When we use the word “performance” it is unlikely that the accompanying word “relaxed” pops into our minds. I’d say, that for most of us, performance is often tied with success or failure with no room for ease. You either performed well or you didn’t.
So why would we want to focus on relaxing when our priority is succeeding? Well first of all, many of us pair relaxation with being unfocused, unmotivated, or lazy. Instead, what I want to create here is a new way to see relaxation. Instead of seeing it as decreased performance, try on the idea that this is the quickest and easiest path to success. Ever heard of the path of least resistance? It's okay to have skepticism here as long as you’re open to the idea that success doesn’t have to be as hard as you thought it was.
Focusing on our performance can be extremely helpful if not essential, but what happens when we put too much focus on future success instead of the present moment? Ever watched a championship game where the underdog team had been trail blazing all season and then choked and experienced an utterly embarrassing defeat in the end? These disappointing events set an example that none of us want to follow. So do you think they lost in the end because they were too relaxed or too focused on performance? Ding ding ding we all likely know the answer.
Well if this was that simple we’d live in a stress free world right? Everyone would be relaxed from their morning commute to their head hitting the pillow at night. Why isn’t this the case? My hypothesis is that our beliefs get in our way.
What we believe we receive. We are constantly finding evidence for our beliefs especially when things aren’t working out for us. One belief that is pervasive especially in the U.S. is that if we work harder we’ll surpass whatever barrier is in our way. Need to lose weight? Work harder. Need more money? Grind, grind, grind. Want more friends? Put yourself out there more, maybe sacrificing personal enjoyment in the process.
For a lot of people this works to an extent. Action does produce results. But wait, what did I say earlier: “relaxation is the quickest and easiest path to success”. Pshhh BS right? Well have you ever had this belief? When our belief is along the lines of we only deserve success and joy once we’ve self-sacrificed enough and almost died in the process… that’s the world we live in. We look around for evidence based on whatever side we choose.
Focus back in your memory and see if you can locate a time where you had a surprisingly successful experience. Things just worked out, you barely had to try and it fell into place, it just came to you. When you find that memory reflect on your state of being at the time.
For me the memory that stands out most is at a championship swim meet in high school. I was sick as a dog, half way through a round of antibiotics, not expecting much from myself. Turns out my lowered expectations worked incredibly in my favor. I went into my races with the belief that I’d just do my best for where I was at. I had more personal best times in that swim meet than I had in a long time. In fact a couple of them I never touched again.
One of the clearest flash backs was in a race that was usually very hard for me, this time I felt like I was barely trying, I was just there and present, not stressed about the result. I finally went a best time after a whole season of just missing it. Relaxed performance. Some might refer to this as “flow”. This is the natural state of great artists and athletes. They expect good results and masterpieces appear. They don’t resist it, they don’t kill it off, they let it flow through them. Instead of swimming against the current they let the current carry them to amazing things.
Resistance is the antithesis of relaxation and this is the quickest way to kill off good performance. Keep in mind, this uncomfortable feeling is absent in the state of flow. Here's where we can bridge the gap and it may not be immediate. My recommendation is to get more consistent with being in a relaxed state with lowered resistance. We can practice this in our lives through many means.
One way to feel relaxed is doing things you love that are pleasurable. Hang out in some fluffy blankets and read a book or watch a childhood favorite movie, go for a leisurely walk on a nice day, get a massage, take a CBD bath, hang out with some sweet animals. Your form of relaxation may be unique to you. Whatever does it for you, learn what that feels like and practice it. Take that feeling to things that are a little less relaxing and work your way up from there. Keep in mind that the most productive thing you can do when feeling stressed is relax and only after you've adjusted your state of being deal with what is at hand.
Eventually, once you’ve practiced enough, you can bring these same feelings to something that usually isn’t relaxing at all for you. That’s when the magic happens. If you can keep that calm cool and collected in your daily experience, not only will you get easier results but you’ll actually enjoy much of your life in between them. Ever heard it’s “about the journey not the destination”?