Choking, only a pro can do that – performing at your best.

It’s the final game in the World Series of baseball, bottom of the 9th, bases loaded, 2/3 count on the batter. The pitcher winds up and …………

The story’s of legends. If the batter hits they are a hero, if the pitcher strikes them out they are the hero bit if the pitcher sends a wild ball because they ‘Choked’ it’s the end.

Why do people choke and what can we do about it?

On paper you can normally tell who is the better team or player. But the reason they actually play the game is to find out who is better on that day.

Listened to a great podcast from Adam Grant The science of performing under pressure with Sian Beilock. It’s 37 minutes so I’ll hit the high notes below on what I was reminded of and a couple of things about imposter syndrome and other cool stuff they talked about.

Fact-oid #1

Amateur do NOT choke. It takes a professional to actually choke. Amateur’s are just doing what amateurs do, inconsistent performance.

My definition of a professional: They can reproduce what they practice in a high stress inducing environment repeatably and consistently. Amateur’s do not A) get enough training or practice. B) train enough in high stress environments.

If you’d like to be a semi-professional then A) train A LOT!!! Get your performance on autopilot (more on this lower down). B) replicate game/event stress as much or more than it will be. Then repeat! repeat!! repeat!!!

Fact-oid #2

Pro-athletes are not robots. Therefore they will have all kinds of body things going on. From inputs like nutrition, mental-emotional-physical events, weather, schedule changes. The list really goes on and on. