While ESPN may have titillated with its report that the Olympic Village in London is one big bacchanal, many of the world’s top athletes have arrived there toting more than just condoms. Wall Street investment banker turned Olympic cyclist Evelyn Stevens brought her lucky blue sports bra that she has worn when competing since 2009 (yes, she washes it). Track star Sanya Richards Ross will be wearing her necklace with a bullet attached to it, a gift from her mother when she was in seventh grade that symbolized her speed.
Superstition and top athletic performance seem inexorably intertwined. There is the fixation on objects, most annoyingly seen in baseball players wearing titanium necklaces believed to enhance performance without steroids. Then there is the ritualistic behavior, most annoyingly from tennis player Novak Djokovic, who bounces the ball as many as 25 times before each serve.
I view both objects and rituals as part of the mind games we play in order to draw out the best of ourselves, regardless of how we may actually feel at the time. Logic dictates that we can’t always perform at our peak, yet we constantly call upon ourselves to do that anyway.
I know from my time spent with artists that creatives often have superstitious tendencies, obsessing over both objects and rituals. I discovered last winter that my fondness for a certain pen I would use to hand-edit my creative writing had turned into an obsession. It is a nice pen–a Waterman roller ball given to me by my Board of Directors when I retired from my non-profit–and I like the way it moves so smoothly across the page. I believe that the lack of resistance allows the rewrite to flow through me faster. It also likely is significant that I received it just as I began my renewed dedication to creative writing and living an art-committed life.
But when I left that pen behind at the Vermont College of Fine Arts library at my winter MFA residency last January, I went into a panic. Hours later, one of my advisors found it and returned it to me, restoring my sanity as well. Seven months later, I still use that pen for all of my hand revisions, but I am much more careful about keeping it close.
Scientific studies have shown we can trick our minds into better performance through objects and rituals. I don’t need those studies. All I had to do was watch Djokovic tear his way through the professional tennis circuit last year. I watched as many of his matches as I could, marveling at how much he had elevated his game. I also learned how to avoid annoyance by his ball-bouncing ritual; if I recorded the match in advance, I could hit my TiVo’s 30-second skip button and fly right through those bounces to the next serve.
What are your creative superstitions? Do you have an object or ritual that helps you engage with your muse?