Friday, January 31, 2014

Constructive Criticism, Inside and Out

Well, I was very excited to see that people commented on my “Weekly Question” topic. I’m also very happy because the answers illustrate, pretty nicely, a lot of points that are extremely important when it comes to teaching yourself, learning, and dealing with failure.

The question was “If a stranger stood behind me, and told me the same things that I tell myself, how would I respond?” And I really couldn’t have asked for more useful answers to lead me into this post, which is about criticism.

Criticism can take many forms. It can be mean-spirited, insulting, cajoling, reassuring, helpful, or useless. The most useful (as implied by its name) would be constructive criticism, criticism that clearly points out your error, why the error negatively influenced an outcome, and how it can be changed. So let’s break that down a bit.

First, it points out an error. In order for criticism to be constructive, it must be specific. It needs to point out a particular element of what you’ve done wrong, so that you know the area that needs improvement. “You suck and you’re bad” does not fall under this category because simply telling somebody they lack ability doesn’t help; they probably already know this, given that they aren’t getting the results they want.

Second, it analyzes the error. If you were critiquing somebody’s golf swing and said, “you are slicing the ball and that’s why you’re inaccurate,” you are specifically targeting an element of the swing. But it’s not yet fully constructive, because it doesn’t explain how the slice is occurring. So you might say instead, “you are slicing the ball because your swing’s arc is curving inside as you bring the club-head down.” Then the person can look and go, “oh, wow, that’s really what’s happening when I swing,” and now the error loses mystery.

Third, it explains how the error can be fixed. This is where you supply a solution or a fix to the problem that you have specifically pointed out and then explained. Now the person you’re criticizing knows what is going wrong, why it’s going wrong, and how to fix it. With each element, your criticism becomes more and more constructive and potentially useful to that person. If you are genuinely interested in helping somebody improve, the more you incorporate each of these elements the better.

Please note that I don’t actually include positive or negative language in this. I think it’s a highly valuable skill for us to evaluate the a message based on its content and not its tone; I don’t have much desire to put people down myself, but at the same time, not everybody will want to spare your feelings. When it comes to interpreting criticism, separating the advice--”if you open up your form it will make your shot easier, right now you’re too closed in and tense”--from the tone--”because you are an idiot, you idiot”--will be rather handy. It will keep you from ignoring useful advice just because it’s negatively worded, and it will prevent you from taking bad advice because it sounds nice.

So yes, you can be constructively critical while being rude, and just because you phrase things nicely doesn’t always mean that you’re really helping someone. Sometimes positive language just encourages people to do what they’re already doing. Unless they are currently perfect, that shouldn’t be your goal when constructively criticizing. Of course, the degree of criticism and constructiveness depends completely on how helpful you want to be. Maybe you don’t want to help somebody, and you hate them and want them to feel bad. At this point, “you suck and you’re terrible and dumb and ugly” is more up your alley. On the other hand, if you are bothering to give somebody useful information, you might as well take the extra effort to make your criticism more palatable.

Which leads us, rather nicely, into the next point.

The reason I asked the question (and directed it at self-critical people) is because there are people who really want to get good at the game. They really want to improve their skills. I like watching speedrun streams, and it’s surprisingly common for speedrunners to get mad and say, “ugh I’m bad,” or “I messed that up because I’m retarded I guess.” When you try to play to a high standard, you hold yourself to a high standard. The same is true of many competitors. When you care a lot, you will get frustrated when things stand in your way, even if that thing is yourself.

Obviously we want to know the error of our ways so we can get better. Our primary source for this are opponents, who will happily capitalize on your mistakes, letting you know that something went wrong somewhere; however, they rarely give you a written summary of what you can do to improve. Sometimes we have other critics, sometimes we have coaches, sometimes we have spectators, and sometimes we have to rely on ourselves.

