The Science of “Choking” and the End of Freezing Under Pressure by Suf Alkhaldi

The science of choking
The science of choking

Have you ever studied very hard for an exam and when the time came for taking the exam, you completely failed?  If you said yes, you are not alone. This phenomenon of failing under pressure is also found in sports . The loss is accompanied by misery and total defeat. For example, a boxer or a tennis player fails even after a tremendous amount of preparation. We are left wondering what went wrong. People say it is bad luck!  Luck, I am sure, does not have anything to do with it.  A lack of preparation and failing to perform under a tremendous amount of pressure, choking, is the main reason.

Dr. Beilock, one of the leading experts in this field and author of The Choke ¹, studied the science of choking which prevents high achievers from reaching their goals. In her pioneering work , she discovered that writing about your worries before a test for 15 minutes prevents choking or freezing by helping to calm you down and thereby increasing your ability to focus and feel good about yourself.  In her research, she tried to answer the question of how writing down your worries stops your choking.  When you write about your worries, you release them.  This allows you to be less sensitive to the negative thoughts, allowing your mind to be more comfortable and less reactive. In fact, expressive writing has a magical effect of reducing negative thinking , freeing up cognitive horsepower to confront the real difficulty of the exam. Dr. Beilock puts it this way “Putting your feelings into words changes how the brain deals with stressful information.”

Visualizing playing a sport gives you the same benefit as if you are practicing in real life. Research shows that when injured athletes practice visualization (mind sculpturing), they perform as well as athletes who are engaged in physical practice. This is true for visualizing playing music instruments as well. Therefore,  Dr. Beilock recommends two exercises to avoid choking:

  • Write about how you feel for 15 minutes before the event (exam, presentation, or game) and release your worries to make space for your brainpower to tackle the challenge.
  • Visualize yourself (mind sculpturing) performing the action in different places.

The reward of doing these two exercises defeats your anxiety and places you in such a positive mental state to achieve a lot.

From my personal experience, this work was very helpful when I was interviewed for my previous job.  Prior to my interview, I wrote for 15 minutes my worries and my strengths to meet these worries. These 15 minutes of writing lifted my spirits and placed me in such a positive mental state. I felt energized and relaxed when the real questions started to hit me like bullets. Several weeks after the interview, I was selected for the job out of 20 highly qualified candidates.  I can’t underscore enough how this small piece of information can change  your mental state before an interview, exam, presentation, game, or any stressful event that you are going through.

Thank you for reading my post.  I would love to hear from you.

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