You 2.0: Overcoming Stage Fright

    Learning motor skills early and developing automated processes through practice can prevent choking under pressure. The environment, including historical exclusion and stereotypes, can impact performance. Understanding these factors can lead to better performance.

    enAugust 22, 2022

    About this Episode

    The pressure. The expectations. The anxiety. If there’s one thing that many of us have in common, it’s the stress that can come from performing in front of others. In this week’s episode, we revisit our 2021 conversation with cognitive scientist Sian Beilock about why so many of us crumble under pressure — and what we can do about it. 

    Don't forget to check out the other episodes in our You 2.0 series, including last week's show about how we can harness our sight to achieve our goals. Also, if you'd like to support our work, you can do so at support.hiddenbrain.org. Thanks! 

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Prepare and practice to reduce cognitive load. Use mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and visualization to calm nerves. Shift focus from outcome to process to alleviate pressure and improve results.
    • Choking under pressure can happen to anyone, but it doesn't reflect your overall abilities. Techniques like focusing on the process, practicing under stress, and reframing your mindset can help you overcome it and achieve your full potential.
    • Choking happens to everyone, but understanding its causes and developing strategies like practicing under pressure, visualization, and positive self-talk can help us overcome it and perform at our best.
    • Choking under pressure is a natural reaction caused by caring too much. It can result in performance failures and breakdowns in communication within a team, even if individuals believe they have effectively communicated information.
    • Skilled performers process familiar situations with less working memory, allowing them to focus on novelty. Avoid letting working memory get in the way by mastering skills and not overthinking the details in high-pressure situations.
    • In order to perform optimally in high-stakes situations, it's important to balance conscious and unconscious processing. Knowing what to concentrate on and when to let go can improve performance and fluidity. Experts can multitask while novices benefit from single-tasking.
    • As skills become more automatic, relying on procedural memory is essential for success. Overthinking can disrupt the flow of information in the brain. Math anxiety changes how the brain functions and separates anxiety from performance.
    • Learning to care about a task without being overwhelmed by it is crucial to performing well under pressure. Strategies like practice, study groups, and seeking feedback can help overcome anxiety and improve performance.
    • To perform well under pressure, mimic pressure-filled situations in training and interpret physiological responses as signs of excitement, not anxiety. Bridging the gap between practice and performance is essential to effectively tackle anxiety-inducing situations.
    • To perform well under pressure, try reinterpreting feelings of pressure, focusing on success, distracting yourself, and using techniques like breathing exercises and singing a song to alleviate stress and anxiety.
    • Learning motor skills early and developing automated processes through practice can prevent choking under pressure. The environment, including historical exclusion and stereotypes, can impact performance. Understanding these factors can lead to better performance.
    • Choking under pressure affects not just individuals, but it's affected by societal and environmental factors, particularly for marginalized groups. Adopting a "mistakes happen" mindset and setting up structures to minimize the impact can help alleviate pressure and improve performance.
    • Assessing individuals multiple times, rather than relying on one pressure situation, can provide a more accurate measure of success and ultimately lead to better outcomes. It's important to not glorify pressure as the ultimate measure of success in professions that don't require it.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Overcoming Performance Anxiety

    Pressure can often cause even the most skilled individuals to underperform. When we become aware of someone watching us or the magnitude of a situation, our brains can become overwhelmed leading to anxiety, fear, and a decrease in performance. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome this. Practice and preparation are key, as they help our brains become more efficient and perform tasks with less cognitive load. Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and visualization, can also help calm the nerves and improve performance. Lastly, shifting our focus from the outcome to the process can also alleviate pressure and ultimately lead to better results.

    Overcoming Choking Under Pressure

    Choking under pressure can happen in any situation where we feel pressure to perform well, even in tasks that are well-learned. This phenomenon can be caused by various factors, such as a fear of failure or a lack of confidence. It is important to understand that choking is not a reflection of our overall abilities, and it can be overcome through various techniques, such as focusing on the process rather than the outcome, practicing under stress, and reframing our mindset. By learning to manage stress and perform under pressure, we can achieve our full potential and excel in any task we undertake.

    Overcoming Choking in Pressure-Filled Situations

    Choking occurs when we feel the most pressure and all eyes are on us, making it difficult to perform at our best, even in situations we have done countless times before. This can happen in sports, social settings, or even parallel parking. The psychological element of a task can play a huge role in our ability to perform under pressure. The choke can also build on itself, becoming bigger and more challenging to overcome. Understanding the factors that contribute to choking can help us develop strategies to overcome it, such as practicing under pressure, visualization, and positive self-talk. It's important to recognize that even high-performing individuals can experience choking, and it's not a reflection of their overall abilities.

    The Effects of Choking Under Pressure on Team Performance

    Choking under pressure is a natural human occurrence, even for the most skilled individuals. It can result in breakdowns in communication within a team, leading to performance failures in high-stress situations. Choking is not always an individual issue, as it can affect the entire team's performance. Experts believe that choking is a result of caring too much, not carelessness or lack of preparation. In sports, the mental aspect of performing at high stakes is often unpredictable and fascinating to witness. In stressful situations, individuals can believe they have effectively communicated information, but may overlook their teammates' misunderstandings.

