. You have to believe in what you have and being lazy forces you to build that belief. If you feel taking several hours off will somehow ruin your next elite level competition, then you are not properly prepared for it anyway. At the elite level, weeks and months make the difference, not mere hours.
The psychological and emotional benefits of being idle and staring wistfully upon scenic vistas or taking naps are enhancements to mood, memory and alertness, all of which contribute to top-notch competitive performances. Regardless of wins or losses or progress or setbacks, the overall effect of being strategically lazy is an elite competitor who is happier, more at ease with the world, and who has increased feelings of self-worth and self-control.
From a mental toughness perspective, I want competitors to be purposefully lazy because it increases their ability to endure frustration and better manage their emotions when the breaks go against them or an official or judge gets it wrong. Mentally rested competitors are better at thinking through complex situations and fast-changing conditions and they’re also better at not reacting impulsively. Most important, these competitors are better able to remain fully focused on the competitive task at hand when the pressure is on.
I get my clients to think of it this way: if their days are jammed full and their brains are always operating at capacity, or more in some cases, it takes very little to tip the scale and for their entire mental and emotional world to come completely unglued. Even if they are able to somehow hold it together, they will endure so much ongoing stress that performance will be notably substandard.
I then explain how leisurely zoning out and chillin’ greatly facilitates productivity and efficacy. Competitors who design significant downtime into their regimens are more productive and effective because their brains are operating under focused-and-destressed conditions. They also prove to be mentally sharper under competitive pressure and they can better handle the rigors of extended competition, such as weekend tournaments, playoffs, stressful auditions and recitals, or writing several exams in 2-3 days.
My clients learn how to make, and take, significant periods of downtime. They learn that their brain will allow them to do absolutely nothing if given the time and space. Once they ‘get’ laziness and realize the benefits, they never want to return to their old ways.