Tag: confidence

Performance Anxiety

I have performance anxiety. Wait, that sounded bad. Not that kind of performance anxiety… I mean with sports. I could never be an Olympian or compete in some sort of professional sport. Aside from having to be talented, coordinated, and possessing athletic skill, those folks tend not to choke when it matters. I don’t have that ability.

Take golf for example. Golf seems to be my nemesis for some reason. I have a weird golf dyslexia that I can’t seem to get past. Despite a frightening amount of money spent on the driving range, lessons, and clubs, I still just don’t get it. I have zero confidence that when I step up to the tee, I’ll be able to hit the ball. As a result I hate the first hole. As in, I actually get butterflies in my stomach walking up to tee off. It makes no difference if I’ve warmed up on the range or not. All I can think of in my head is “don’t screw up, don’t screw up”. It happened just the other day. Mrs Troutdog and I were playing and got partnered with a 12 year old kid. He hit a beautiful drive that went a country mile. I stepped up and… chunked it about 10 feet. I set up to hit another… and chunked it about 10 feet. Sigh.

I know that half the problem is that I’ve gotten into my own head over this. I know I’m creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by obsessing over it. I just don’t know how to get past it. Mrs Troutdog laughs at me and says I shouldn’t care. We’re just out to have fun, it’s not like we’re trying to turn pro or impress anyone. She’s right. But I hate being bad at things, especially in front of strangers.

Maybe it’s a guy thing? I’m ok being bad when I’m a complete beginner. I’ve never been waterskiing. I would be really bad at it initially and that would be expected. But at some point you want to move up to being at least average. Especially if you’ve purchased all the expensive gear. Nobody wants to be a poser. Maybe that’s where my issues started? When I was young I did a lot of surfing. In the surfing tribe it was critical to fit in (or maybe it was just a teenage thing). You could always spot a poser. They’d have brand new expensive wetsuits and boards, yet were complete kooks in the water. As kids are prone to do, we mercilessly made fun of those guys.

That desire to fit in with the tribe as a kid probably left an indelible imprint that’s lingered into middle age. I desperately don’t want to be that guy who has all the expensive gear but not be able to walk the walk. Reminds me of a great old movie, “Man’s Favorite Sport?” staring Rock Hudson. The main character is a famous fishing guide who’s written books on the subject. Turns out he’s never actually been fishing. His boss enters him in a fishing contest and hilarity ensues.

With things like skiing and mountain biking, I’m comfortably average. I can reasonably ride most any terrain and know exactly what my fitness and skill limitations are. Even if I don’t know you, I’d happily go for a ride if you ask and be confident that I won’t embarrass myself. Ask me to play golf and I’ll spend twenty minutes making excuses. I hurt my back. Haven’t played since last year. I used to play years ago, but am just now taking it up again. Anything to cover for the inevitable flubbing on the first tee.

It’s silly, isn’t it? I’m a grown-ass man. Am I really so vain at this point in my life that I’d care about what you think of my golf ability? Apparently so. And I hate myself for even caring about it. I should strive to be Rodney Dangerfield’s Al Czervik character in the movie Caddyshack. Loud, flamboyant, every golf gadget available, yet was hopeless at golf. He didn’t care what anyone thought because he was having fun.

Maybe that’s the ticket to busting through this weird anxiety I have? A form of de-sensitivity training. Perhaps I should go buy the most outrageous plaid golf pants I can find and wear an obnoxious Hawaiian shirt. Add some sort of ridiculous hat, tee up a bright pink ball on a naked lady tee and let’r rip. Maybe by going over the top and pretending I really don’t care what you think, I’ll convince myself that people actually really don’t care if I can hit the ball or not. Maybe. I’m just not sure Mrs Troutdog will still play golf with me dressed like that.

It’s All In Your Head

I may have mentioned once or twice here that I ride a motorcycle. I have some experience riding on the street but very little in the dirt. I may also have mentioned once or many times that I’ve recently purchased a new ginormous motorcycle that’s in the “adventure bike” category. That means it’s perfectly capable of going both on and off road. I’m somewhat intimidated by it which makes me a very timid rider in the dirt, unsure of my abilities to stay upright. Many of my little stories are about conquering my fears and pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. This story is about the power of the mind.

The new ginormous motorcycle has more electronics than the space shuttle and enough buttons to rival a modern airliner. So many buttons in fact, they had to make an on-line simulator to practice with. I’ve only figured out about half of them so far since it takes the majority of my limited brain cells just to stay upright. I don’t need to make things more complicated by fiddling with buttons and switches. Anyway, I was reading some on-line forums about the bike and stumbled upon a thread about something called the “G-switch”. Folks were raving about what a difference it made in the dirt for traction.

If you haven’t ridden a motorcycle in the dirt, traction is where my fear comes from. Riding around a corner and feeling your rear (or front) wheel start sliding is a very unnatural feeling and causes my stomach to pucker up. So naturally anything that improves traction is going to make my life better. I quickly opened up the manual and then the on-line simulator and figured out how to turn the G-switch on and off. Time to jump on the bike and go find some dirt!

I rode up to a high mountain lake on slippery, loose gravel and dirt roads. With the G-switch engaged it was like I was riding on rails. My tires were glued to the dirt and I rode at 2x my normal speed. What an amazing difference! With the G-switch on it was like I was a different rider. Why hadn’t I discovered this earlier?

Once at home, enjoying an adult beverage after my ride, the engineer in me decided to figure what what the G-switch actually does. What engineering marvel did those designers create when they crafted that magic switch? It took quite a bit of research to find the actual specs. And it turns out… it has nothing to do with traction really. It changes how the clutch works.

*crickets*

How in the world did I ride so well then? It’s amazing what the brain is capable of. I know there’s plenty of cute fables out there describing the power of belief, but I never thought I’d experience it. I was sure the G-switch was doing something to help me and therefore I relaxed, trusted the bike, and rode better than I thought I could. I have to laugh at myself. It will be interesting to see what happens on my next ride. Will I revert to being cautious since I know there’s no magic G-switch helping me? At the same time I now know I’m capable of riding more confidently than I have been. My guess is somewhere in the middle. Regardless, the lesson learned is that we’re all far more capable than we give ourselves credit for. But you’ll never know if you don’t try.