So you have to wonder why, when people begin critical self talk, so many times it isn’t constructive. It’s despairing. It’s disparaging. It’s mean, something you wouldn’t say to anybody else, and if another person said it to you, it would probably make you mad. As reader 2shadez responded, they would “punch him in the face and run away,” and another said “I'd probably go off on him.” Nobody wants to just hear, “you suck.” There are some self-important folks out there who may need it as a wake-up call, but are you one of those people? Or are you in need of real advice and analysis?

One response to the question, from an anonymous poster said, “I would turn around, clasp their shoulders, and shout "WHY, AND HOW DO I IMPROVE." Besides implying that the person tells themselves “you suck” when they make mistakes, it also (clearly, in all caps) says that they want information that will make them un-suck. We don’t want to know that we’re bad, we want to know why and how to make it better. This poster was actually pretty elaborate on the subject, so you may want to back to the original post and find the comment.

That is exactly the point of the question. When you give yourself self-talk, are you being constructive towards yourself? Are you making excuses to feel better, or lambasting yourself to the point you want to quit? One of the posters said “only I can say mean things about myself,” but the real question is why do you want to? Why bother? Is it constructive? Surely there is a way to motivate yourself without also bombarding yourself with extreme negativity? Earlier I said that we want to be able to separate the content from the tone of the message, but if you have control over the things you say to yourself, you might as well leave out the part where you call yourself stupid and inadequate.  One poster said “I would most likely get frustrated, mess up even more, and then eventually leave if the guy continued.” And these are words that would be coming out of his own mouth if he were standing behind himself. It doesn’t sound motivating or useful at all.

As our elaborate responder said, sometimes people will “respond with comforting dismissals or look-on-the-bright-sides,” and without constructive elements those don’t do us many favors either. They might cheer us up, but they also might encourage us not to change, to feel good about bad performances. You don’t benefit much from telling yourself “no I’m good I’m doing just fine” if you’re in the process of getting bodied. But you also don’t benefit from telling yourself “god, you suck” with nothing constructive attached. Which, if you check the reader answers, you can see is implied heavily in most of them.

I would say I spent the vast majority of my life hammering myself with negative self-talk. If I messed up, I sucked. If I made mistakes, I was stupid. Surely, for making these errors, I was garbage, trash, and an idiot. On the other hand, I was incredibly sensitive to criticism and other people telling me that I was bad. Because deep down I wanted to be good, and I felt like I was letting myself down with each and every mistake. Even now I get pretty annoyed if somebody implies I’m not good at something (even if I know that I’m not). So my answer to the question is this: if somebody using my own words had been standing behind me, given that I’m non-confrontational and an introvert, I would have grown more miserable until I just quit and walked away. Funnily enough, with nothing but the influence of my own thoughts, I did so many times. The only thing that kept me coming back was a mixture of masochism and stubbornness.

Over time I began to realize that I was frustrated because I played badly and made mistakes, but the frustration and anger caused more of it. It did the opposite of help; it only made me play worse. It put me in a crappy mood, and did so without the benefit of giving me something constructive to work with. I couldn’t dispassionately dissect my own game, so I always set my controller down angry. When it came to both improvement and enjoyment, I wasn’t even on my own side. If you can’t be your own ally, how can you expect to improve? One of the responses said, “sadly, you can’t run away from your own thoughts,” but I’m not sure how sad that fact needs to be.

Thanks for reading. I really liked receiving the different responses and viewpoints, so I’m definitely going to have another question next week; I’ll see you Monday with another weekly question, and Tuesday with a standard blog post. Take care.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Feature: Weekly Questions

First, I want to thank people who responded, commented, and gave me feedback on the blog. The main reply seems to be that people like the topics I cover, they enjoy the writing, and they want it to stay focused on writing. This is a bit of a relief to me, since writing is arguably my strongest skill, so I’m glad people want me to keep doing it.

One thing that I’m interested in doing is having occasional blurby posts that give you a bite-sized piece of value for coming to the site; you won’t always have time to stop what you’re doing and read a 1000+ word post. They might be links, book or article recommendations, small realizations, information on interesting upcoming gaming events. The kinds of things that wouldn’t fit cleanly into a Facebook or Twitter update, but also aren’t deserving of the bi-weekly slots.

