Thriving Under Pressure

I have been doing a lot of looking into ideas and strategies about thriving under pressure. Being able to jump into action, make decisions, act upon happenings under stress. The type of stressors depends on the situation –but the overall idea that you can process that stress and not let it stop you in your tracks.

Last week, during my second Krav Maga class, i had that light bulb moment when I realized that this is exactly the type of training I need. Each class ends with some sort of high stress activity where you are asked to practice the skills you learned earlier in the class. It’s to help you get comfortable doing them automatically. During this last one and the first class’s activity, I become keenly aware that I do start to panic and I didn’t freak out because I knew there was no real danger – it made me realize that I need to force myself to practice being outside of my comfort zone more and work to push myself harder.  It was seriously mentally a breakthrough idea for me!  I have been aware of my mind being the biggest obstacle to me progressing physically and career wise and to understand that a lot of it is fear and not being comfortable without stability and planning was mind blowing to me.  I found some interesting ideas and info on this whole idea and will share more info and updates in the days, weeks and years to come!

Why We Choke During Tasks That Require Our Procedural Memory

When you practice something over and over again, the knowledge of how to do that task gets burned into your unconscious and into your “muscle memory.” Your body can instinctively remember how it feels to do something right.

When you start to think too much about the task you’re trying to accomplish, you block the pathways to this muscle memory. Over-thinking things shuts off your instincts, which know what to do, from kicking in.

The Key to Being Clutch When Using Your Procedural Memory

To excel under pressure and be clutch with tasks that require procedural memory, you must distract yourself from the task at hand. Instead of over-thinking what you’re doing or are about to do, you must trust that the hours of training and practice you’ve put in before that moment won’t let you down.

Distract yourself. If you’re lining up for a golf putt, distract yourself from the mechanics of your putt by counting backwards or singing. Our guitarist above can close his eyes when he starts to feel nervous when playing in front of an audience (as an added bonus, scrunching his eyes shut will make the girls think he’s deep).

Develop a mantra. Sports psychologists often counsel their athletes to develop a mantra they can repeat when the pressure is on. Mantras are just another way to keep you from over-thinking what you’re doing in a high-pressure situation. Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett’s mantra when he was up at bat was “Try easier.” A basketball player could use a mantra like “Relaxed and smooth,” for when he steps up to the free throw line. When you’re on the putting green, use the immortal mantra of Chevy Chase in Caddyshack: “Be the ball.”

Focus on the target, not your mechanics. Another tactic you can use to avoid paralysis by analysis is to focus on your target, instead of your mechanics. For example, when you’re trying to bowl a strike, you don’t want to think about your approach, so you should focus and aim at an arrow on the lane instead. When firing a gun, focus on getting a clear sight, not on your trigger pull.

Don’t slow down. Remember how with tasks that require working memory you should slow down? Well, forget that bit of advice for tasks that require procedural memory. Studies show that the faster you get going, the better you do. Football coaches understand this and will often try to throw off opposing kickers by calling a time-out right before they kick the ball. This technique is called “icing the kicker.” The idea is that giving the kicker more time to think about the kick will increase his analysis and anxiety, thus blocking his procedural memory from guiding the ball through the uprights. If you’ve ever mountain biked, you’ve probably witnessed the truth in this. If you see an obstacle up ahead on the trail and cautiously slow down in anticipation, you will often awkwardly hit the obstacle and fall over. But, if you swallow your fear and keep up a quick pace, more often than not the bike will sail right over the obstacle.

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