    The Power of Working Memory and How to Avoid Choking in High-Pressure Situations

    Working memory is like our cognitive horsepower and a finite resource, and it can get in the way of performing tasks when focused on the wrong details. Skilled performers have seen similar situations before and don't need to use as much working memory to process them, allowing them to focus on the truly novel elements. Psychologists test working memory by getting individuals to work while thinking about something, such as repeating a list of digits in reverse order. When we've learned a skill to perfection, it's better not to focus on all the details as our working memory can get in the way. Overall, understanding the complex psychology behind working memory can help prevent choking in high-pressure situations.

    Finding Balance in High-Pressure Situations

    In high-pressure situations, it's important to have brain power to rely on, but also know when to turn it off. Overthinking and analyzing can lead to paralysis by analysis or choking. Furthermore, it's essential to know what to concentrate on and what to let go of in order to perform optimally. In some cases, focusing too much on a task can actually harm performance and slow down fluidity, which is important in sports. Experts can handle multitasking while novices benefit from single-tasking. Ultimately, finding the right balance between conscious and unconscious processing is crucial for success in high-stakes situations.

    The Importance of Procedural Memory in Skill Mastery

    When learning a new skill, conscious and deliberate practice is necessary to master it, but as it becomes more automatic, relying on procedural memory is essential for success. Thinking too much about the steps involved can disrupt the fluent flow of information in the brain and lead to underperformance, especially under pressure or anxiety. Math anxiety, for example, not only affects performance but changes how the brain functions. Neuroscience techniques have helped researchers separate anxiety from performance in the brain, providing insights into the different types of memory we use to learn and master skills.

    Overcoming Anxiety to Improve Your Performance

    Anxiety causes people to focus on the wrong things, making mistakes and worsening their performance. However, performing well under pressure is a skill that can be learned. To do this, one must learn to care about the task but not be overwhelmed by it. Strategies like practice, study groups, and seeking feedback can help. Additionally, the anticipation of pain or fear can negatively impact performance by activating areas of the brain associated with pain, affecting the individual's ability to focus. People who are anxious about math, for example, are not necessarily bad at it. Helping them overcome their anxiety is key to improving their performance.

    Bridging the Gap between Training and Performance to Thrive Under Pressure

    To perform well under pressure, it is crucial to bridge the gap between training and the actual situation. Mimicking the pressure-filled situation and exposing oneself to anxiety-inducing triggers is the best way to reduce anxiety. Training oneself to interpret physiological responses as signs of excitement rather than anxiety helps in performing better. For example, being accustomed to practicing with a study group and mimicking taking a test can help one perform better under pressure. Similarly, exposing a child to a pressure-filled situation, like presenting in class, can make them more confident. Ultimately, bridging the gap between practice and performance is essential to tackle anxiety-inducing situations effectively and thrive under pressure.

    Techniques to Improve Performance Under Pressure

    Performing under pressure can be challenging, but various techniques can help individuals improve their performance. Reinterpreting the feelings of pressure, focusing on the reasons for success, and occupying the working memory with unimportant activities can help performers stay in a state of flow. Breathing techniques, singing a song, counting backwards, or focusing on a specific thought can also alleviate stress and anxiety. Additionally, distracting oneself before a big event and reminding oneself that sweating palms and a beating heart are normal can help performers improve their performance under pressure.

    The Importance of Practice and Understanding Factors to Perform Better Under Pressure.

    Practice is important for developing automated processes that allow athletes to perform well without focusing on every detail. Learning motor skills early on in life may also protect individuals from choking under pressure. The environment can also impact how likely individuals are to choke, such as feeling historically excluded or judged. Stereotypes can also lead individuals to perform poorly. Understanding these factors can help individuals perform better under pressure.

    The Burden of Choking Under Pressure: Individual & Structural Factors

    Choking under pressure is not just an individual phenomenon but also a structural one. The environment and societal factors can affect how one thinks about oneself in that moment, especially if they belong to a marginalized group. The responsibility to alleviate this burden should not lie solely on the individual but also on organizations and society as a whole. The goal should not be to prevent mistakes but to minimize their impact and recover from them. Adopting a mindset that accepts mistakes and puts structures in place to minimize their consequences can help alleviate pressure and lead to better performance.

    The Problem with Relying on Pressure to Determine Success

    Society shouldn't rely on one pressure situation to determine success or evaluate people's fitness for a job. Assessing individuals multiple times can provide a more holistic picture and lead to better outcomes. In-class assessments have shown that individuals actually learn more when tested multiple times. While situations like firefighting call for individuals to function well under pressure, it's important not to use pressure as a test for professions that don't require it. Glorifying pressure as a measure of success is a problematic mindset. Sian Beilock, psychologist and author of Choke, advocates for a more well-rounded assessment approach.

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