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Mental Mistake Solution #3: Stop Choking!

Missing a putt.jpg

No, I will not be writing a detailed report on the Heimlich maneuver. We are going to be talking about a different type of choking. When the stakes are high, expectations are through the roof, everyone is counting on you, you only have one shot, messing this up would mean utter and complete failure and then….you respond poorly. Do you fear this happening to you? Here are some real life examples of choking:

- Fumbling the wedding toast when you’re the best man

- Forgetting what you studied for your final exam

- Mumbling and fidgeting during a presentation

- Freezing when the pretty girl asks your name

- Forgetting your biggest client’s first name

Sports have taught me that “Choking” is:

High stakes + opportunity for success + poor outcome = choke

This is the working definition that plagues all of us. “What if I can’t preform?” Choking occurs when you are focused on yourself and then you start the Negative self-talk. Negative self-talk destroys self-confidence and generates excessive nervousness or anxiety. Anxiety within your system quickly tightens up your muscles and steals your ability to think clearly and accurately in the clutch.

So what do you do?

First, take your focus off the outcome and consider a new definition

High Stakes + opportunity for success + failure to prepare = choke

Noah Gentner, Ph.D. of Podium Sports Journal defines choking as a failure to prepare yourself to be successful.

It is irrational to believe that you can control the outcome. More often then not, you are going to fail. Failure is not a bad thing. It is an opportunity to learn.  You are going to miss the last second shot. (How many chances do you give yourself when you throw a wad of paper at the trash can? “3-2-1…He Shoots….let’s try that again.”) Baseball players fail 70% of the time and those are the guys that go to the hall of fame.

Control what you can control and start asking how prepared am I to succeed?

Second, Practice for the Moment 

Practice your emotions and attention. Emotions and attention are powerfully connected. A narrow, external concentration on a single target enhances performance.

This shouldn’t be the first time you thought of the outcome.

Preparing, practicing, and thinking about the outcome puts you in an environment similar to what you will experience in the real thing.

Third, Take the Pressure Off

I recently read about an experiment conducted by Marci DeCaro, an assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Louisville in Louisville, on the science of high-pressure performance. Click here to read article 

Scientists tracked 130 undergraduate students’ ability to complete two sets of tasks on a computer in which they were asked to correctly categorize shapes and symbols. One-third of the group was in a pressure-monitoring condition (they were told their performance was being videotaped), another group was in an outcome-pressure situation (they were told their accuracy on the first task had been determined, and they were offered a financial incentive to perform 20 percent better), and a third group was a low-pressure control.

Researchers found that tempting students with money hurt their performance by distracting them from an attention-demanding task, perhaps because they worried more and relied less on their working memory. Believing you're being watched caused students to focus their attention on the skills needed to complete a proceduralized task and less on the outcome, and their performance suffered.

Pressure itself isn't always bad, DeCaro says, it depends on the task and type of pressure encountered. “Pressure hurts performance if it leads you to pay attention in a way that is bad for the particular task you're doing." says DeCaro.

 Some quick helpful ways to stop choking:

- Relax and breathe

- Before the event: Visualize yourself succeeding

- Develop a routine that gets you in the right frame of mind

- Get out of your head and focus on the activity not the outcome

- Give yourself performance notes to keep you on task

- Stop looking at failure as a bad thing. It is an opportunity to grow, learn, and how not to do something.

- Knowing what kinds of pressure situations lead you to focus too much or not enough, might help you find ways to overcome the problem. 

Have you discovered any secrets to prevent choking under pressure?