Become a Clutch Performer!
During “pressure” situations, such as taking an exam, presenting a pitch to prospective clients, or performing on stage or in the field, people often become stressed or anxious. This often leads to worrisome or negative thoughts within the person.
To overcome these feelings, individuals tend to “think too much” about the task they are doing, in an attempt to control their performance. If the task being performed is novel, and thus non-automated, thinking about “how to” perform it could be beneficial. However, if the task is an automated or well-learned one, then this type of “step-by-step” approach paradoxically tends to lead to a decreased performance, and is often labeled by others as a “choke” or “choking under pressure”.
Eliminate “How To” Thinking and “Just Do It!”
One way to avoid a choke from occurring while executing automated tasks is to eliminate the “how to” thinking. If you know how to do something, thinking about it will often result in more errors or mistakes, or a longer amount of time needed to complete the task. If you don’t believe me, try thinking about “how to” tie your shoes or brush your teeth the next time you get ready in the morning. There is a good chance that it will take longer to do, and you may just make a mistake or two while doing it; and this is just while doing basic tasks, without any added pressure or stress. In pressure-filled situations, in which you are attempting to execute a well-learned task, your best approach is to “just do it”! Being automatic with your behavior, and allowing the muscle memory you’ve obtained from your practice to take over, will actually help you perform much better.
Sometimes the use of a cue word or phrase, such as “relax”, “breathe”, or even “just do it”, will help to calm you down, and to regain the automaticity that you need to be successful. If that doesn’t work, try distracting yourself. For example, research has suggested that singing the lyrics to your favorite song or counting backward by three can help you regain your automatic form.
Occupy Your Mind With Distractions
Distractions can be helpful because they occupy your mind, which decreases your ability to think about the pressure-packed situation and how to perform the task, which can allow your behavior to be more automated. By transitioning your focus from “how to” do something to automatically “just doing it”, especially when the pressure is on, you will be more likely to facilitate an increased, and perhaps even clutch, performance!