How to Never Choke

I found myself surrounded by dozens of Guatemalans, all anxiously staring at the bar’s TV, as one of the players took three steps back, ready to shoot a qualifying penalty shot. The referee's whistle blew and the whole bar went silent. A few seconds later, disappointment and helplessness crowded the atmosphere. My friend Alejandro, which I met during my visit told me, “I don't know why we expected anything different. This player has missed more penalties than my grandma”.

 Every athlete in the world, from amateur to world class professionals, has choked at least once in their career. This can surely haunt any athlete,to the extent of his entire life . It seems though, that there are some players who can actually handle the pressure with no difficulty whatsoever. When thinking who is the perfect example of this, only one man comes to mind and that is Michael Jordan. In countless occasions, he was the man responsible to make that last second, winning basketball.

 “Choking” refers to the sudden decline of performance when one is under pressure. The results and high stakes of a particular outcome begin to take a toll in concentration and competitive ability, therefore leading to an unwanted result. Take riding a bike for example, once you have mastered the skill behind keeping your balance, it becomes a muscle memory. One can spend years without hopping onto a bike and still have no difficulty remembering how to do it. 

 A study made by Arizona State University tested why athletes choke. The experiment consisted on bringing amateur and professional baseball athletes to test how the two performed under different distraction scenarios. The first scenario, tested their swinging accuracy, while performing other tasks. Both professionals and amateurs were asked to hit the ball while listening to a sound and identifying it´s pitch as either high or low. In this scenario, the professional athletes had no problem on doing both tasks. They could concentrate on identifying the pitch, while their brain worked on autopilot to hit the ball. The amateurs were unable to perform when facing both tasks. In the second test,they asked both candidates to concentrate on their actions when they were batting and to actually try to describe them. In this case, the performance of the professional athletes worsened dramatically, while the amateur athletes were not affected by this. 

 It is believed that this phenomenon occurs when a person is trying to consciously control every move, instead of allowing their instincts to kick in. Instincts can be far more reliable than conscious actions. Shooting a basket, throwing a pass, scoring a penalty or auditioning for a role is more muscle memory than anything else. 

 In the words of Prof. Roy Baumeister, from Florida State University, “Consciousness attempts to ensure the correctness of an execution, but consciousness does not contain the knowledge of these skills, so that it ironically reduces the reliability and success of the performance.” When someone is over-thinking, they are taking away the focus from the muscle memory to act naturally. 

 How is this useful for the everyday man?

 We are not always facing the same pressure to perform in a game like athletes, but non-athletes have their own game-day tests and some choke as well. Whether in the middle of a wedding toast or while giving a proposal to your boss, one is constantly facing some sort of performance test. 

 So how can you make sure you perform at your best? 

 1 Practice 
 The only way to build muscle memory or instincts is by practicing and after that practicing some more. Gladwell the author of “Outliers” stated that in order to become an expert on a particular subject, one should practice 10,000 hours. 

 Now we don't expect anyone to practice their toast for ten thousand hours but practice does indeed make perfection. 

 2 Practice under pressure 
 After you build muscle memory, it is mandatory to practice under pressure. It is hard to replicate the all or nothing moment, but the more you feel comfortable with the high pressure settings, the more calm and reliable you’ll be. 

Start by trying to identify the scenario in which you feel you would feel nervous and unsteady. If, for example, you have hard time speaking in public, join a debate team, acting class or go out and speak to strangers at a party. If you're getting ready for a job interview, practice mock scenarios with a friend or relative to help you foresee any unwanted situation.

 3 Believe in yourself. 
 Even if you have the worst speech or proposal, go in there with all the confidence in the world. If you don't believe in yourself no matter how good you might be, your performance will decline and you will lose focus. This is connected to the self-fulfilling prophecy, which is the theory that our expectation on someone or something affects our behavior towards it, causing it to become true. 

 4 Act like is just another day. 
 When one's mind is filled with worries and concerns we take our mind off from autopilot, we don't let our muscle memory to kick in. The more we are fixated on the outcome the more likely we are to choke up. So just relax, take your time and let your brain do the work for you.
Related Posts with Thumbnails