Do you choke under pressure - Part One
How not to choke under pressure.
It’s so easy to do when you are under pressure and most of us can recall a time when it has happened to us but choking or freezing under pressure can be very detrimental to your safety, your career or sporting ambitions not to mention your self confidence so it is worth considering ways to mitigate it or stopping it all together. Here I wanted to to take an in-depth look at whats going on and how we can help ourselves get back under control.
In this world of high pressure, high expectation and fierce competition and the need for high performance we need to master our own physiology and psychology so we don’t become victims of our own reactions.
Choking is when you stop functioning at your usual capacity or ability. It’s when you underperform compared to what you are really capable of.
The greater the perceived pressure and the perceived consequences, the more likely this is to happen.
Many of our greatest successes and performances happen when there is no pressure and often no one to see it so how do we replicate that when under the gun.
Pressure in and of itself can help us lift our game and raise our performance to new levels so how do we tap into that state of mind of being able to perform better under scrutiny and pressure than we usually do in our day to day lives, using the energy and heightened state of alertness to our advantage rather than choking up.
In my own sporting career I have had times of extreme pressure, fear, danger, pain, high expectations of me and so on and during some of these occasions I have performed beyond my wildest imagination, I like to think of it as tapping into my “warrior” mentality or state. When I put a start number for a race on I physically, emotionally and mentally change into something I am not in my everyday life necessarily, a bit like Superman or wonder woman
in the movies who changes his clothes and becomes super empowered . The analogy works in a scaled down version in reality.
There have however also been times when I have choked “clinging to the side of a proverbial cliff paralysed by fear unable to move forward or backwards.
What were the things I did or the preparations I made in the times I didn’t choke but soared to new heights and how do we tap into that state at will?
The more consequences there are or the more important the outcome, the more pressure there is and pressure produces a number of primal physiological responses.
Our brains store memories of fearful or traumatic experiences. This leads us often to reacting as if “ physically and immediately threatened” when in reality we aren’t. Picture for example public speaking or going for a job interview that you really want or standing at the start line of a marathon or a big important rugby game.
These reactions to a “threat” are programmed in our bodies since caveman days. The “Fight or flight” syndrome for example, this is a reaction designed to prepare us to move or react quickly and our emotions and physical body is turned onto high alert status. Our heart rate goes up, adrenaline is released into our blood stream, our muscles tighten in readiness and we often experience butterflies in our stomachs. We may start sweating as blood starts pumping around the body vigorously. Decision making can become more difficult, parts of our brain shut down and your attention can start to fixate so we can misrepresent what is happening, making it more frightening or larger than it necessarily is. We lose our ability to adapt and adjust easily and our ability to hold an overview of the situation as our focus closes in.
Often these reactions are not useful or even appropriate to the situation and are often exaggerated due to past memories of events and experiences that may have happened way back in our childhood years and have no real relevance to who you are today but have the same debilitating effect.
An example may be a child who is told often that are they dumb just because they struggled with the standard school system but who believes this old label as if it were relevant to them today when in fact they may have had say a specific learning disabilitiy or dyslexia or an unkind teacher who just liked to pick on them. That label of being dumb or useless at sport or hopeless at public speaking for another example though can be debilitating years later and cause people to feel inadequate or not perform to their real potential because of a limiting belief system and to react and choke up or even freeze when faced with a similar situation in the present day.
Just understanding the body’s physiological reactions and the reason for the underlying emotional responses can help us take back control and stop this pattern of behaviour in it’s tracks. In fact we can use this heightened state to perform better than usual rather than letting it choke us up.
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