So from now on, I’m going to try and include a weekly question. It is something for you to ask yourself, to help you analyze your behaviors and attitudes towards your performance and competition. The process of thinking and self-improvement is, quite frequently, one of asking ourselves questions, and then answering them. So rather than do this in a normal post and then try to elaborate with just my thoughts, I want to encourage people to ask these questions to themselves, and search within their own experiences.

I also want to heavily encourage people to comment and discuss their viewpoints. Being the sole author of my blog, I can only offer my perspective; sometimes I can try to interpret other viewpoints, but it’s not the same. When somebody has a view that differs from mine, or has more insight than me on a specific topic, we all benefit from hearing and thinking about it.

So for a short period of time, Mondays will be devoted to a weekly question to get your brain churning. I am excited to see the answers people give and the discussions that arise. I say “for a short period of time” because if it’s not generating value or interest, I will probably stop.

Since it just occurred to me to do this, we will do the weekly question today. After this, they will show up on Monday with a normal post on Tuesday. The responses may even help me figure out what to write about as time goes on, so you do me a service by sharing your thoughts.

This week’s question is geared towards the more self-critical readers who beat themselves up for making errors:

“If a stranger stood behind me, and told me the same things that I tell myself, how would I respond?”

Comments and discussion are hugely appreciated. See you Friday!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Speaking of Feedback...

Today’s blog post is actually a bunch of questions.

In the spirit of this week’s earlier post about feedback, I am interested in receiving more so I know what else to do with this thing. So if you want to help me increase the amount of value that I give people through this blog, just answer the following questions in a comment somewhere that I may read it. You don’t need to register to post a comment, and if you want to answer via Twitter or FB comments, that’s fine too.

1) What are your favorite kinds of posts? Do you prefer ones about emotion? Cognition? Game design? Competitive philosophy? Write-ups and summaries of various events and experiences that I attend or watch? Which of these draw your interest the most?

2) What kinds of special articles and posts would interest you most in the future? Interviews? User-generated questions and topics? Recommendations for further reading and watching?

3) If I added extra stuff beyond posts and articles, what would interest you most?  Videos and Vlogs? Longer works in the form of .pdfs and e-books? Tiny posts that refer you to other neat stuff?

4) If I changed the update schedule in the future, would you want content that is more polished with fewer updates, or more stuff in the form of tiny blurbs? Do you want to see updates randomly throughout the week, or keep the schedule (mostly) fixed, the way it is now?

5) In general, do you feel like average post length and depth should increase, decrease, or stay at its current variable rate?

Thanks in advance friends. People have kept reading this far, and I want to thank you by making the blog more and more interesting and useful. Comment wherever you like, I’ll be sure to read them all. Take care, and see you next week.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


This past weekend was APEX 2014, and most people reading my blog will know what that is already.  If you don’t know, it was a massive Super Smash Brothers tournament, featuring more than ten different tournament events for a variety of games, mostly focusing on the Smash franchise.

I attended, not as a competitor but as a spectator and commentator.  I had an amazing time watching matches, meeting old friends and making new ones, and just talking about Smash and mindsets and moods and competition and all kinds of stuff.  Three days and four nights of talking about and witnessing some of my favorite things in the world made it pretty impossible to have a bad time.

I was also extremely gratified that roughly half the people I met told me they like my blog, read it, like talking about it, and that it’s helped them in some way.  Just sitting behind my computer, writing it, and shipping it off to Internet-land--and getting a few Likes and the occasional comment--means it’s hard for me to know what effect it’s having.  My daily reader-count has gone up over time, and I occasionally get some new twitter followers, who presumably see the blog as well.  But all told, I can’t really tell until somebody (or a large number of somebodies) tells me what they think.

