Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Gears of concentration


Randy Hall wrote about different "gears of concentration" at mapsurfer today:

...perhaps just as there are many gears of running, there may be many gears of concentration, and I need to find that high gear in stuff like this. I do know this gear, I have it sometimes, and sometimes not. I wonder if I have control of when I have it?

I think there are different "gears" of concentration, but unlike running it is much tougher to change gears. When you are running it is easy to change pace at will. On my run today, I wanted to run for ten minutes at an honest effort (i.e. just below race pace). I picked a spot to start, punched my watch, and changed gears. When ten minutes was up, I slowed down and recovered. No problem changing running speeds.

Concentration is not like running. Changing concentration is a lot harder. But, I think there are ways to change gears. I've got three main ways I try to raise my concentration or get it back if it slipped.

1. I practice "watching" my concentration and learning to notice when it slips (e.g. when I start to think about something other than what I'm doing). When I catch my concentration slipping, I tell myself to look at my compass. Just taking a look at my compass seems to help me regain my concentration. When I've been doing a lot of technique training, I catch my concentration slipping very quickly. When I haven't been doing much technique training, my mind can wander for a minute or more before I realize my concentration slipped.

2. I talk to myself. I talk to myself out loud. I talk about what I'm doing. "Ok, head up this hill, I should be able to see a boulder off to my right...then the hill will flatten a bit and I'll need to quickly orient the map, then head more or less straight to the edge of the marsh..." Talking out loud seems to force me to think about what I'm doing.

3. I "think" in Swedish. I'm not sure why it works, but when I think in Swedish, my mind doesn't wander. I find that I often slip into Swedish when I'm concentrating well. I do that without trying.

The best way to deal with concentration is to keep it high all the time. Since it is hard to change gears, it is risky to let your concentration wander. The best way to keep a high level of concentration is to keep map contact all the time. When you start letting go of map contact and trying to push hard (e.g. just setting a rough compass and running hard to a big feature) it is tough to recover concentration.

For me it is hard to shift gears. That's why I very rarely plan ahead. A lot of orienteers try to take trail routes early in the course and use the time on the trail to look at other legs. I don't do that. Even if I'm on a trail leg, I try to keep my mind on what I'm doing at the moment. If I start to look at other legs, I have trouble getting my mind back on what I'm doing now. I suppose I lose a few seconds because I don't look at future legs. But, I save minutes by not booming much. I'm willing to give up the seconds to save the minutes.

Concentration is an interesting topic. I should probably spend some time thinking about it a bit and write some more -- maybe a topic for another day?

posted by Michael | 8:16 PM


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