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Be Quick but Never in a Hurry

Speed can lead to rushing, resulting in errors. Slow down and be in the moment.

Key points

  • Anxiousness about performance can make us feel hurried.
  • Feeling hurried and rushed can lead to performance mistakes and errors.
  • Being in the present moment focused on what we are doing reduces time pressure and can benefit performance.

If you watch dogs scratch, they start kind of slowish and then rapidly move to a faster rhythm. Or, when they get excited, they change the rhythm of a happily wagging tail. When animals do repetitive actions, there's a tendency to speed up while the pattern continues. Within a constrained movement like scratching, this isn't much of a problem. But with complex evolving patterns of movement, rushing can lead to degraded performance and errors. This is in response to a perceived time pressure for completing the actions intended.

Don't rush the rhythm of the music.

Certain activities require quick movements. Martial arts and music leap immediately to my mind. Both involve complex sequences of movement often performed at very high speed. This high-speed performance can occur in live musical performances and in self-defence applications. The key thing we note when seeing a really skilled musician perform an amazing guitar solo or a martial arts master do some kung fu fighting is how in control and engaged in the moment they seem. When you are engaged in the moment, you aren't thinking too much about the future and therefore don't need to rush.

It turns out that when folks do skilled limb movements in rhythmic patterns, we tend to go faster and faster as we go along. This happens unconsciously, and part of learning to perform motor skills effectively really is about learning to slow down. The irony is that our efforts to "slow down" really just bring us to the intended pacing most of the time.

Musical performances are also an area in which this idea of "rushing" has been studied indirectly with the concept of "choking under pressure"—that is, being unable to do what we have the demonstrated ability to do with constraints related to performance. Research suggests that a key part of this phenomenon is largely attributable to distraction of attention away from the actual action being performed. This can also lead to rushing to complete the actions. Altogether, this leads to unexpected errors, which we see as "choking." In sports like baseball, we might see this in something like a routine throw for an out from third to first base. If the person at third sees the runner really going for it, they can get distracted from their routine throwing action and airmail the ball into the stands.

All you can control is you in the present.

Our attempts to exert control over things that would probably take care of themselves is an ironic outcome of overthinking. And it's made worse when we feel or try to rush and hurry. That is when stress, time pressure, and distractions can affect everyone in everything.

The good thing is that there's a simple solution—just be in the moment and perform what you know how to do. Also, gain skill by training in order to have something to perform. In lots of domains, this means moving beyond rushed reactions to deliberate, trained responses. This kind of training is at the heart of music, martial arts, and many other movement activities.

To be as effective as possible with the best possible actions, we want to be deliberate and in the moment, not a misplaced reaction waiting to happen.

(c) E. Paul Zehr (2023)


Furuya S, Ishimaru R, Nagata N. Factors of choking under pressure in musicians. PLoS One. 2021 Jan 6;16(1):e0244082. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0244082. PMID: 33406149; PMCID: PMC7787383

Wegner DM. How to think, say, or do precisely the worst thing for any occasion. Science. 2009 Jul 3;325(5936):48–50. doi: 10.1126/science.1167346. PMID: 19574380

Wolf T, Vesper C, Sebanz N, Keller PE, Knoblich G. Combining Phase Advancement and Period Correction Explains Rushing during Joint Rhythmic Activities. Sci Rep. 2019 Jun 27;9(1):9350. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-45601-5. PMID: 31249346; PMCID: PMC6597726

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