08/14/2013 01:52 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2013

Are You Preparing to Fail?

Early last week, I emailed an associate with a simple request and suggested that we speak about it as soon as possible. The associate replied that she was swamped and asked if we could talk at the end of the week -- which we did. Unfortunately, our conversation didn't go well. She mistook what I was saying and responded in a confused and frenetic manner. Her reaction caught me off guard, so much so that I hung up the phone and wondered, "What the heck just happened?"

Have you ever experienced a conversation like this -- where circumstances don't work out as planned? Well, one often-overlooked reason why interactions go awry is that one or both parties has overprepared. And this tendency isn't just relegated to business interactions. It occurs while getting ready for performances, athletic competitions, exams, interviews and even first dates. So, let's take a closer look at this common misunderstanding.

You know the phrase, "Failure to prepare is preparing to fail." To me, it's misleading. In the example above, my associate took several days to get her "ducks in a row," or get all the details necessary for our call (prepare). She filled her head with so much information that she contaminated her own instincts and natural ability to think fluently on the fly.

Similarly, when I was on a radio tour promoting my first book, Stillpower, I was surprised to find that before most interviews the radio host provided the questions he or she was going to ask. Why? Because the hosts believed that thinking about the questions and formulating answers ahead of time, would lead to a better dialogue. My standard response, "No thanks, I'd rather not look at the questions. I want to be fresh and spontaneous -- be myself -- when we speak on the air." In other words, adding thought (going over and over what you're going to say) never leads to a better anything.

The message here is that productive preparation is always the byproduct of a clear head. And, in case you're wondering, this even pertains to prep work that involves memorization. Efficient long-term memorization -- or better yet, absorption -- comes from imagination, passion and creative practice, not from grinding over a playbook. That's why I can still recite every player's number from my favorite hockey team of all time, the 1972 New York Rangers, and why people can easily repeat lines from beloved movies or songs. It's also why most of us can't recall one word of the foreign language we learned by rote in high school.

Remember this the next time you plan to prepare: Jamming your head with information about an upcoming event or contest is never in your best interest. The human mind always works better when it's running on empty.

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