Last night, prior to Game 4 of the 2015 NBA Finals, Head Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, made a change in his starting line-up. He replaced Andrew Bogut with Andre Iguodala. That move along with a change in defensive strategy and a change in his substitution rotations, made all the difference in the world. Although the Cleveland Cavaliers got off to a 7-0 start, Kerr did not panic nor throw out his game-plan. Instead, the Warriors called a time-out, quickly bounced back and finished the quarter by outscoring the Cavs, 31-17. Kerr made a crucial decision, but more importantly, he made a commitment to the strategy for Game 4. He did not waver. The strategy paid off in a 103-82 win to tie the series, 2-2.
Working with elite and aspiring athletes, performers and other professionals at all levels for years, I have come to a recent revelation or refinement concerning the art of mental conditioning. This revelation is about our mindset consisting of five basic modes. Mental conditioning is enhanced when we understand each mode, its proper timing and its function within our personal performance enhancement system.
1. Practice Mode
2. Rehearsal Mode
2. Preparation Mode
3. Performance Mode
4. Evaluation Mode
To cut to the chase, most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, are in constant evaluation mode. We are hardwired and socialized to be in evaluation mode. We live in evaluation mode. We measure, we assess, we predict, we criticize, we worry, we comment--24/7. That's the way we roll.
How's it going? How's it coming? How am I doing? Am I getting there? Did I get there? Am I there yet? Are we there yet? Why aren't we there yet? What's wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? Why are things going wrong? Here I go again. Am I behind? Where should I be? Who's ahead of me? Am I losing? Am I winning? What do I need to do to catch up? I can't catch up. I knew I should have worked harder. Is this is a mistake? I'll never get this right.
Evaluation mode is embedded in our self-talk. By the same token, most self-talk keeps us in evaluation mode. In evaluation mode, our self-talk tends to get very harsh very quickly. Staying in evaluation mode too long or at the wrong time creates anxiety, self-doubt, and, even worse, panic. If you are anxious, you stayed to long in evaluation mode.
Because of this tendency to over-evaluate, we don't really learn or value the four other modes. We tend to stay in evaluation mode due to our fear of failure. Our over-use and over-reliance on evaluation mode keeps us anxious and prevents us from being in other equally important modes. Most importantly, we don't sequence our modes correctly and in a way that puts us in the best position to succeed. Here are the five modes.
- Practice Mode: This mode requires experimentation and trial-and-error. In this mode, we try new behaviors and get feedback about possible feasibility, usefulness or utility. This mode provides the opportunity to experiment, to dabble, to invent, to create, to try something new. This is where we allow for and even encourage mistakes. This is where we study our craft. In this mode (and only in this mode), we have the luxury of getting out of our comfort zone. This is where we get information about whether this new behavior is worth rehearsing.
- Deliberate Rehearsal Mode: This is the mode that takes our successful experiments from Practice Mode and turns them into muscle memory. This is where we repeat, repeat, repeat. We hone our craft, we improve, we focus on getting things just right. This is where we sharpen our sword. We rehearse until get it right and then rehearse some more until we can't get it wrong. This is the mode that gives us information that we have the necessary competence to be successful and the confidence to perform. Here we rehearse the skills to execute the necessary sequence of behaviors to reach our goals.
- Preparation Mode: This mode is about getting ready to perform, both physically and mentally. This mode focuses our mental conditioning as well as being the time to plan and organize. When here, we structure our time and energy in such a way that we develop our plan of action and commit to its proper execution. Here is where we focus on our mental imagery, our visualization, and get in the right frame of mind and achieve the optimal level of arousal. This mode is a transition mode from practice and rehearsal toward performance mode. It allows us to be in the best position to achieve peak performance.
- Performance Mode: Game-time! Simply put, this is where we execute. If in the proper mindset, we follow our plan and allow our muscle memory to take over. Adjustments are minor or minimal in this mode. We have planned well, have committed to our plan, and let the plan work. Most importantly, we are not in evaluation mode. If we allow ourselves to get in evaluation mode during the game, we will become distracted, particularly by our self-talk. If we get into evaluation mode, our self-talk will get involved and that will engage our brain's cortex. That mental chatter will likely become a distraction. It will disrupt our muscle memory and reduce our game-time speed and efficiency in decision-making. This does not mean that we are unaware of situational variables, but we maintain our overall game-plan. Performance mode basically requires us to suspend our analytic mind and focus strictly on performance.
- Evaluation Mode: This mode is most effective as a post-game activity. It re-engages our cortex. It allows for more complex post-game problem-solving. It occurs and should occur following a performance or event. It allows us to objectively and dispassionately assess our performance, our game-plan, our step-wise progress, after the fact. It allows us to gather data about our ability to execute our plan. It allows us to determine what we did well, what we need to continue doing, what we need to improve or develop, and what we need to eliminate. Most importantly, it allows us to get back to Practice Mode, armed with important information about what more we can do to improve.