Don’t Choke: How to Conquer Paralysis by Analysis

It’s one thing to achieve mastery. It is quite another to be able to perform under pressure. Psychologist Sian Beilock, author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To, defines choking as suboptimal performance, not just poor performance.

It’s a performance that is inferior to what you can do and have done in the past and occurs when you feel pressure to get everything right.

The most painful part about choking is that you know you can and have done better.

Choking can occur regardless of the number of hours spent practicing. Examples in sports abound. Golfer Greg Norman painfully choked at the 1996 US Masters. Entering the final round he had a six-stroke lead over Nick Faldo and then blew it. Snowboarding champion Shaun White famously missed winning gold at the 2014 Olympic winter games.

Why does the brain sabotage performance just when it matters most? Beilock believes that overthinking the situation is the problem. She calls it paralysis by analysis. Paralysis by analysis occurs when we try too hard to control every little thing. This over-attention to detail interferes with the fluidity and flow of well-rehearsed skills and ultimately undermines the ability to do something that would normally be relatively easy.

You don’t need to be a star athlete to experience choking. It can happen to any of us at key moments. A student who fails even though she was prepared for a test, an entrepreneur who freezes while presenting to potential investors, a well-qualified applicant who blows a key interview.

Try the following tricks to help you stay at the top of your game:

1. Say Om

Meditating before the big event calms the mind, reduces anxiety and increases cognitive horsepower.

2. Practice Under Pressure

Train under conditions that simulate the stress of the actual event. This will mentally prepare you for the real deal

3. Have a “Go-To” Mantra

For golfers, a simple thought like “Smooth” or “Nice and Easy” just before hitting the ball can do the trick.

4. Whistle While you Work

According to Beilock:

If the tasks are automatic and you have done them a thousand times in the past, a mild distraction such as whistling can help them run off more smoothly under pressure.

5. Put Pen to Paper

Taking a few minutes to write down your worries before a test or presentation will help you stay focused on the topic and reduce forgetfulness due to stress.

Don’t let your brain sabotage your success.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman