When Something Becomes Easy The Brain Shuts Down

Face In HandsI was listening to the Tim Ferriss Show episode with Dave Elitch.

He’s a drummer and has been on some major tours.

The episode is really good and has lots of great info. Lots of things really stood out to me, but one stood out a little more than the rest.

Dave talked about how sometimes when he’s on tour he’ll start forgetting parts of songs. He rehearses hard. He had been playing the songs night after night. Then sometimes his mind just goes blank.

It’s an interesting thing that occurs. He described it as if the brain was just shutting down. And his hypothesis is that when something becomes too routine and too easy that your brain will shut down.

It’s a little like the flower analogy where a flower is either growing or it’s dying. There isn’t a moment when it’s just being. It’s always in motion.

The Tiger Woods Case Study

Tiger Woods has been the biggest story in golf for a long time…and for a lot of reasons.

One reason is his swing. It’s changed drastically over the years.

He famously won The Masters in 1997 and immediately began working on some major swing changes. He was the best player in the world at the time and decided that he had to improve.

Then in 2000, he went on the greatest run in golf history. Just a few years later he was lost. He won one time in 2004 and began working with a new coach and they changed his swing big time. Then he went on another winning streak.

In 2011, another change.

Then in 2017, back from injury and another change.

The thing is…Tiger Woods could probably win from time to time with just about any golf swing. But something he has figured out is that he needs to stimulate his brain with new things. It’s that stimulation that, at least partly, keeps him coming back.

It’s the challenge of mastering something new. Putting your focus on something and getting your brain into learning mode so that it’s growing.

The Mike McCarthy Case Study

Mike McCarthy is a very successful NFL coach. He has said it himself. And he’s absolutely right. Some will say that it’s easy to win when you have Aaron Rodgers for a QB. But one of the best coaches of all time couldn’t win a Super Bowl with one of the best QBs of all time. Sorry Miami Dolphin fans…

Anyway, McCarthy came to Green Bay in 2006. He had to work with an over-the-hill Brett Favre who was at his interception-machine best. The first year was a bit of a struggle, but the team nearly made the Super Bowl in 2007. It’s certainly possible that the new coach challenged Favre and got his brain back into learning and growing mode.

The same was probably true for Aaron Rodgers, who took over in 2008, won the Super Bowl with the team in 2010 and then won the MVP in 2011.

But by 2012, the offense McCarthy was running was getting stale. It was obvious that Rodgers was starting to lose interest in running the same plays that he’d been running for 5+ years.

So in 2014, the McCarthy did something different. The Packers started playing a fast-tempo offense. They had a great season. Rodgers won another MVP and the team almost made the Super Bowl.

Then things got stale again. Back to the same old offense. Short bursts of great play.

In 2018, the GM was fired. McCarthy was brought back for one more try and had the chance to challenge the team with something new again. But he stayed with the same approach and was fired in season.

Not because he was a bad coach. But because it was time to try something new.

Final Thoughts

When you get really good at something your brain can shut off. You can start performing poorly. It’s not that what you had been doing is wrong. In fact, it would probably be great for someone else. The reality is that your brain feels that it’s peaked as far as that specific skill is concerned.

In order to avoid shutting down, you have to look for new challenges.

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