Choking or just nerves, whatever you call it, it’s a common phenomenon. Whether you are Ivan Lendl playing Wimbledon finals, 5th grader participating in the spelling bee, or doing that very important presentation to the VCs to get your next startup funded, we are familiar with the Choke – that feeling in the stomach and in ability to do what is so easy to do under normal circumstances.
How do we overcome these?
University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, formulated practical ideas about how to overcome performance lapses at critical moments by studying how the brain works.
The reasons for choking are
1. Analyzing too much. When we over think, there is a logjam that happens in the brain of ideas. Paralysis by analysis occurs because we are trying to control every aspect of our game, or presentation. Instead try to sing or think about something that relaxes you.
2. pressure-filled situations can deplete a part of the brain’s processing power known as working memory, which is critical to many everyday activities. Working memory is lodged in the prefrontal cortex and is a sort of mental scratch pad that is temporary storage for information relevant to the task at hand, whether that task is doing a math problem at the board or responding to tough, on-the-spot questions from a client. Talented people often have the most working memory, but when worries creep up, the working memory they normally use to succeed becomes overburdened. People lose the brain power necessary to excel.
3. Fighting stereotyping like “boys are better at math than girls”. Girls who are really good at math have been found to choke at the critical junctures because they succumb to this stereo type bias. Self-doubt and lack of confidence also can cause the “nerves”. Meditation, according to Beilock is very helpful in such situations. In tests in her lab, Beilock and her research team gave people with no meditation experience 10 minutes of meditation training before they took a high-stakes test. Students with meditation preparation scored 87, or B+, versus the 82 or B- score of those without meditation training. This difference in performance occurred despite the fact that all students were of equal ability. Also lots of practice helps you not to have to think. Practice helps people navigate through these tosses on life’s ocean. But, more importantly, practicing under stress — even a moderate amount — helps a person feel comfortable when they find themselves standing in the line of fire, Beilock said. The goal is to close the gap between practice and performance.
A person also can overcome anxiety by thinking about what to say, not what not to say, said Beilock, who added that staying positive is always a good idea.
“Think about the journey, not the outcome,” Beilock advised.
Here is a book by Beilock. I am getting it and aim to read it. Wait for me to say how it is. Or if you read this book already and have an opinion, please share it.