Ten paradoxes that will improve your performance

Ms.M: "Bart, what other paradoxes affect our lives?" Bart: "Well...You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't."

Ms.M: “Bart, what other paradoxes affect our lives?”
Bart: “Well…You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.”

paradox [noun]: a statement or proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory

Literature, philosophy, and science are filled with paradoxes:

  • The Fermi Paradox: the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity’s lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations
  • “In order to have peace we must prepare for war.”
  • “Law and order are necessary for a free society.”
  • Bart’s Paradox: “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”

In Part IV (“In the Zone”) of Mind Gym, the chapter Paradoxes of Performances adds ten more to our list. Don’t dismiss them offhand for their surface-level hokeyness – really understand them and they can be very valuable.

  • Less can be more. Sometimes the highest form of action can be inaction; we all need rest to recover. This is also true for hair-styling products.
  • The harder you try to get into the zone, the further away you get. Train hard, but let performance flow naturally. Focus on the now, on the mechanism…not the desired ultimate outcome.
  • Trying easier can be harder. Over-muscling is usually self-defeating. Peak performance comes from long muscles, relaxed technique, and implicit memory.
  • Over-control gets you out of control. An over-focus on technique undoes the implicit memory that you need to perform at your best. Many weekend warriors perform at their best when they’ve given up hope and relaxed as a result. Personally, I keep this in mind when I’m mountain biking – if I’m too focused on minutiae then I don’t get into a good rhythm/flow, then my lines suffer, then the next thing I know I’m flying through the air hoping that I miss the big trees and sharp rocks.
  • Slowing down can make you faster. Pace instead of race. Be quick but don’t hurry. Your best performance will probably come with about 90% effort. To continue with my own biking example, my best “runs” happen when I’m totally chill – it feels like I’m cruising and not working as hard, but I’m hitting record times.
  • Fear of failure makes failure more likely. The body delivers what’s on the mind, so if you’re thinking about that water hazard then that’s where your ball’s gonna go. Fear creates tension, tightens breathing, breaks rhythm. When I find myself getting fearful or anxious about a game, or a tough stretch of technical trail, I ask myself “What’s the worst that could happen (if I make a bad play, or if I wipe out)?”. If I get a vision of myself impaled on a tree, then I tweak it to, “What’s the worst that could happen with any reasonable likelihood?”
  • Playing it safe can be dangerous. By playing it safe, athletes are reluctant to make necessary adjustments. Take calculated risks (e.g., go for the green in two, take on the defender every so often, etc.).
  • A step backward is a step forward. Sometimes we have to step back, regroup, and start from scratch in order to achieve new heights. While the jury’s still out on the final result (more total points and a higher FT%, but slightly lower FG%), let’s remember the example of Tristan Thompson. More famously, Tiger Woods redesigned his swing and was doing very well until the perfect storm of knee injuries, back injuries, and calamitous revelations about his Berlosconi-esque personal life came out.
  • The probability of getting the outcome you want increases when you let go of the need to get it. As Gary Mack says, “Give yourself permission to win, but then let go of the idea of winning and focus on execution and the process.” (Mind Gym – p185)
  • While you must be present to win, you also have to be absent to win. This statement refers to “the zone” – peak performance is achieved when you lose your conscious mind and your implicit memory and training takes over.

“Give yourself permission to win, but then let go of the idea of winning and focus on execution and the process.” (Mind Gym – p185)


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Biking, Books, Everything, Sports
One comment on “Ten paradoxes that will improve your performance
  1. […] Ten paradoxes that will improve your performance […]

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