Book Review: Psyched Up by Daniel McGinn

Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, by Daniel McGinn is a great self-help book that gives you practical tips to improve your performance. This book is about the moments before high pressure situations and what you can do in these moments to give yourself your best chances of succeeding.

McGinn writes seven chapters, each about a different type of strategy you can use to psych yourself up before a performance. The book is written very well. It's easy to read, with a great blend of entertainment and information.

The first chapter talks about how to effectively cope with your body's fight or flight response to pressure. The author explains how one of the most common tips for dealing with pressure, trying to calm down and relax, can sometimes backfire on you. The reason why this tip is often ineffective is because going from nervousness to calmness is often too great of a leap to make, especially if you don't know how to calm down effectively. When people attempt this leap, they often fail and end up choking. The author says that a more realistic and effective strategy is to reappraise your nervousness as excitement, embrace your adrenaline, and use it in a positive direction. The reason why this alternative tip is often more effective than explicitly trying to calm down is that nervousness and excitement are similar states, so it's easier to go from one to the other. Although a state of calmness may produce better performance, a state of excitement, which is a more realistic target in high pressure situations, can still produce good performance. I believe this is a great strategy to have as an option in case you're in a high pressure situation where you don't believe reaching calmness is attainable.

However, the author doesn't give up on the strategy of calming yourself down. He explains that even though this strategy is hard, it can still work if you know how to do it right. He then teaches about a relaxation technique called "centering," which involves deep breathing, positive self-talk, and visualization that can help you effectively calm down before pressure situations.

The next chapter is about the importance of pre-performance routines, rituals, and superstitions. The difference between routines and rituals is that routines are task-relevant, while rituals are just things you do before every game. For instance, routines can be things such as warming up your body and eating a pregame meal, while a ritual may be something such as slapping a sign as you go through a tunnel. Superstitions, are illogical connections between things and success. Wearing lucky socks is an example of a superstition. All of these things can help improve your mindset before pressure situations. Having a personalized set of routines, rituals, and superstitions provides you a sense of order, certainty, and can improve your focus, motivation, confidence, and relaxation. The benefit of routines and rituals is that they involve your senses (doing, seeing, feeling, hearing), which can organize your thoughts and emotions in a deeper and more effective way than just using your mind without the help of routines.

The next chapter gives advice on giving good pep talks. According to the author, effective pep talks have a blend of emotion and information. As a leader, you can't just pump up your team emotionally, and you also can't just give them informative instructions on how to succeed. You have to do both!

Chapter four teaches you how to create the ideal performance playlist for you. In this chapter you learn that songs can be motivating for different reasons. For some people, uptempo beats and catchy melodies are important, and for others it is meaningful lyrics that are more important. The book advises you to create individualized playlists for pumping yourself up and for calming yourself down.

Chapter five teaches you about sports psychology, and how the use of visualization, affirmations, progressive-muscle-relaxation, and priming can improve your confidence and put you in auto-pilot mode.

Chapter six teaches you how to harness the power of anger and rivalries to increase your motivation and improve performance.

Lastly, chapter seven talks about the pros and cons along with the ethics of using cognitive-enhancing drugs such as adderall, beta-blockers, ritalin, and modafinil.

Between these seven chapters, you'll definitely learn a mental preparation strategy well-suited for you! I highly recommend this book not just to athletes and coaches, but to everyone, because pressure and performance are involved in everyone's lives.