Don’t choke! A book review

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I am in the middle of reading a very interesting book on ‘choking’. It is aptly named ‘Choke’. It is written by an American psychologist, Sian Beilock. It is a topic I have a strong interest in since I did plenty of it when I played tennis! It is a subject that almost everyone can relate to as there are times when you felt that you didn’t do the job as well as you know you were capable of which can be very frustrating. It might be the presentation you had to do as part of your job or your weekend golf game or singing in front of friends or showing a group how well you can play the piano.

We are all asked to perform in some way everyday and how we deal with those demands  is how we are judged and sometimes a bad performance can have far reaching consequences or maybe we just think they will, which is just as bad. If you dwell on the ‘what if’  too much you can become worried, getting you to think too much about ‘stuff’ that isn’t going to help you do what you have to do, which can of course adversely affect performance.

The book talks about what happens mentally when we are feeling pressure and how it affects our movement and ability to think.  If you are doing something that you have learnt well and have done many times, thinking too much about the mechanics can really limit your performance. For example, a free throw in basketball is a ‘motor program’ that you can rehearse and become very proficient at. But you need to ‘let’ this program run off and not try and control it. Imagine if you had to think about each move when changing gears in a car and steering etc. This works when you are first learning a skill because you need to understand what you need to do but when you have mastered something, going back to each independent action or move only makes your performance stiff or robotic like. You have to learn to trust yourself and give yourself the best chance to do what you learnt.

The top tips for combatting performance flops

  • Distract yourself – stops you from trying to ‘control’ what is better left to ‘run off’ smoothly.
  • Don’t slow down and over-deliberate- too much time can paralyse your actions as you think too much.
  • Practice under stressful conditions – so you are used to what it feels like and learn ways to relax or pump yourself up or do what is necessary to do your well rehearsed skill well.
  • Find a key word to focus on, so again you don’t give yourself too much information that can freeze or stiffen your performance.
  • Think positively – you get what you picture

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