Apparently some of the things I write are helpful.  That’s really good to know.  Sometimes I wonder if people aren’t just clicking the page because it shows up in their Twitter or FB newsfeed, saying “meh,” and going away, hoping for something better next time.  When people tell me what helps them and what doesn’t, what seems completely true and what seems confusing, that helps me make a better blog.  It also helps me know that I’m creating some kind of value by writing it, and that I should continue.

This all brings me to today’s topic, which is feedback.

Feedback is essential to doing anything better; it is what allows us to consciously create outcomes we prefer.  You do something, the environment shows you how your action affected it, and you store that information for the future.  If you liked the outcome, you may repeat the action.  If you hated the outcome, you avoid the action.  If you realize your actions don’t affect the outcome at all, you save your energy.  This is pretty simple stuff.

What is less obvious--though no less important--is this: any time you prepare to do something, and you have any interest in doing it better, you need to create criteria to measure your feedback.  If you consciously act, interpret the data, and tweak things to collect more information and serve your goals better, you will probably improve at a faster rate than people who don’t do these things.

Likewise, interpreting the feedback from the environment is a skill all its own, which is why it’s possible to be an amazing coach and mediocre player, or vice versa.  If you are poor at interpreting feedback, you end up with superstitions and bad habits.  You will believe you can control the arbitrary or believe the manageable is beyond your control.  You will completely ignore how one action affects outcomes, overvalue certain skills, and so on.  We have tremendous capacity for poorly interpreting feedback, especially if we refuse to listen to others, or we only search for positive feedback and ignore negatives.  If we over-emphasize the wrong outcomes, we will obsess on the unnecessary.  There are many ways our hunt for feedback and our use of it can go wrong.

Feedback is especially challenging to analyze when it comes to physical activities.  Sometimes you make the same mistake as before, so you receive the same feedback twice; of course you know what needs to change, but good luck telling that to your body.  Coaches and analysts can be extremely useful, because they can tell you why a specific part of your body is messing you up, and how you can focus on it to change the outcome.  They are masters of the feedback you may receive as you train, and they know how to shift your focus onto actions that yield better feedback.  That is, of course, assuming that your coach is a good one.  Your body also acts as your coach because it gives you feedback in response to your actions as well.  Learning to listen to it, to really delve into how it feels and responds to your commands, that’s another form of feedback important to learning.

With all that in mind, when does feedback help us the most?

One way feedback will assist us more is its specificity.  Over time, you want feedback to move from being general to being specific; as you initially learn skills, you don’t want to focus on highly specific outcomes because amateurs don’t have enough information or control.  Hence, initial feedback will typically be general and uncomplicated.  If it is specific, it should focus on something very basic.  As you train more and more, the feedback must become more specific and controlled.  The differences between “good” and “incredible” become smaller and more subtle as you improve.  Not only do we steadily reach points of diminishing returns for our efforts, but the distinction between the best and the next best become finer as well.

Feedback also helps the most when it’s based on things you actually control.  So when learning, you want to constantly ask yourself two questions: is there any conceivable way I could adjust around this situation?  If so, how?  A golfer can’t control the wind, but can adjust the shot around it.  A golfer that stubbornly takes the same shot into a heavy wind, then complains about the outcome (the feedback) would be considered ridiculous.  But we do this surprisingly often in all kinds of situations.  It’s far more helpful to say “can I do something to tilt this more in my favor?  If I can, what is it?”

I’m not very religious, but there is an extremely useful, widespread prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr that comes to mind:  “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”  As you try to improve, you want to focus your energy only on what you actually control and affect.  Many people will set goals that require the assistance of variables beyond their control, and not on maximizing their input.  Doing that not only creates frustration, but it doesn’t even help.  When studying your feedback, it helps to assume that you can do something to improve your situation, and focus on discovering what that is.  If you assume that you got screwed by circumstance, or you try and forcibly influence things truly beyond your control, you waste energy that could be used to improve.

