Notes from Sian Beilock, GPS December 4 2014 Event
HOW TO AVOID “CHOKING” WITHOUT
THE HEIMLICH MANEUVER
We have all done this. Practiced and prepared for the big exam, speech, presentation or performance. But in the moment we forget, flounder and fail. Why? Sian Beilock, Ph. D. can tell us.
An Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, Beilock (http://sianbeilock.com/) is an expert on performance and brain science and the author of a new book, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal about Getting it Right When You Have To. December 4th she gave her insights and tips at the Glenbard Parent Series at Glenbard South.
Research has indicated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at an activity. Beilock explains that “deliberate practice” or practicing something correctly is most important, as is “varied” practice which means people should try different activities instead of just focusing on one.
Why do people “choke” under pressure? Beilock calls it “paralysis analysis.” A malfunction occurs in the pre-frontal cortex, the large area of the brain that governs thoughts and emotions. Stress causes worry, which causes people to start thinking too much about performance details. Too much analysis of the details causes “brain paralysis” and results in “messing up.” Actually, it is stress that causes the pre-frontal cortex to fail to connect well with the rest of the brain’s functions.
To get the connections back, Beilock recommends: 1) taking a break from the activity, even for a few minutes; 2) talking the problem over with someone; 3) getting some rest; or 4) take a walk in nature. Even looking at pictures of nature can help.
What can we do about negativity? If you haven’t done well at an activity, Beilock suggests that you think about how you can do things differently next time. People also need to think about why they are going to succeed. When people think of themselves in negative terms they will do worse on a task. Mindset matters.
Other strategies Beilock offered to avoid “choking” included: 1) closing the time gap between training and competition; 2) “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Believe that you are capable and make sure your body posture is reflective of that attitude; and 3) journaling before the big task helps to minimize anxiety.
All in all, success is more than simply what you know. Attitudes, motivation and anxiety all affect performance.