When you have a good run of something or feel you’ve done your ‘best’ work, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to copy yourself. This is the trap of trying to re-produce past success and it’s the quick path to becoming a parody of yourself. You only create pressure and mental tension that stops you from performing to the high level you are capable of.
Mental pressure that gets in the way of performance usually comes from being distracted by something other than the process. Often, society’s arbitrary benchmarks of success make us strive for achievements that we don’t actually believe in. Here, you haven’t even had the chance to engage in the right process! The activity itself is something you feel no genuine connection to, so how can you wholeheartedly immerse yourself in it? Yet, you may drift on autopilot, going through the motions, carried forward by the tide of social expectations.
Since the whole endeavour is hollow, working on performance and mastery cannot really ever begin. Very few can force themselves to perform at a high level doing something their heart isn’t really in. And, even if they do manage to force it for a while, it’s only a recipe for eventual burnout.
Becoming a parody of yourself
But, pressure that derails performance can creep in even when we love the activity and have the skills to do good work. This is pressure from trying to repeat past successes at the expense of the process that allowed you to do great work in the first place. Think of a band with a killer first album that tries to copy itself and ends up with a second album that’s like re-heated pasta. They may have the musical skills, but become prisoners of the past and their own success. They abandon the creative process and end-up trying to mimic and copy rather than truly express from the here-and-now!
A famous comedian once said that it was only when he started throwing out ALL his old material at the end of every year and starting with a blank sheet of paper that he really started getting very funny. He was no longer restricted by the past and what he thought was his ‘best’. If there is a winner’s curse — it’s the curse of becoming a parody of yourself. It’s the curse of being distracted by the past and by the future, at the expense of fully immersing yourself in the present. Performance and mastery — whatever the activity may be —come from fully engaging in the process for its own sake.
Letting go of the pressure to copy yourself
Being human, none of is immune to the pressure of anxiously trying to copy the past. Yet, we can notice when it arises and learn to let go of it. We can seek to abide in the enjoyment of the process in this moment.
Perhaps, your best work is yet to come? Or, perhaps, there is no such thing as ‘best work’? Perhaps, it’s just different work, at a different time, under different circumstances, done by a person not quite the same.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.