The last thing that makes feedback most useful is when all feedback is treated as valuable.  We want to be excited about feedback even if doesn’t tell us what we want, even when we might consider it a failure, because it’s a window to more understanding.  Of course, if the feedback comes from other people you need to be more careful about how you interpret it, and you must be willing to let go of older interpretations if new feedback says you’ve been wrong.  In the long run, however, it all comes in handy, because the way the world responds to your actions always tells you something about the world you live in.

In short, emphasize your choices and activity rather than randomness, and as you learn more, become more and more specific.  Finally, treat every piece of feedback as insight into understanding the entire game or skill or endeavor, and you will find your knowledge and ability growing more quickly than those who discard information they don’t like.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dealing With Pressure, Part 2: Techniques and Mindsets

Last post I went into a bit of detail on the topic of where pressure comes from.  Specifically, we are the ones generating it based on our attitudes towards a situation.  If you feel genuine apathy towards something, you can’t really experience pressure.  At the same time, apathy wouldn’t motivate you much to perform.  What we want is a middle-ground, where you experience the stimulation of stress and pressure without letting it go so crazy that you crumble.  As I said last time, it would be pretty tough to eliminate pressure entirely, and I don’t think we want to do that anyway.

There are two main ways to approach the issue of handling your pressure and channeling it into better performances.  One is short term, and one is long term.  Learning both is pivotal.

Short Term

When talking about handling pressure in the short term, you want immediate actions that will reduce its cognitive and physical effects.  I don’t think I’m going to tell you anything particularly new--you could spend about five minutes on Google and find similar stuff--but it amazes me how few people use any pressure and stress-reducing techniques at all.  They just roll the dice and hope things work out.

Well, it doesn’t amaze me at all, because in the past I didn’t use any either.  It takes time to work them into some kind of routine; more than that, one of the downsides of pressure and stress is that they often reduces your ability to think clearly.  As stress increases, we act more instinctually, less thoughtfully.  You are less likely to remember useful information until its too late; you rely entirely on a mix of your training and instinct.  You gravitate to habit.

This is why before I even give you short term advice, do what I’m about to tell you, and do it right now.  Get something to write with; pen and paper, a notebook, or a word processor will work.  It will help more than just thinking about it.  Do not rush this step.  If you plan to skip it, just stop reading now.  If you have nothing else available to you, start typing in the address bar at the top of your browser.  Do something to write this down and think about it.  Ready?

Remember the last time you were competing and felt a lot of stress and pressure.  I want you to write down three of the physical symptoms.  Did your face get hot?  Did you breathe more shallowly?  Did your hands start to shake, or lock up?  Did your mouth dry out?  Did your stomach start to hurt or knot up?  Pick the three that you remember most clearly, and write those down.

Now, if you can, try to remember the things you thought about that pressured you the most, and write down two of them.  Were you nervous about playing in front of people?  Was it the last match to determine your advancement from pools?  Were you facing an opponent who always beats you?  Were you playing badly at the start of the day, and freaking out?  Pick two, and write them down.

Why do this?  Because if you’re going to remember to use any stress-reduction techniques, you need to recognize that you are stressed, that you are in the situation at all.  You will be more likely to remember and notice if you describe your pressure scenarios in advance.  You could read an entire book about handling stress and pressure (there are plenty out there) but they will be worthless if you don’t notice you need to handle the pressure until it’s too late.

So if you skipped that exercise, go back and do it.  Shoot, go back and re-read it even if you did do it.  It’s the most important step.  Even if you don’t use any other exercises, predicting your stress will probably help reduce it.

Well, let’s talk about some techniques.

--Deep Breaths

I told you it wouldn’t be all that new.

Why bring up deep breathing?  Because it works.  Increase the depth and decrease the frequency of your breathing, and your heart rate slows down.  Your stress response will lessen, giving you a bit more mental clarity.  More than that, sitting down and breathing deeply for a bit keeps you from taking other actions.  It gives you time to think about things, and your thoughts are more likely to be positive while less stressed.

Remember, you want to breathe deeply and lower the frequency.  If you are trying to breathe deeply and quickly, you’re going to hyperventilate yourself.  Don’t do that.

