Ever wonder what Writer's Block happens to be?
It's a form of choking under pressure. When we're called upon to speak, to write, or to do something under pressure, we almost always seem to struggle.
This choking happens even with professionals who normally breeze through their work. The big reason for this choking under pressure is partly because of the lack of the right preparation.
Instead of training under Lucy Moments, we train under Charlie Brown moments.
Let's find out how to avoid the choke and to avoid the sticky moments completely.
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When I was in my teens, one of my favourite video games was Snoopy Tennis.
The console was no bigger than a phone, and the game itself comprised of two characters hitting the ball and Snoopy hitting back. The first character to hit the ball was Charlie Brown, and his serve was a slow, manageable lob. The second was Lucy, who hit the ball from the top of the treehouse at high speed.
There was just one tiny wrinkle.
The console I held in my hand was severely cracked in the middle. Hence, you couldn't see where the ball was on the screen for at least a few seconds. By some coincidence, when Lucy hit the ball at astonishing speed, the ball would hit that cracked zone, and Snoopy would have to swing blindly.
Except for the fact that the experience was not blind at all. Deprived of those visual cues, I (and Snoopy) found out that we could be under pressure and still listen to the sound of the ball. Beep, beep, beep, swing—and you'd get yet another point. However, what was not lost on me was that the entire game wasn't pressure-based.
Instead, they were split up into Charlie Brown moments and Lucy moments. We tend to choke because we train under Charlie Brown moments.
If you notice a student studying for a maths exam, she's likely to be working in calm conditions.
She's likely to have shooed everyone out of the room and got the privilege of a peaceful, almost trance-like study situation. An examination hall can ensure that the quiet is maintained, allowing the student to do as well as she expects.
She hasn't counted on some blaring music outside the exam hall. Or perhaps, the clicking sound that the student in front seems to be making with her pens.
A tiny distraction is enough to tip the student from the Charlie Brown mode to a Lucy mode. Despite her skill and preparedness, a new factor comes into play and throws her off balance.
We understand the need to prepare ourselves for the unexpected, but it isn't very practical, is it?
In most cases, there aren't hundreds of situations where things can go wrong. If you were a pilot on a modern jetliner, there are seemingly an endless array of things that can get your plane in trouble.
Yet as a pilot told me, “I could be halfway across the Pacific and still be able to get back to land”. He (and other pilots I spoke to) suggested that there are likely to be instantaneous and unrecoverable situations. However, most pressure points are relatively well documented.
It's interesting to note that a pressure moment is not usually more stressful than a non-pressure moment.
Hence, if you were assigned to give a presentation, you'd have a series of pressure moments. If we were to plot the elements of a presentation, you'd likely run into bottlenecks. Some of the issues at hand would be: picking suitable graphics, the sequence of presentation, the design of your slide set, the timing of the presentation, etc.
Once the slide deck was in place, you'd have to work on the first five minutes and definitely the pacing of the last five minutes. You'd need to know what you'd do if half the audience got up and left—or you got heckled.
If all of these elements sound like a lot an intimidating list, we've likely all been operating under Charlie Brown moments and not enough of Lucy. What's important to note is that Lucy didn't just show up once in the video game. She showed up repeatedly.
This means you often have to be prepared on many fronts. Usually, this is not the case, as I found out during one of my speaking engagements.
In May 2015, I spoke at the Opera House in Denver, Colorado.
Earlier that week, I'd completed a series of workshops on the East Coast and West Coast of the US. Somewhere along the way, I got a nasty cold, which led to me losing my voice.
That was the first Lucy moment. While I was very confident in making my presentation, even in front of bright lights and an audience of over 200 people, I still needed to ensure I didn't have any more surprises.
I showed my presentation to the technical team, and they suggested I make some changes to my video setup. Still unable to speak very much, I spent another 20 minutes—as I always do—walking around on the empty stage to familiarise myself with the surroundings.
I imagine the audience and the lights, which gets me in a frame of mind to deal with the nerves that hit you when you're in a strange environment.
In short, I'd dealt with all the possible Lucy moments I could think of
However, on the day of the presentation, I got hit with a curtain of air conditioning as I walked on stage. It instantly clogged my already clogged respiratory system causing me to sniff uncontrollably.
It was impossible to focus on the presentation when I was sniffing and snorting in front of a few hundred people. At this point, someone from the audience threw a pack of Kleenex tissues onto the stage.
I picked it up, opened it and blew my nose to the amusement of everyone. Freed of the congestion, I could go on with the presentation without too much of a hiccup.
We choke under pressure because we aren't preparing ourselves for when things go wrong. If just one thing goes off course, it's enough to derail our momentum. However, having a series of Lucy moments means you may feel you simply can't recover.
And there are practical ways to go about putting Lucy Moments in place.
Here's how we do it with our courses, for example.
The part where most writers get derailed is the back and forth movement. They write, erase, edit, and then painfully jerk their way forward. Almost every writer assumes (wrongly) that their work isn't so good. Which causes them to edit endlessly. This constant editing causes them to slow down to a crawl. In effect, they're experiencing a string of Lucy moments.
The way around this problem is to give them a fixed time for the assignment.
At first, the learner can't comprehend how they'd be able to complete an article to their satisfaction in such a short amount of time. They feel they need more space to write and edit. Yet, this “write-edit” is precisely the problem they'd be likely to face at the end of the course.
If they don't learn to write within a fixed amount of time, they'll finish the course and take hours, if not days, to complete their work. As a result, they'll choke and give up writing, believing they're not good enough.
However, when we identify the problems and get them to overcome those issues, they not only write within the time frame but show incredible improvement in their structure and skill.
Learning to lob in Lucy moments is what we need for almost any skill
Usually, once you're good at something, there are three broad areas where things can go wrong.
1- A shift in the deadline
2- A lack of some elements
3- A distraction
As a professional, the Lucy moments are far fewer
A chef, deprived of some ingredients, utensils and working in an unfamiliar kitchen, will still turn out a great meal and on deadline. A footballer whose ankles have been hammered by an unsporting opposition will still work their way forward to scoring goals.
And let's not forget fire crews or pilots that will work their way forward. They've prepared rigorously for those precise Lucy moments of the deadline, lack of elements, and distraction when faced with inclement situations.
There are Charlie Brown moments in life. Times when things don't necessarily stretch your capacity. Where you can amble along entirely within your capabilities. And there are Lucy moments where choking is almost inevitable. Unless, of course, you practice under Lucy moments.
Then choking needs just a bit of Kleenex, and you're on your way.