Tag: Choking

Meditation as Choking Prevention

This blog post is Part 4 of a 4-part blog series featuring the work of University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock.

Even a small chunk of meditation practice goes a long way, says Sian Beilock, Ph.D., in a recent interview on the website Brain Science Podcast. At the University of Chicago’s Human Performance Lab, psychologist Sian Beilock has found that simple meditation instruction helps people perform better under pressure.

In the lab, people underwent a mere 10 minutes of meditation instruction before taking a test. This appeared to make a significant “difference in their score.” Beilock quotes research that shows “as little as 10 hours of meditative practice can change some of the wiring of the brain.”

Beilock says research suggests people can use meditation “even sparingly to really improve … performance.”

Why does this practice work so well? Meditation helps us “let go of information—to not perseverate on it.” This lets us focus on the task at hand without worry taking away “our cognitive horsepower” and our ability to perform well.

If you have never explored meditation as a practice, you’ll be relieved to know how simple it is to learn how to meditate. Try Herbert Benson’s relaxation response method, or ask a sport psychologist to teach you the basics of this simple practice.

How to Avoid Choking

This blog post is Part 3 of a 4-part blog series featuring the work of University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock.

In the previous two blog posts featuring the Sian Beilock interview on the website Brain Science Podcast, we’ve been talking about what choking is and the science behind the phenomena. At the University of Chicago’s Human Performance Lab, psychologist Sian Beilock, Ph.D., has studied how people can avoid choking and perform to their best ability in stressful situations. These tips work on your favorite playing field and in the boardroom at work.

To perform well, our working memory needs to be functioning well. So this advice builds “your ability to hold … information in the face of distraction.”

Ten minutes before an important match, write down all of the thoughts and emotions filling your mind. Essentially, this task offloads “your worries essentially frees up working memory so that it’s not distracted by these worries.”

Practice can run better than a tense match because no one is watching. Mimic the competition you fear on the practice field. Beilock points out that the military and the FBI both do this through simulating upcoming situations. Invite friends and family to watch a practice or video tape yourself because knowing “that you might show that to a coach or a friend” creates an “all-eyes-on-you” awareness.

Beilock also talks about icing: the technique of disrupting a player before an important task such as kicking a goal. This works because “it gives the kicker time to think—to dwell on their performances—in a way that messes up what otherwise would be a fluent routine.”

The next tip speaks to icing: Take your brain off the process behind what you are doing. This can be as simple as “singing a song” before a big moment, or “thinking about the outcome” instead of the steps you need to get to your goal. Also, practice new techniques at practice, but also practice these techniques without thinking about the steps. Even “coming up with a one-word mantra that sort of encapsulates the whole movement you are about to do can really focus your prefrontal cortex in a way that is to your advantage,” says Beilock.

Join us for the final segment of our 4-part blog series to learn how practicing meditation (even occasionally) can help prevent choking on the playing field.

The Body Mechanics behind Choking

This blog post is Part 2 of a 4-part blog series featuring the work of University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock.

Have you ever wondered why you choke sometimes even though you have executed the same athletic maneuver perfectly literally hundreds of times? You can find an answer to this question on a recent Brain Science Podcast. Ginger Campbell, MD, interviews University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, PhD, author of the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.

Beilock notes that a stressful situation for one person is not trying for another person. All you need for a suboptimal performance is a “perceived” stressor. “In essence, we often let our emotions get the best of us; we’re not good at attending to wheat we want to and ignoring others, which can lead us to … start perseverating on what our wrist is doing when we’re just trying to get the shot off in the important game,” says Beilock.

On the athletic field, we often perform with no thought of what we are actually doing. We are simply executing moves our body knows how to do innately thanks to years of practice and performance. Beilock believes that under duress, “people start paying too much attention—they exert too much of their explicit attention to what they’re doing; which actually disrupts their performance.”

Scientifically speaking, the brain’s prefrontal cortex is malfunctioning. This front part of our brain is “the seat of our thinking and reasoning ability.” When we are worried about situations, “this uses important resources—our ability to think, attend on the fly.”

Join us for Part 3 of this blog series to begin learning tips to prevent choking during your athletic performances.

Choking, Defined

This blog post is Part 1 of a 4-part blog series featuring the work of University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock.

A recent podcast on the website Brain Science Podcast contains a wealth of information on the phenomena of choking while under pressure. Ginger Campbell, MD, interviews University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, Ph.D., author of the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.

Beilock runs the University of Chicago’s Human Performance Lab, which she says allows her “to ask questions about how people get good at what they do.” She has studied the concept of choking, which she defines as “suboptimal performance—poorer performance than you would have in a non-stressful situation.”

Obviously this happens often in the sports arena. Beilock mimics a stressful playing field in the Human Performance Lab’s putting green. Very skilled golfers spend time practicing their putting both under no duress and under stressful situations at the lab. How does she add stress to the scene? “We offer them money for peak performance, we sometimes bring in their teammates to have them watch, or tell them their teammates will be coming in—and we try and induce some of the types of responses that these athletes might have in a real do-or-die situation.”

What happens when a player chokes? According to Beilock and her research, “emotions and anxieties compromise the brain systems that would otherwise be used to perform well.”

We have all fumbled the big play in a vital match or game. Join us for Part 2 of this blog series to learn the fascinating whys behind choking. As usual, the human body never fails to amaze us.