Here is how I do it.  I sit in a comfortable position, usually cross-legged or I’ll stretch out my legs while sitting against a wall.  Start with a breath in through the nose and count to eight.  I don’t try to force the air into my lungs, I just feel the nose and lungs open up and let air fall in.  My stomach expands and fresh air fills my body, no force needed.  Then instead of forcing the air out, I just open my lips and let the air fall out.  Little to no exertion involved.  Repeat until you feel about five times better than you did before.

While you are breathing, focus entirely on the sensations of breathing.  Feel the air and blood and oxygenation spreading out through your body.  Pay all possible attention to this sensation as you let air fall into your body and drift out.  Give the whole process at least a minute.

When you’re done, stand, shake yourself out, do whatever.

--Foundation Exercise

Let’s say that you are in the middle of the match when the pressure begins getting to you.  Or you are about to play, and you’re jittery and uncomfortable .

Rather than start doing the hardest stuff you know to warm up, do something different.  Do the easiest things you know how to do.  One of the biggest worries we have is an uncertainty that we will perform well; if you negate this uncertainty by focusing entirely on things you know you can do, you build your confidence.  You also decrease unnecessary risks by evaluating what will and won’t work for you.

Don’t judge anything right now.  Your goal isn’t to prove anything, it’s to figure out what you can depend on.  You’re like one nurse double-checking to make sure that another nurse isn’t about to give a dying patient the wrong medication; not because you don’t trust them, but because you need to know.  If something doesn’t work, set it aside, and do it dispassionately.  If you start saying to yourself, “oh wow I can’t even do X how pathetic I deserve to lose,” then there’s not much point to an anti-stress exercise.  So take a second to warm-up, stretch out, and find out what you have in you.  Slowly build it up, and don’t judge.  “If not this, then this?  How about this?  Okay, I see.”  

In SSBM, my hand tremors made most technical maneuvers tough; under stress and pressure, I would sometimes start twitching and shaking so badly I would miss buttons entirely (even dropping my controller sometimes).  I found that I could build up my confidence and movement by taking a moment, rehearsing the slowest, most basic stuff.  I’d make giant movements that didn’t even require fine motor control, re-teaching my hands what they already knew.  The goal was to build up from the very foundation of the most basic motions in a way I knew I couldn’t mess up.  It also had the benefit of telling me exactly what I could trust for this match, and how I would need to play if I wanted to win.


Take a second and think about the things that are pressuring you.  Think about the emotions, the attitudes behind them, and ask yourself some simple questions:  Why is this emotion useful?  What makes this attitude a good thing?  Remember, you don’t get to eliminate pressure.  You don’t want to.  You want to use it.  So reframe the things pressuring you.

Are you nervous in front of a crowd?  Ask yourself, “why is it useful for me to be nervous here?”  Find the good in it.  Why am I nervous?  Because I don’t want to look bad on stream.  This is good, it means I want to play well.  I have the desire to compete and win.  That’s a good thing.  If I wasn’t a little nervous, it would probably mean I didn’t care.  This means I’m in the right place.  I’m a competitor with the desire to win."

If you take a few seconds to think it through, and you still can’t come up with anything, that’s fine.  Reframe that.  Get meta.  If you can’t conceive of a reason why being nervous would benefit you, think of it like this.  “I’m playing in front of people, I’m nervous and it’s going to make things harder.  My opponent is good.  Winning under these circumstances would be an amazing accomplishment.  I don’t want to have it any other way.”

Like I said in the previous post, people who turn pressure into better performances are the ones that see it as a challenge and opportunity.  If you re-describe the emotions, if you reframe them as tools with a purpose and a benefit, you are doing exactly that.  When you start to feel these emotions but push through them and conquer them, you start feeling a certain degree of giddiness.  You realize that there’s a game inside your head as well, and you’re winning it.  Whenever I hit that state, I stopped caring about the game at all, I just wanted to stay in that same state-of-mind for as long as I could.  Coincidentally, it was my optimal state of performance and enjoyment.


