The following bit got cut from the final version of my book, Instant Athlete Instant Zone. But I think it contains a valuable insight as the difference between winning and losing can sometimes be separated by only a one-hundredth of a second.
“What I learned today reminds me of an experiment we did in my college psychology class,” I said. “It was a standard reaction-time test. A light would go on and you had to move your hand about 12 inches and hit a button to turn the light off. There was stop watch connected to the circuit which measured how long the light stayed on.”
“I’m familiar with that test,” commented the Old Coach.
“The competitive male athletes insisted on going first,” I continued. “Each jock adopted a macho approach. They’d be on high alert—their arms like coiled springs, ready to pounce the instant they saw the light go on. And then they would slam the button. It was hugely competitive. Lots of trash talk. Once all the athletes were tested, the fastest guy pranced around with his fists thrust in the air like he’d just won the heavyweight boxing crown.”
The Old Coach chuckled at the description.
“Then it was time for everyone else in the class to take a turn,” I said. “The first girl to be tested was quite delicate. She was not athletic at all. In fact, she looked like she couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding. Anyway, she approached this experiment in a most disinterested way. She had no intense focus on the light bulb and no coiled readiness in her arm. Just the opposite. Her arm was completely limp and her gaze was neutral.”
The Old Coach smiled.
“What happened next blew everyone’s mind. As soon as the light went on, her hand flicked out there like a frog’s tongue snatching a mosquito from mid-air. When her time was announced, the next sound heard was a collective gasp. She, using a relaxed approach, had easily defeated all the macho athletes who had used the coiled spring approach.”
The Old Coach was nodding knowingly.
“I observed something else with the contrasting approaches,” I added. “A turn consisted of each person turning off the light about 50 times in a row. I noticed that those using the coiled spring approach got slower as their turns progressed. It seemed like their arms and minds had gotten tired from being on high alert. But the reaction times from the delicate girl remained consistently fast.”
“I would have predicted as much,” commented the Old Coach.
“I became so curious that after class I experimented using both methods,” I said. “When I started from the platform of relaxation, I was amazed at how much faster I was than with the macho approach.”