Mental fatigue is a ringers biggest problem

As Simon has recently mentioned, we recently rang a peal of 23-spliced in hand with David and Henry Pipe.  Now, Simon has rung this now a few times, David Pipe probably a billion times, and I'm pretty sure Henry has now rung it at least five times.  This was my second time attempting this, and I thought it might be useful to share the experience of ringing right at the edge of your ability - again.

Simon is very quiet about this, but we had about two weeks notice of the attempt, and so I spent quite a lot of our summer holidays glued to Abel practising parts of the peal, practising individual methods on my phone, and carrying around my colour-coordinated notecards for quick reference.  Actually it all seemed a lot more familiar - and this was a problem.  It's hard to hammer in those methods when your brain is saying 'yeah yeah I've got it.'  But, in truth, it all did come together a little more easily. 

But did I ring better?

In our first attempt I spent several weeks going over each part, nailing down the different place bell orders, and focusing most of my attention on the sets of leads that I would actually be ringing.  When it came time to ring the thing, of course, I didn't have anything like enough leftover brain to remember all that information, but the endless rehearsal definitely helped.

This time, for the first few parts I felt very confident in the methods and my concentration was good too.  I was better able to get myself straight, but I grew trippier as the peal progressed, and embarrassingly, developed a tendency to swap my bells over.  I am usually very good at keeping them the right way around, so I was a little surprised at myself, and quite red-faced too.  My problem was mental fatigue.

Different types of fatigue

This is one type of mental fatigue:  you make a small mistake, which, in correcting, leads to a few more, and before long you are trying to avoid the Avalanche of Failed Peal Attempt.  Ringing in spliced is your friend because you get to start fresh with every new lead.  However, at this point the mental monologue goes something like this:

"Remember your place bells!  Got to do better! Come on, and concentrate!  Concentrate harder!"

All of that uses up valuable mental energy, and it is best not to have that particular monologue ever.  With practice, this can be avoided or at least minimised, by totalling compartmentalising past errors and continuing to think in the now and the immediate changes ahead of you. 

Here is the more insidious type of mental fatigue:  you know what you are doing, but somehow your reaction times start to slow.  As you get to a lead end, you are slow loading the next method, registering your place bells, and slow to start the next lead.  This causes trips and crashing, and you are constantly trying to catch up.  Which makes you more tired.  And so on.  It is the equivalent of your legs giving out under you. 

Conserving mental energy

Whatever level you ring at, if you are ringing at the edge of your ability, the effort of concentration is large.  The key to being able to ring for long periods of time is to find and use all those little 'easy' parts to rest your brain.  Of course, you can't get too relaxed because you need to be able to swing into high concentration mode as needed. 

Like everything else, it takes practice, and it means trying to ring for longer periods without stopping to build up your stamina.  Lots of learning and rehearsal on simulators help too.  Clearly I have some way to go to increase my concentration fitness - and I'm open to ideas!