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29 Sep 2011

4 Tips for Performing under Pressure

By Sian Beilock Author of Choke
ChokeClose the gap between practice and competition. Meaning, practice under stress. This gets you used to the pressure socompetition is not something you fear. Also, by understandingwhen pressure happens, you can create situations that will maximize the stress in your opponents (say if you are on the playing field). Interestingly, this practice doesn't have to mimic the exact pressures you will feel in a do or die situation. Even practicing under mild levels of stress (e.g., your friends and family watching you) can help you get used to the real pressure when it comes your way.
Don’t dwell. Take that past performance and change how you think about it. See your failures as a chance to learn how to perform better in the future. There is research with Canadian National swimmers suggesting that dwelling on past failures can send the mind and body into a helpless state and, as a result, you are not able to get as motivated for subsequent performances.
Focus on the outcome, not the mechanics. If you are trying to avoid choking in sports—especially when you seem to perform poorly under pressure on tasks that you have mastered (e.g., a 3-foot putt, a simple forehand in tennis, or an easy pass in soccer), focus on the goal; where the ball will land in the net helps cue your practiced skills to run off flawlessly. This outcome focus also helps prevent your prefrontal cortex (the very front part of the brain that drives your thinking and reasoning ability) from muddling in your fluent performance where it doesn't belong. In short, sometimes less attention is better than more.
Think about what you want to say. In business settings, like interviewing for a job or pitching to a client, don’t think about what you don’t want to say because when you try not to think or do something, it is often more likely to occur.
Write it out. Work shows that writing about worries and stressful events in your life can help free up your working-memory (a kind of mental scratchpad that allows us to “work” with all the information stuck in consciousness) and writing may even prevent other parts of your life (spouse, kids, house) from creeping in and distracting you under stress. This writing doesn't have to be long, 10 minutes before a big event or regularly for 10 minutes a week can help ensure that we make the most of the brain power we have.
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