A Cure to Choking Under Pressure

Yesterday I wrote about Damian Lillard who became the ‘toast of the town’ after hitting an incredible game winning shot. When you hit game winning shots, restaurants name sandwiches after you.

The same can’t be said when a player doesn’t come through in the clutch. Players who fade under pressure are said to have choked.

What makes someone choke or wilt away under the spotlight? Is there anything we can do to prevent it happening to us?

In the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, author Sian Beilock looked at why certain people fail on a big stage, despite having the knowledge and ability to succeed.  As part of her research, Beilock conducted a study that asked a high-achieving group of students to take a difficult math test.

To increase the stress, the students were told that they would be videotaped during the test and teachers and professors would be watching the tapes to gauge the student’s performance.  The students were also told that if they were to pass, they would be rewarded with $20.

After telling the students of the high stakes, some of the students were asked to write for ten minutes about their feelings and concerns regarding the test they were about to take.  The rest of the students were told to wait patiently for ten minutes while the teacher passed out the test materials.

Beilock was amazed at what she found.  The students who wrote for ten minutes before the test performed 15 percent better than the students who were told to wait for ten minutes.

Could writing down your worries really stop you from chocking under pressure?

Beilock determined that “disclosing negative information and labeling it as such frees your mind from unwanted thoughts and helps you focus on something other than the negative.”  Written expression can help people thrive under pressure.

I would be interested in knowing if Damian Lillard wrote down his worries prior to the game where he hit the series-winning shot against the Houston Rockets.


Photo credit: 973espn.com