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Nerves in cubing

May 22, 2020

High pressure situations where our performance is very important are also often the times in our lives when we are most nervous. This applies extensively to cubing, and I’m sure all you speedcubers know what I’m talking about. The best of us face nerves a lot of the time. I’m sure we have all had competition experiences where we didn’t do as well as we could have otherwise, because we got nervous and choked. Today I felt like taking a closer look at this part of cubing, because I really think it’s a very important one.

I tried to think about what exactly makes us nervous. We cubers, or more appropriately we humans, tend to have expectations. We practice to improve and then hope that our improvement reflects in our competition solves. While doing all of those solves at home practicing to get better, we have that goal in our mind somewhere, to go to competitions and perform at our best possible level. But these expectations, depending on how much importance you choose to give them, may even act as counterinfluences and be the reason you don’t do as well as you imagined you would. This is because if you are so focused on winning, or performing well, during your solves, you definitely won’t solve with as much attention and focus as you would have in a more pressure-free situation.

Well, so how can we work to keep the power of our expectations in check, and how can we possibly not think about winning during the very solves that could determine our success? From what I think, this comes down to your competition mindset. Many people say that “not caring” about their solves helps them perform better. “But Sumiran, how could we possibly stop caring about something that we put so much effort trying to improve at?” Well, if your competition mindset really is such that you can not care about your times to a sufficient degree, congratulations! You just nullified your immediate expectations that otherwise would have pestered you during your solves and later would have been the source of much sadness and regret! But seriously, this is the most important and most counterintuitive thing that I’ve concluded- To do well, you need to be able to not be bothered by your times and rather approach your competition solves like any other solves, quoting Patrick Ponce, “like a robot”. After all it is the solve that matters. Thinking about getting better solves is much better than thinking about getting faster solves. This is because if our solves are good they’d likely be fast, so it makes much more sense to stop thinking about what kind of times we want to get instead try to make our actual solves better. You need to go out there and solve those five puzzles just like you did the other tens of thousands of ones at your house and ended up doing well. People have different approaches to achieve this state, but I know that many successful cubers definitely enter this state of not being bothered by their times while they solve. Some have a very “don’t care”-ey attitude towards competitions and they just try to focus on the several other fun things at comps, like meeting new people, helping run the competition, and have fun with their friends. This helps them steer their thoughts away from their times/performance. Other cubers just make it their goal to attend as many comps as possible and just get really used to competing in the process. Some cubers have a more ritualistic approach with sequences of things that they perform before their solves to enter a healthy state of mind and brush away any pressurising thoughts about their times.

So from my understanding of cubing and our minds, the way (or I guess a way) to overcome nerves in competitions is to develop a mindset that leaves us unconcerned about our final results, and instead focus all of our energy in the present moment, to solve the cube at hand to the best of our ability. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem but I’m sure there is a solution for you, and when you find it, I think you’ll be much closer to performing at the best of your ability.
Note- This is actually a script for a video but I felt like putting it here.
Aug 16, 2019
Nashville TN
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I absolutely think it;s key, like you said, to focus on getting good solves rather than fast solves, because, if your solve is good, it will also be fast. Also, I think getting a cube that suits your turning style in competition helps because most cubers either turn rougher in competitions or really lightly, so, for me, I turn roughly in competitions, so getting a slightly slower cube (or just slowing mine down before the comp) will help me not lock up as well.