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Performing Under Pressure
Pressure is a common facet in life, whether you are at work, hanging out with friends, or in the gym. You can be faced with tough tasks that have time frames or expectations attached to them, causing a simple situation to turn into a whirlwind of negativity and doubt. You may try to gain control of this mental explosion by analyzing everything and relentlessly breaking down your training methodology in hopes to find your confidence. Hoping you can break out a clutch performance, when in reality all you can think about is how this will be the moment you choke.
Everyone has been through these two styles of performance. Those who continuously find themselves choking desperately and quickly try to dig their way out with their minimal tools and insight, setting them up for a never-ending struggle of frustration. This constant conflict beats you down and can quickly lead to burnout, frustration, and will have you looking to exit the competition you once loved. To understand what puts you in this cycle, we need to review how each behavioral type is learned and understand how they get a foothold in your mind.
Understanding clutch/choking type performance involves breaking down and interpreting how outside information is coming at us. Overall performance success/failure can be identified as either explicit or implicit knowledge to the tasks at hand (Masters 1992). Explicit learning is a step-by-step instruction on how to perform specific tasks like a golf swing, lifting weights, throwing a ball, and so on. There is an initial gain of success as techniques can be fine tuned, but eventually this stops abruptly as pressure develops. This stop in progress and mental wedge happens as the individual starts to hike the importance of step-by-step control of themselves and the situation. This creates the belief that if things are not executed perfectly they will fail the task at hand. The task at hand stops becoming a challenge and is now looked at as a threat; therefore increasing pressure and seriousness of what’s happening. The pressure leads to raised anxiety with a loss of control and trust within themselves. This is where you will find thoughts of “I suck,” or “What’s the point if I can’t even hit that lift perfectly?” This slippery slope is all too common among how we perceive our athletic career, our personal lives, and professional life.
Let’s look at implicit learning has and its role in performance. When individuals were taught implicitly (no step-by-step direction), they had continuous improvement through practice and in competition (Otten, 2009). This does not mean they had no coach or guidelines, but focused more on gaining knowledge of themselves and their skills through perceived control. Meaning that your focus should be less on the importance of the step-by-step process and believing that your mind and body already knows what it needs to be done. After all, you have practiced the movement. Your muscle memory puts you where you need to be; all that is missing is the trust. Those who thrive in clutch performance rely on implicit knowledge of their skill set (Otten, 2009). Look at Michael Jordan in the 1998 Playoff game. He trusted his mind to do what is needed and his body followed not bogging himself down with over analyzation, but reaction and trust that he knew what to do.
How do we make this work for you and put it into an effective practice? The key is reinvesting your skills and developing a perceived confidence of what you know. This does not mean stop taking steps to fix a weakness. However, be more purposeful towards your corrections. Build confidence in what you have worked on. Then break it down so it becomes an implicit action meaning that you no longer need step-by-step deconstruction, as your body and mind know what is required.
Baumeister, R.F (1984). Choking under pressure: Self-consciousness and paradoxical effects of incentives on skillful performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16, 610-620.
Masters, R.S.W. (1992). Knowledge, nerves and know-how. The British Journal of Psychology, 83, 343-358.
Otten,M. (2009). Choking Vs Clutch Performance: A study of sport performance under pressure. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 31, 583-601.
Nathan received his first Masters in Behavioral Psychology and his second Masters in Clinical Counseling from Bellevue University in Omaha, Nebraska. He currently is a Licensed Professional Counselor-I and a Certified Life Coach through the International Coach Federation. His education did not stop here as he frequently attends training and hold several certifications in therapeutic interventions, Crossfit, and holds several athletic accomplishments from a young age to the present. Nathan has developed a personalized therapeutic concept to use with his clients that has shown immense success. Athletes he has worked with went from struggling to perform, to making the podium and obtaining control in their life. His clientele ranges from elite athletes looking for a competitive advantage to High-Schoolers learning to balance life and sport.
Those he has worked with include Professional Mountain Bikers Kyle Warner, Lauren Gregg and others, Olympic Lifter Rebecca Gerdon, and others, several high school programs, and a diverse amount of Crossfitters.
The beauty of this program and its design is its ability to be done remotely. Allowing you to not lose focus on your schedule, goals and training.