Description: Don’t Be ‘Choked’ On Stress


You’ve practiced. You’re ready to give that speech or play that piano recital or take that test. Yet, when the pressure is on, you flounder. Your mouth goes dry and your throat tightens when you are handed the microphone. Your fingers become like sausages when you sit down at the piano. Your draw a blank when you look at the test questions

It’s called choking and defined as “not performing at optimum capacity under pressure.”

We’re not taking about the anxiety that results from not being prepared, but rather, about freezing up even though you have practiced or studied and are ready to perform.

It’s real. We ‘choke’ under pressure due to the effect of stress on our thought processes. Some of us are more prone to it than others, but there are research supported techniques you can use to prevent it.

Journal before a stressful event

Writing down your thoughts, when you are facing a stressful situation, clears away anxious thoughts and regulates the stress hormones

Graze on real food

Your brain is a three pound hog and eats most of what you eat. This means your food dramatically affects your brain function. Sugar spikes and cells, gummed up with the wrong kind of fats-hearted, hydrogenated fats and too much saturated fat reduce brainpower.

When you need to perform well, graze on small amounts of good food throughout the day, mostly vegetables and lean proteins. Avoid sugary, processed foods. This will provide a steady stream of nutrients for the brain. Also, be sure to drink at least eight glasses of water.

Meditate and pray

Research shows these practices calm your soul and heal your mind. Stress damages your memory, your motor skill and your ability to make decisions; ultimately, this will affect your ability to perform at optimum capacity.

Speak positive affirmation

Words have power. We are continually carrying on conversations with ourselves. If we speak positive things to ourselves, it stokes our confidence. Confidence improves performance. Confidence improves performance and makes it less likely that we will be choked by anxiety.

Create words that poise you for action

In one study, some skilled golfers were instructed to perform putts in three different ways.

Players in the first group focused on three words related to physical technique (such as “head,” “weight” and “arms”); the second group focused on three words that had nothing to do with the put (for example, “red,” “blue” and “green”); and the third group focused on a single word that described the putting motion (such as “smooth”).

Initially, the golfers putted in a low pressure situation and most of them did well. The pressure was increased with the offer of a cash reward for performing well.

Major differences surfaced between the three groups. Those who were utilizing just one word smooth performed better than those who were using a number of words to monitor their performance.

Practice under pressure

Ratcheting up the pressure at your practice sessions is the best way to avoid choking, when it counts.

Before making a speech, practice in front of a video camera and let a friend review it. Play a sport with someone more skilled than you and ask for feedback. This will trigger the anxiety that you are likely to experience during the actual performance. Exposure beforehand will diminish the stress response when the time comes.

Don’t self-monitor

The part of our brain that is most involved in learning a new task is the cerebral cortex. When you play a piece of music, rehearse a speech or practice a sport over and over again, you gradually transfer the control of that activity from the cerebral cortex to another area of the brain called the cerebellum.

To perform well, you need to stay in the cerebellum supported “Zone.” If you are continually ‘checking your progress’ you are engaging another part of the brain. This will bog you down and choke you, too much self-monitoring hinders performance.

In summary, if you want to perform optimally, prepare your mind, your emotions and your body and when the time comes to perform, just do it. And do it with all your heart.

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