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Cognition

Playing Your Best

I ’ve done it hundreds of times – I opened the glass door and shut it behind me. Just me and my opponent, enclosed by the familiar four walls of a squash court. Despite squash being a series of quick movements, each game manages to be 10% physical and 90% mental—a test of knowing what shots to hit and when to hit them.

A few days ago, when I opened Photoshop at work, I had a similar sensation of gearing up for a match. I’ve realized the design process also calls for visualizing outcomes, staying focused, and evaluating your performance.

Minding your mindset

Visualization is a powerful technique that can be just as effective for designers as for athletes in individual sports. By creating and rehearsing a mental image of what you want to happen or feel, you can build confidence and improve your performance. Staying positive is key; don’t think about negative scenarios or consequences. Visualizing a successful output can help you achieve it.

Playing “in the zone”

Your key to designing well could also be reliant on getting into the groove, or “being in the flow”—a phrase dubbed by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Your task completely absorbs you to the point you don’t realize how much time passes. While in the flow, you move effortlessly. You stick to the basics, but are aware enough to adjust after making a poor decision or seize the opportunity for a trick shot (that surprise and delight clients ask for).

To achieve this state, you need an equal balance between the challenge of the task and the level of your skills. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. No one can teach you how to achieve the flow, but you know when you reach it. If you get out of the flow, take a couple seconds and find inspiration. Remember why you started, and stay confident in your abilities.

Assessing your game

You have individual responsibilities and can evaluate your own work. You won’t let acknowledging mistakes knock your self-confidence. You remain committed to learning more from mistakes than your successes, and you’ll seek input from others. Those outside your court can see the details and the whole. Their perspectives are necessary for your growth. Your coach and teammates (your creative director and coworkers) can provide that insight and help you adjust for next time.

You deem a design a success when you, your team, and your clients (and fans!) are proud of the outcome. You learn something along the way and improve your skills or process. You’re ready to step back on court and do it all again. Well, maybe after an ice bath.

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