Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Using the Mental-Physical Link in Raiding

I attended a coaching seminar last night on the topic of Sports Psychology, which I immediately followed with our usual Monday night raid. Thus, it was easy for me to pick out the similarities between what had just been presented to me and how it applies to raiding.  It struck me once again how similar coaching and raid leading can be, with the same principles applying almost verbatum.

In sports, it's very easy to understand that physical component, though we often neglect the mental component of the game.  Most coaches will admit that their game of choice is largely mental, and yet what part of practice is ever spent in mental training?  Twenty years ago, the concept of mental training was completely foreign to the sports scene, and sports psychology was seen as somewhat of a joke.  After all, you only went to a psychologist if you were a nut-job. 

In more recent years, research has identified the benefits of mental training for elite athletes in any and all sport disciplines.  Sports psychology has seen a rise in popularity, though many of the old school coaches are still hesitant to embrace what they see as smoke, mirrors, and magic.  Still, the results are undeniable, so employing a team psychologist is an idea that's gained a lot of traction in the upper echelons of sports. 

I think it's a lot easier to understand the mental component of raiding, though I think we often fail to link that to the physical component.  After all, what's so hard about pressing keys in response to external, pixel-based stimuli?  You may not break a sweat when raiding (which I actually find I do, by the way), but make no mistake, a couple hours of raiding definitely take a physical, as well as mental, toll.

So, am I suggesting we all hire a guild psychologist?  Perhaps some of the hardcore, professional raiders might benefit from such a move, but 90% of us, no way.   Still, as leaders (or even followers) we shouldn't ignore key facets of team development if we're serious about creating strong raid teams.  Not that they all have to be hardcore, but that there are little things we could be more aware of that have been shown to contribute directly to team success.

Perhaps the simplest and most applicable tip I heard in my seminar last night is one that was equally valid (and abused) in both my coaching life and my gaming life.  Basically, the point was made that, as coaches, we need to focus on positive correction instead of negative corrective action.  That is, phrasing our suggestions for corrective action positively.  It's far to easy to see someone make a mistake and say "don't do that," when instead we should be saying "do do this."  It might seem like we're splitting hairs, or that this is some sort of Dr. Phil, pop-psychology tip, but it's really not.  It really has deep roots in our understanding of the human physiological response to negative phrasing. 

Let me demonstrate. 

Do not look at the clock on your screen.  Don't do it.  Do not look in the lower right hand corner of your screen, at the clock there.  It's probably got some sort of black numbered text font.  It has the AM/PM designation after it.  You know the one.  Don't look at it.  Do NOT.  Whatever you do, do not look at that clock.  That is the incorrect thing to do right now.

What did you do?

If the statistics are true, 20% of you looked anyways.  You know, the old "red button" phenomenon.  For the other 80% of us, we tried very hard to focus on anything but that clock.  And what happened physically?  We tensed up.  Our neck muscles tightened.  If there were EKG probes attached to those muscles, they'd be going crazy as we fought the urge to turn and glance at that clock.  Maybe our hands and fingers even tightened down on something.  At the very least, we saw our physical arousal level increase, and not in a good way.

Athletes often talk about being "in the zone", which has been studied in psychology as "flow" or being "in the flow".  The same could be said of raiding and raiders.  There are times when we are feeling the flow or in the zone.   In this zone, we know exactly what we need to do, and we execute it at a high level.  How do we get into this zone?  Very simply, we balance arousal and focus, combined with a visualization or what we know we need to do.  We are not "flat" (under aroused) or "freaking out" (over aroused).  We are excited, juices are flowing, but we're in that zone.  We are able to block out distractions and focus solely and completely on the relevant cues.  We know what we need to do, and, simply, do it.  It seems so easy, when put like that, yet it's often so hard to get to that state of flow.

A lot of money and effort has gone into studying ways to find the flow.  If you think about it, that makes sense.  It's like taking performance enhancing drugs without the whole drug part.  You're just performance enhancing, and you're doing it all mentally.  What's more, you can develop and hone your mental approach in order to give yourself a better chance of finding the flow.     

Returning to that little example we just did, if we understand that finding the flow is a balancing act involving visualization, then we can easily see how using negative corrective language makes the flow that much more difficult to find.  By saying don't do something, we're contributing to over-arousal while at the same time making it more difficult to visualize the correct task.  We're basically throwing two wrongs out, which we all know doesn't make a right.  If we instead were to use positive correction, as in: do do it this way, now we're avoiding the red button stressor while providing a better visualization of the correct method.

Here's a simple example.
  • Instead of: "Don't stand in the fire."
  • Say: "Please stand in the areas that are fire free."
Sounds simple and seems to be almost purely an issue of semantics, and yet it's not.  All those "don'ts" add up.  Likely you have at least one person who hears what you said, stays in the bad anyways, and freaks out about it, going straight to over arousal and leading directly into poor play with mental mistakes.  On the other hand, if you've been using that second phrase, they're a lot more likely when they notice that they're in the fire to think: I need to be in an area that is free of fire.  After all, that's what you've just coached them to do.  If you used the first phrase, there is no correct visualization. 

It may not always work, but you are definitely giving yourself a better chance of success by making  a very simple change in communication behavior.  Using negative correction, you don't even give yourself a chance.  With positive correction, it won't prevent all mental errors, but you're being more constructive about it, and that's a step in the right direction.


  1. A friend reminded me of a similar issue. Their whole-home fire alarm decided to randomly start going off at 3am (not a little beep, but the full-on alarm). Found the batteries were over-due for a replacement. The disturbing part of it all, was their 2 kids (5 and 9) did not 'hear' the alarm going off (over 20 minutes) and associate the sound with eminent danger; both ended up staying in bed.

    We only hear and process what makes sense to us. At 3am, that alarm was probably some segment of a bad-dream in their kid-heads. Research has found that kids respond to our (parental) voices. The parent's yelling "fire, get out of the house" would be the only way they'd have moved.

    If you use the negative, it's very likely I may not hear the "Don't" portion and do just the opposite. Heck, I've more than once had someone describing a new boss fight, to have someone interject and confuse me. Or the game dynamics (music sound effects) are too loud and I only hear parts (brain fills in the blanks).

  2. Yeah. Totally. The human mind is a fascinating thing.