Cleere’s Corner: Multitasking in Performance

Multitasking in Performance: Too Much Thinking While Doing

By Dr. Michelle Cleere

Multitasking is something we all do. We have so many things to do and try to deepen the precious moments we have by doing multiple things at one time. When performers try to compete and think at the same time, or in other words multitask, it doesn’t typically work and it probably doesn’t give them the best results.

What is multitasking

Multitasking is doing several things at the same time. People used to be rewarded for their ability to multitask because it seemed as though they could get more done but that’s not the reality. The truth is when we multitask we are not focused on any one thing. Our attention is divided in several directions and doesn’t know what’s really important. Your brain will attempt to switch back and forth between things but struggles to do it and nothing really gets done effectively. 

The few moments when it does work 

I would say that multitasking really never works but when we are doing simple tasks we can usually get through it fairly unscathed while trying to do several tasks. For example, pat your head and rub your belly while you walk. ? Or washing the dishes while having a conversation and cooking something on the stove.

Even in these situations you have to be careful when you are not completely focused. You may break a glass while washing the dishes or burn something on the stove while washing the dishes and chatting with someone. 

How does this translate to cyclists

Have you ever worked with a coach who was trying to change several different things at the same time? I’ll bet you were trying to focus on all of it at the same time and struggled to make change. Yep. Nothing was getting done most effectively.

Above we talked about simple tasks however, you know that competition and performance is no simple task. Whether you are trying to break out, or just hanging on to the group, or have someone trying to pass you, your task is not a simple task.

I worked with a cyclist and we did some really good work together. We developed her Beating the Demons System, or in other words, routines to take on the most stressful moments in competition. The system allows elite performers to think very little during the race. But right after that she changed teams and the new coach was asking her to remember seven to eight things during a race. She struggled to focus, and her performance began to decline again.

Practice vs competition

During practice there’s more brain space to work on several things but not at the same time. Practice is the time to think about mental and physical changes, make changes, make mistakes, and learn new things. Practice is where you develop your mental and physical muscle memory so that you can use that muscle memory during competition to just do it (not think about it).

Competition is designed to take all the hard work you’ve done in practice and training and apply it (not think about it). There’s no time during competition to think about mental and physical changes, make changes, make mistakes, or learn new things. Why? Because you can’t work on it. You may get one attempt and when that doesn’t go well performance in general declines.

I always say to clients, why spend all that time and energy practicing if you aren’t going to allow that practice to show up and do its thing. 

The multitasking chain

Before and during competition when you are thinking about what you need to do and also get wrapped up in doubt, nerves, fear, and negativity, how can you possibly perform?

Thinking leads to increased heart rate, muscle tension and decreased range of motion. Your energy is pulled in so many directions, performing takes a back seat. Similar to the above examples, this kind of multitasking pulls you out of your ability to perform optimally. 

Being present

With so many things going on in your world, you cannot be present 24/7. But you can learn how to be present and focused on one thing at certain moments. For cyclists, this means recognizing when you are in your head and bringing your focus back to what you are there to do – perform and race well. 

I do quite a bit of mindfulness work and there’s something so amazing about being able to learn when you’ve lost your focus and regain it. We get so caught up in places that don’t need our attention or need our attention in that moment. When you learn to recognize that is happening and course correct, it is an amazing feeling.

We are socialized to multitask but you can have more control over being more present and focused. This is where you most optimally act and respond to all situations in a performance.

Dr. Michelle

Elite Performance Expert

Connect for more tips on Facebook and Twitter!