I was walking down one of the busiest streets in one of the busiest cities in the world, when I saw man juggling. Not on the corner, but in motion. He was walking, briskly, jamming out on his headphones, while keeping three balls in the air, for seven straight blocks.
I watched him the entire time, and no matter how many pedestrians, vehicles, pigeons, delivery guys, police officers, bike messengers, hot dog vendors and wide eyed tourists that he passed, the balls never dropped.
It was a thing of beauty. But also a powerful reminder. Because when you practice with distractions, you learn to fight for your life. You train yourself to deal with less than perfect conditions. And you insure yourself against the external forces that aim to deter you from your high performance path.
Animal owners are taught to do the same. Training manuals explain that early exposure to a wide variety of stimuli will result in a steady dog that is better able to deal with aural, visual and olfactory distractions. They even suggest turning on the television and scattering food on the floor and leaving smelly socks in the corner to assure that your dog becomes more consistent and reliable.
It’s no different for humans. If we are to enhance our level of concentration and focus, we must intentionally try to disrupt ourselves.
I learned this busking in the park. Each week when I preform, my music is met with a barrage of distractions, from car horns to ambulance sirens to security trucks to barking dogs to punk ass kids to screaming babies to urinating hobos.
Initially, it was quite frustrating and jarring. But after the first few months of playing, I began to embrace it. Because I trusted that the distractions were making me a stronger performer. They were assuring that my concentration didn’t become erratic when it mattered most.
And so, whatever type of performer you are, find a way to mentally and physically prepare for unusual events. Periodically incorporate distractions into your preparation rituals and learn how to quickly and quietly cope with them.
You might set multiple alarms on your phone to go off during rehearsal. You might have friend to sit the room and try to throw you off your game. You might play heavy metal music in the background while you recite your lines. You might cover your floor with toys and props to practice embracing physical obstacles.
Whatever technique you employ, the goal is to be able to find the inner focus that exists regardless of the external environment. That’s where true showmanship is born.
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How could you become so accustomed to stress, distractions, and pressure, that they no longer phase you?
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.
Now booking for 2016-2017.
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