How to Avoid Choking Under Pressure

Choking while under pressure is something we're likely to experience at some point in our lives. How do we avoid this? And how can we bounce back quickly from choking?

How to Avoid Choking Under Pressure

Happy Sunday!

Hope you've all had an awesome Christmas and are looking forward to the new year.

I came across an article about professional sportspeople choking while under pressure that resonated with me. Although the focus of the article was a professional sport, I think it also applies in a non-sporting context.

So what does it mean to choke? Choking is a failure to manage anxiety while under pressure leading to a"catastrophic drop in performance".

Scott Boswell, a professional cricketer was the first example. In the 2001 final of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy – one of the biggest games of his career – he choked. Boswell had been a professional cricketer for 7 years by this point and was hitting a strong run of form. His experience and good form didn't save him from having a performance described as "the worst over ever?" Boswell's experience is not unique, and there were several other examples of sports stars choking at pivotal moments in their games.

As I alluded to earlier, choking isn't something only professional sportspeople face. We're all prone to choking. It's something that can affect us all – I know I've choked before.

I remember having to take a penalty in a cup quarter-final. I scored the first goal around 7 minutes in to give us an early 1-0 lead. We held on to this lead until the 85th minute, where our opponents equalised. After a goalless extra time, we went to the penalty shootouts. I had been practising penalties my whole life and was our usual penalty taker, having not missed a penalty until this point.

As I stepped up to take my penalty, I didn't feel myself – I felt like I had no energy or power in my legs. I took my run-up and struck the ball. It was terrible, a weak shot that rolled barely above the grass, straight down the middle, right at the keeper with – I choked. We lost the penalty shootout and were eliminated from the competition.

Knowing what I know now about dealing with high-pressure situations, I would have approached things differently.

So how do we avoid choking under pressure? Three things to help you avoid the dreaded choke next time you're under pressure:

  1. Stop overthinking – often, it's our brains going into overdrive that causes us to lose focus on the task at hand; maintain focus on the process and the outcome will take care of itself
  2. Relax – you're in a situation where you've been several times before; breath, clear the head, take it easy, and the performance will come naturally
  3. Quit the negative self-talk – you're not a failure, so stop thinking like one; don't let self-doubts creep in and maintain your self-confidence

For anyone who has choked while under pressure, remember, failure doesn't have to be terminal, and many would argue that our response to failure determines our capacity for success.

Having the mental fortitude to bounce back from disappointment and building the resilience to push through when things get difficult will help us handle pressure better and rise to the occasion.

Have you ever choked? What did you learn from the experience? How did you respond? Reach out to me to let me know.

Have an awesome week ahead,

This Week's Wisdom

"Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity."

– The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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