When the pressure is on, focusing too much on what you’re doing can cause you to choke.
At times we have all been under high pressure to perform. Sometimes we succeed and other times we fail or “choke” under the pressure. Why do we choke? Some researchers think we choke because the pressure distracts us from focusing on what we are doing. Other researchers believe we choke because the pressure causes us to focus too much on what we are doing instead of “just doing it” without thinking too much. To try and figure out which explanation is correct, researchers from Arizona State University recently conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
The experiment had people practice putting a golf ball as close to a target spot as possible. After participants finished practicing, the experimenters put them all under high pressure by offering them double experiment credit if they performed very well on their next 10 putts. While they took their 10 putts, some participants were told to count backwards from 100 to keep them distracted. Results showed that participants who were distracted actually did better than those who were not distracted. The distraction helped because it kept them from focusing too much on what they were doing and overanalyzing their putting.
Why should it matter to me?
When you are under pressure to perform well, try not to think too much about what you are doing, or that may cause you to choke. One thing you might try is distracting yourself, which should free you to go ahead and “just do it” instead of nervously overanalyzing your performance.
Source: Lewis, Brian P., & Linder, Darwyn E. (1997). Thinking about choking? Processes and Paradoxical Performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 937-944.