psychophysics

Ever notice there is a profound difference between practice and competition?

In psychology, we use the term psychophysics, which refers to the study of relationships between the objectively measured intensities of various stimuli and the subjective impression of those intensities.

In other words, how the same thing can affect us differently in different environments.

For example, if you light a match in a dark room, the match is highly noticeable.  Now if you light that match in a bright room if the match is hardly noticeable at all.

The same is true with sound, whispering in a library sounds much louder than whispering at a concert.

Although the pitch and volume of your voice might be the same, just as the match brightness is the same, the perception is vastly different based on our surroundings.

This same phenomenon can be observed during competition. Even though training has gone well up to this point, when we enter the competition it is like we have not trained at all.

Many people experience this same response when called upon to give a public talk on a topic they are familiar with. We can sit and chat comfortably with the group, but when called upon to speak formally we are flooded by emotions that were not previously there.

The conscious sensations of stimulus do not reflect our physical reality. In other words, we over hype our surroundings and their importance in our head. This is a form of self-defeating behavior.  We can combat that response by following these three basic principles of performance.

Mental Practice 

Obviously, we cannot mentally practice every situation we may come across, but we can mentally practice a few basic elements of performance before, and even during events. Go over the event details in your head, and focus on feeling good about it. Look at the event as just another practice.

Understand: one event in your life is no different that one letter on this page. There is no one letter that is so important on this page that it would change the outcome of this discussion.

Visualize the event 

Visualization is another form of mental practice. The beautiful thing about visualization is we can do it any time anywhere, with no fancy tools or equipment. Draw up a mental movie of ourselves performing your best. Focus on key elements and details. Vividly see all five senses in a much detail as possible. Sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.

Understand: you don’t need to have competed at this same thing before to visualize yourself doing well. Instead, focus on past wins and successes. These can be from anything in your life, school, sport, work, relationships. Find a memory that made you feel good and focus on that feeling while seeing yourself performing some given task.

Stick to the Basics 

In psychophysics, the environment controls the outcome.  Remember this next time you take the stage.  If the light of a struck match doesn’t change, then a performance is just a performance,  a speech is just a speech, an event is just an event. Focus on executing the basics to perfection.

Understand: don’t give your environment control over your performance. A match does not care when it is lit. It’s going to burn as bright as it can for a few seconds, a burning match sticks to the basics.

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