When the stakes are high even the best can lose their nerve – When the going gets tough the tough can crack under pressure
It’s not just the England football team who are champion chokers we’ve seen numerous elite sporting teams and individuals display mental resilience over the summer with much to come with the Olympics. Bradley Wiggins being the most recent example of displaying not just physical but also mental toughness in the Tour de France
Examples are Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final against Roger Federer where how many times did you hear the commentators refer to each player either displaying or needing to show mental resilience under extreme pressure. What is it that allows someone like Roger Federer to serve on match point down and display no nerves and serve an ace. What sets him apart and makes the difference between becoming multiple grand slam champion and a nearly man. The same principle applies to golf. What enables one player to stand on the 18th green and sink that 6ft putt to win the championship when the majority of others fail under pressure on the run in. Adam Scott in the British open comes to mind in the recent British Open.
With the Olympics an entire army of sports psychologists work overtime to prevent Team GB from cracking under pressure. While we see pressure and the need for resilience regularly with sporting events it is by no means confined to sport. It can be seen and experienced in our personal and professional lives as well. Choking happens to everyone from time to time.
Fortunately the science behind mental toughness has come of age over recent years and the good news is there are psychological ways to overcome it’s affects
An analogy used by Matthew Syed writing in the Times (26.6.12) is that of learning to drive a car. When you start to learn the tasks appear to be so complex you start in a car park. But after hours of practice you perform these same tasks effortlessly without a thought. This is called conscious control another example of which is when you are able to drive to your destination at times without even being aware of how you got there. In effect experts and novices use two different brain systems. Choking is triggered when we get so anxious that we seize conscious control over a task that should be executed automatically. The problem is not insufficient focus but too much focus! Conscious monitoring disrupts the smooth workings of the subconscious . Which explains why some sports people can literally appear to become a novice again. A phrase well used in sporting circles to describe this condition is paralyses by analysis!
Walking is another good example of conscious thought. You don’t need to think about walking when you get out of bed in the morning you just put one foot in front of the other – an unconscious skill. But what happens when you’re asked to walk a narrow path with a 10,000m precipice either side. Now you really focus on how you are walking and this is precisely when you are most likely to fall.
How do you avoid choking? according to performance psychologists learn to take the pressure off and will be less likely to seize conscious control of an unconscious skill. Put the situation in context. Big sales pitch tomorrow! Well it’s not exactly life or death is it
To learn more about mental resilience in a business context and understanding how you cope under pressure and seeking to improve performance in the workplace when dealing with the stressors and pressures then read on for more about mental toughness programmes.