This blog post is Part 3 of a 4-part blog series featuring the work of University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock.
In the previous two blog posts featuring the Sian Beilock interview on the website Brain Science Podcast, we’ve been talking about what choking is and the science behind the phenomena. At the University of Chicago’s Human Performance Lab, psychologist Sian Beilock, Ph.D., has studied how people can avoid choking and perform to their best ability in stressful situations. These tips work on your favorite playing field and in the boardroom at work.
To perform well, our working memory needs to be functioning well. So this advice builds “your ability to hold … information in the face of distraction.”
Ten minutes before an important match, write down all of the thoughts and emotions filling your mind. Essentially, this task offloads “your worries essentially frees up working memory so that it’s not distracted by these worries.”
Practice can run better than a tense match because no one is watching. Mimic the competition you fear on the practice field. Beilock points out that the military and the FBI both do this through simulating upcoming situations. Invite friends and family to watch a practice or video tape yourself because knowing “that you might show that to a coach or a friend” creates an “all-eyes-on-you” awareness.
Beilock also talks about icing: the technique of disrupting a player before an important task such as kicking a goal. This works because “it gives the kicker time to think—to dwell on their performances—in a way that messes up what otherwise would be a fluent routine.”
The next tip speaks to icing: Take your brain off the process behind what you are doing. This can be as simple as “singing a song” before a big moment, or “thinking about the outcome” instead of the steps you need to get to your goal. Also, practice new techniques at practice, but also practice these techniques without thinking about the steps. Even “coming up with a one-word mantra that sort of encapsulates the whole movement you are about to do can really focus your prefrontal cortex in a way that is to your advantage,” says Beilock.
Join us for the final segment of our 4-part blog series to learn how practicing meditation (even occasionally) can help prevent choking on the playing field.