Writer Jonah Lehrer has spent a lot of time examining what makes people choke in high-pressure situations; as a followup to his previous work, Lehrer offers a few proven tips for avoiding self-sabotage when the heat is on.
Photo remixed from Nicholas_T.
In 2008, Daniel Gucciardi and James Dimmock, psychologists at the University of Western Australia, performed a study of 20 experienced golfers with handicaps ranging from zero to 12. The scientists had the golfers play under three separate conditions. In the first, they were told to fixate on specific components of their swing, such as "hips" or "straight wrist". The second condition consisted of the golfers focusing on irrelevant words, such as "blue" or "white". In the third, the golfers were told to focus on general aspects of their intended movement, or what the psychologists refer to as a "holistic cue word". For instance, rather than contemplating the precise position of their wrist, they contemplated descriptive adjectives such as "smooth" or "balanced". To make the experiment a bit more realistic, and to induce some anxiety, the scientists awarded a modest cash prize to the best golfer.
The outcome: Golfers in the third condition — those focusing on the "holistic cue word" — performed best, while golfers who focused on specific aspects of their swing performed most poorly. (As Lehrer points out, this makes perfect sense, since overthinking is one of the main causes of choking.)
I've always mocked those silly motivational posters, which feature lofty adjectives like "courage" and "strength" and some inspiring photograph of a soaring eagle or snow capped mountain. (It didn't help that my freshman roommate filled our dorm room with these posters.) But this research suggests that the pictures might actually work, at least to the extent they allow us to fixate on the cliche in capital letters. Thinking about "determination" won't make us more determined, but it just might keep us from choking.
Hit up the link below for more relevant studies and outcomes, and next time you're under pressure, stop thinking about the particulars of what you're doing (you'll only increase your chances of choking), and consider focusing your mind on something a bit more abstract. Got a go-to method you use to avoid overthinking a situation? Share in the comments.
Don't Choke [The Frontal Cortex]