Psyched Up, by Daniel McGinn (Softcover, 2017)|
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Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
I'm not sure McGinn really address "the science" of mental preparation, but
he did cover the subject in a way that is competent, informative, and
interesting. Much of his focus was on athletes and entertainers, but he also
talked about the subject in relation to writers (including specifically
himself), surgeons, and people in other walks of life.
You might expect a "here's what you do" from a book that covers such a
topic. That would be a fairly typical approach; it's one that dominates the
self-help genre. McGinn takes a different approach. It's "here's what they
do." With a few exceptions, he avoids giving specific advice. Those
exceptions seem to have all been made for preparation tactics that have been
shown to actually backfire (his advice is to not use those).
He covers the spectrum, everything from the centering that's taught to
martial arts students to the bizarre rituals used by some entertainers. The
reader is free to try any of these, as if McGill is saying, "See what works
In his coverage, he lightly goes into why (or perhaps why) a given
pre-performance regimen works. He draws much of his information from people
who do research into that area. For example, he interviewed (among others) a
Harvard marketing professor who has a doctorate in psychology and an
interest in rituals.
Some of the preparation rituals are individual. For example, an
individual might have a little structured routine he goes through. Some are
group rituals, a particular case of which he discusses in the book. Some are
external, where the individual or group is the recipient of someone else's
preparation ritual; the classic example being the speech given by the
football coach just before going out on the playing field.
So you could think in your own life how this might work.
You have your individual preparation. Maybe you start every new project
the same way every time, such as making a list of resources. Or maybe you
always put a cinnamon stick in your coffee before the weekly sales meeting.
It can be a practice that is just a placebo, the mere fact you do it helps
you (McGinn covers this in some depth).
You have your group preparation, such as a pro forma planning meeting
that doesn't really do much except to get people together as a team. If your
boss makes a motivational pitch at that meeting, there's your external
Many readers of this book will no doubt be athletes. I'm an athlete, very
advanced in both martial arts and climbing. I perform very well, but don't
do much in terms of a pre-performance ritual. I focus on my breathing and
get calm, that's about it. I also lift weights (have not missed a workout
since 1977) and for many years had a very specific preworkout ritual that
involved consuming a "preworkout" supplement about 30 minutes prior. But
after spending time analyzing the ingredients, I found this is mostly
nonsense so I stopped doing it. Yes, two specific supplements (L-Arginine
and Beta-Alinine) can be very helpful but you don't need to take them 30
minutes prior to your workout. You don't need the equivalent of 12 cups of
coffee, a week's worth of B vitamins, or a ton of sugar--all of which are in
the typical preworkout concoction.
Don't use psyching up as a crutch for self-confidence. Work on improving your
competence so that you know you are good. Not necessarily perfect or even the
best in the room. But someone capable of turning in a respectable performance.
The centering that McGinn talks about early on is a way of clearing the mind
of distraction; it is my opinion that this is the purpose best served by a
pre-performance ritual. McGinn also mentioned the old advice "Don't be
nervous," something that is guaranteed to unnerve a person. If you have a
method that works for you in getting to that calm place and looking ahead to
success, then use it. If you don't have such a method, experiment with what
McGinn presents and develop one.
I like the fact he ends with a chapter on
"performance enhancing" drugs. Aside from the fact they are often a crutch
for a lack of competence, they bring the specter of simply working even
longer than we already do. McGinn has an interesting discussion on the pros
and cons of these drugs.
Overall, a good book to add to your collection if
you consider yourself a work in progress and are seeking an edge you may not
have considered before. I think this book is also good for people who have
become too dependent on pysching up or go about it in a way that has taken
on a life of its own (one example in the book addresses this).
using, or thinking about using, performance-enhancing drugs, McGinn's
analysis will be helpful. And you may find that using one of the other
methods discussed in the book provides a safer, cheaper, and more effective
way to achieve your goals.