Getting out of our Own Way

Earlier this year (March) I blogged about ‘trusting the unconscious’ when in flow, and how this will help us to remain “Presenting Perfectly”.

I’ve since had three instances (a client discussion, a personal discovery, and and observation of a televised event) which has led to more understandings.

The Young Musician

A young coaching colleague talked to me about when he is in performance as a musician. He outlined how things would be going well, and then, almost driven by internal dialogue or brought about by some distraction, he would find himself in mid-passage and forgetting whereabouts he is in the music. He described it as “the more I try and remember where I am in terms of the score, the less I feel able to remember.”
I described how he has suddenly gone from Flow state, (which takes place on an unconscious, almost detached, level) into a conscious state. It feels rather like waking up and thinking ‘where am I?’ In musical terms it’ll feel like you’re lost.
When I used to perform and got ‘lost’ it was usually with lyrics, although occasionally with the music also. My escape strategy was to chop the piece into a series of sequences, each with a cue-in. This way I would only get lost within the sequence I was in – provided I remained calm, bluffed it and muddled through, and remembered to fire the start cue for the next sequence.
The other thing to remember, I told him, is that the person who knows the MOST that he is lost is You! Most of the audience have no idea. However, if you let it fluster you, they will certainly notice and the situation will only get worse for you. Keep going regardless and things will return to where you want them to be much sooner. It is just a hiccup – and like those physical hiccups, if you deal with the physical triggers to get back on ‘normal track’ then they’ll go. The more conscious you are of them, the longer they remain!
This ‘keeping going’ is really the invitation to ‘trust the unconscious’, and when you do there is every opportunity to get back into Flow.

My two ‘identical’ lessons

The second instance was last week when I was coaching at a school where I’d not been before. I was doing two class group sessions, one either side of morning breaktime. Each session was identically planned so lesson #2 was going to be exactly the same as lesson #1, in terms of content.
My delivery from start to finish in the first session was unconsciously delivered, smooth and uninterrupted, and was just a reflection of my regular style of delivery.
The thing was – the teacher had never seen me before and was somewhat bowled over by how good it was; how her children had reacted, been stimulated and enthused by the whole proceedings. And she told me so, with instant and detailed feedback!

Chuffed as I was by this, it is not something I am used to – and as a consequence I delivered much less unconsciously in the next lesson; inwardly trying to replicate verbatim the ‘how’ of the delivery content from lesson #1.

Big mistake!

If I’d paid less attention to the glowing feedback and just launched into lesson #2, then I’d have re-engaged with my unconscious and just done ‘another’ well delivered session. As it was – the only person who knew this was ME! For the teacher of class #2 and the children, the session was ‘brilliant, fantastic’, they loved it and all was hunky-dory. The exception was for me, because I came out feeling less relaxed than after the first lesson.

Interestingly, I know that if I praise players in the course of practice, then the time they are most prone to getting things wrong is in the very next action! Their level of engagement, concentration, focussed attention is degraded through their auditory dialogue taking up foreground processing my praise!! We call it ‘commentators nightmare’.

Snooker World Championship Final

The third instance was when watching Judd Trump playing John Higgins in the Snooker World Championship Final. It was Day 1 and the score was 7-5 at the time. Trump was in total Flow in frame 13 when he inexplicably changed his playing persona, from sharp and clear cut decisions that always turned out succesfully, to a sudden long period of consideration and pondering. It was totally out of character (compared to what had gone before) and clearly something had changed for him ‘on the inside’. Up to this time, if he made a mistake or an error of judgement, then he was clearly unaffected by it – the single mindedness of his playing continued unabated.
After this long period of contemplation – from which the outcome did not work for him – the match score went to 7-6 and then 7-7. He was clearly thrown off-kilter by some distractive internal dialogue. Although he recovered to finish Day 1 leading 10-7, the air of invincibility had gone and he was now just playing upon his opponent’s slumped quality level of play.

Come Day 2 of the Final, although still proving to be an excellent competitor, Judd Trump never actually regained that ‘air of invincibility’ and Higgins eventually secured a lead he was never to relinquish.
It rather reminded me of a crack on a car windscreen – it didn’t shatter at the time, but through instability the crack widened until eventually, (next day) it led to the demise of the windscreen.


There are miriads of things that can interfere with Flow states – and the biggest carrier is ourselves, in the guise of our internal dialogue. Recognising this and trusting our unconscious to do what it does best, is the best way to becoming a consistently high level performer at our ‘mental game’.