Focus - Self or Process

Recently I was chatting to an experienced improviser about Theatresports™ and she said

“I know it is awful to say this, but I like to win.” 

“Win what?” I asked. 
She fumbled for a reply. “Oh you know I like to feel that I did a good job and winning the match makes me feel that.”

Her statement raises two key points for me that I’d like to talk about Focus and Validation.  I’ll cover Focus this month and Validation in the next newsletter.
First, my friend shouldn't feel awful for expressing her truth. If that is her reality then it is her reality. To have goals or to strive to do good work is not some sort of impro cardinal sin.
Wait Patti, you often quote Keith’s ‘Don’t aim to be good, aim to be average.’ Isn’t this a contradiction?
Oh boy I’ve opened a can of worms.

     Side note: check out my funny friends the Arrogant Worms?

It is natural for us to strive to be good. The improvisors I love to work with have this internal fire and desire to be good and succeed in their work.
So what is the difference?
The difference is;

  • What do you FOCUS on to achieve good?

  • How does this impact your work?

For some people, when they aim to be good, the focus goes to self.  In turn, they loose focus on their partners, audience, offers and the show. The improvisor begins to work solo in a group, instead of collaboratively with the group.  Offers and choices are processed for self, how will this help / hinder me. A self-focused player will not walk into a dying scene to help someone but they will walk into a successful scene to get a piece of it.  A self-focused player carries tension and stress in their body; they are in fight or flight mode to survive the unknown. Self-focused players rely on their bag of tricks.
For others, when they aim to be good, the focus goes to process meaning what is being created and how. As they set their sight on the process they are more aware and flexible. The improvisor is in collaboration with the group, space and audience. Offers and choices are not processed but perceived and it triggers intuitive responses. A process focused player steps in where needed, for whatever is needed, to lead, support, help or be a prop. A process focused player is in the wings delighting in the success of their partners and enjoying what improvisation can deliver. A process focused player is relaxed on stage, they don’t fear the unknown – they crave it. Process focused players take risks,  explore and push boundaries.
Where we set our focus and how we define good or success can either help us or hinder us in our performance. This isn't just in improvisation.  
“If athletes develop the ability to maintain focus on controllable aspects of performance, they will most likely perform physically as desired, as their focus is directed on the task that most requires it. Focusing on performance will also result in athletes experiencing an enhanced ability to withstand inevitable distractions when they do occur.
Performance, in any discipline, requires engagement. When we shift attention from the task at hand to something that may, or may not, happen in the future (winning/losing and the potential repercussions), we undermine our ability to perform in the moment. This is when we typically experience momentary lapses in performance due to poor decision-making, hindered motor control, or lack of concentration.
When our attention shifts to outcome, we also are likely to experience heightened hindering anxiety or, potentially, complacency, both typically having adverse effects on our ability to perform.”

Maintaining a "Winning" Focus Is Not the Way to Win
Psychology Today

“It’s the paradox of athletics,” said Rick DeMont, associate head coach for men’s swimming at the University of Arizona and a former Olympian. “Tension is slow, tension is inefficient. You need to be relaxed.” And relaxation can be taught.

Before Hustling to the Finish, Relaxation is a good way to Start.
- The New York Times

This is why mediation and mindfulness is being used to train competitive athletes.
“Fears can hijack our minds from the present moment; this can lead to so many errors in sports.”

10 Reasons Why Every Athlete in the World Should Meditate
- Huff Post

Where do you put your focus?

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Patti Stiles