Again, these things can be tough to remember to do, so don’t try all of them at once.  Pick one that you will rely on for the duration of an event or day until it’s part of your routine.

The three things I suggested here all share something in common: they emphasize control and autonomy.  They are all focused on things you can do.  Instead of feeling helpless, you get to feel controlled, active, awake.

They also briefly divorce you from the tumultuous moment of pressure so that you can gain perspective.  Pressure and stress cause us to panic and act impulsively, or lock-up and do nothing; either way, we’re lost in a moment, not using our greatest weapon, our power of observation and decision-making to find a winning route.

Long Term

The thing about pressure, stress, and almost every emotion you feel is that they’re guided by your beliefs and assumptions about the situation.  Somebody who thinks it’s super awesome to play in front of people, be on stage, fight the best players in the world, they’re less likely to cave under that pressure.  It’s not a guarantee that they will win, but they will have fewer regrets.  Somebody who loves having more obstacles in the way because it makes victory more meaningful, such a person becomes more driven when the odds are against them, not less.

In the long-term, handling stress and pressure comes down to a few things.  One of them is nothing more than developing a habit of using short-term tools to neutralize and control them.  If you automatically use those tools to handle pressure properly every time it comes up… well, it’s arguable that you’ve found a solid long-term solution.

The other is as simple (and difficult) as changing what you actually believe.  If you believe that losing is a horrible, horrible thing that should never ever happen to you, you will always experience stress when you face win-loss situations.  The more you believe this, the more pressure you will feel.  If you genuinely, truly don’t think losing is a big deal, then you won’t feel an emotional response to it.  Likewise, if you really didn’t care what other people thought about you, you wouldn’t react when playing in front of crowds.  Odds are you do care to some extent.

Once again, this brings up the point of apathy; if you really don’t care about the situation, it can’t stress you.  You just kind of shrug and do very little about it.  Emotions are meant to be motivators, so this isn’t always a good thing.  Not caring about the game at all means you probably don’t play it or want to improve.

But if you want to influence how you respond to stress and pressure, you need to ask yourself some questions.  What do you really believe?  Do you believe that you have to be the winner for some reason?  Is it material, is it survival based?  Or is your ego on the line?

Maybe the pressure is a social thing.  You must win because… that’s what you expect of yourself.  You can’t lose because people will laugh at you and know that you are the most fraudulent fraud to ever fraud (ever).  You must win to prove that your character is good and that you are the best at this matchup.  You have to stand up for your city or state or country or planet in this video game.  Do these things make sense?  Do they really affect you, really?

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of failing in front of giant crowds, in video games and outside of them (for instance, I’ve tried stand-up comedy, to mixed results).  I’ve had the majority of a community decide that I wasn’t good at a video game for many years.  I’ve dealt with the fact that I would not become the best, then I got to defeat the the best (if only once).  I’ve lost to people I shouldn’t and beaten people I shouldn’t.  I have crumbled violently under pressure and performed magnificently.

All the pain and frustration of those experiences proved to me that I generated my pressure and stress.  It all came from me, and when I focused just on myself and my responses, those frustrations began to deteriorate.  The things that mattered to me began to change, and my experiences changed with them.

Whatever you believe is important will always affect what pressures and stresses you.  If you’re going to reduce that in the long run, your attitude is everything.


Any time you take a moment to reflect on the actions you can take, on the things you can control, pressure goes down a bit.  Any time you separate yourself from the pressured scenario for a moment to sort out the causes, the pressure goes down for a bit.  Any time you recognize the pressure before it becomes uncontrollable, it goes down a bit.

In the short-term, focus on immediate actions you can control, that give you a moment’s independence from the pressure-stress reaction.  In the long-term, analyze what beliefs and attitudes you have that cause situations to become stressful to begin with; what do you expect of yourself, what do you fear, what makes you perceive a situation as stressful at all?

I hope this helps.  Good luck and thanks for reading.