The Art of Performance: Overcoming mistakes

-A A +A
By Dr. Keith Wilson

As the new year begins, it is a good time to focus on a skill that allows performers to let go of errors. As we look back over the past year, it is clear we all make mistakes. As we begin a new year we set new goals for ourselves in performance. A great goal is to learn the skill of letting go.

It is true we learn from our mistakes and frustrations. It is important to look at those disappointing events and learn what we could do differently. However, the tendency is to focus on the problem. If we stay focused on the error, we likely will become obsessed with the circumstances of our errors. We will go over the error again and again to see what we did wrong. However, the more we focus on the error, the more likely the brain is to reinforce the mistaken behavior.

When we focus for too long on the negative we hear ourselves say, “Don’t do that.” Golfers may say over and over to themselves, “Don’t hit it into the lake.” The brain does not process “don’t” statements very well. So what the brain hears repeatedly is, “Hit the ball into the lake.” 

It is very likely when the golfer hits the ball it will go into the lake, even though that was not the intention.

Michael Jordan, the Hall of Fame professional basketball player, used a technique which helped him overcome mistakes. No basketball player is perfect; in each game there will be mistakes to analyze. However, if the player stays focused on the mistakes, those mistakes likely will have a negative impact on the next game the athlete plays. So it is important to learn from the mistake, then let go.

Michael Jordan would contain the mistake this way. After the game he would go sit in the locker room and put a towel over his head so he would not have any other distractions from players or the media. Everyone knew when Jordan had the towel over his head not to disturb him. During this 10-minute time, Jordan would review all of the important plays he made during the game with a particular emphasis on his mistakes.

As he looked at the mistakes,  he would mentally acknowledge the lack of execution and the things that were done completely wrong. He would create a solution to the plays that were done wrong and let go of the mistakes. He understood that if he was doing the right thing but it didn't work because of an error in execution, he didn't have to stay focused on the mistake. Rather, he needed to acknowledge the mistake and then go back on the court for the next practice and work on the correct execution.

Jordan also knew even the best of basketball players usually make less than 50 percent of their shots. It is not that the shot was wrong. Rather, each shot has its challenges. Building confidence comes from shooting under pressure and not letting the misses stay in your head. It is important to keep believing that each shot you take will be made.

Every performer makes mistakes. Our challenge is to be like Michael Jordan. Create a technique to learn from mistakes, and then let them go.

Dr. Keith Wilson is performance consultant for the Louisville Lightning professional soccer team and owner of the Wilson Center for Performance in Hardin County. He can be reached at TheWilsonCenter7@aol.com.