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Choking Under Pressure

Why is it that so many of us choke when faced with high-pressure situations to win?  From basketball to golf, new research suggests that when you stop to think too hard during these critical moments, your body tends to “freeze” up with all that overthinking.  For example, just think of all those free throw shots that Shaq missed during his career.  It wasn’t just his hand size that flubbed it up for him.

Analysis Paralysis

The science lies in the fact that the body doesn’t always need the brain to think for it.  Your muscles have a memory of their own, and if the “executive” part of your mind kicks in when it isn’t needed, it’s going to hurt, not help things.  For example, you don’t need your higher order thinking skills to remind your body to beat its heart or breathe.  Researchers recently published a study in the journal Neuroscience that deals with this very issue.  They say that “the part of the brain [responsible for planning, executive function and working memory] may be telling parts of the brain that control muscles to do something they are not supposed to be doing.”  That is, your body already knows what to do and too much information is just going to mess things up.

Try Humming Before the Short Putt to Win

There are two theories behind why we mess up at critical high pressure moments.  One theory is the analysis paralysis theory presented in the current study.  The other theory is that we might just worry too much.  However, in the current study, researchers stimulated the prefrontal cortex of the brain (the “executive center”) and found that when that area was stimulated, the activity in the part of the cortex responsible for muscle memory decreased.  But what’s a body to do in a high pressure situation when it can’t separate from the powerful mind?  Next time you’re facing a high pressure situation, consider humming a tune.  Focusing on humming a tune can distract your higher level thinking enough to let the body do its job without distraction.  That’s right; humming a tune could mean the difference between winning or losing.

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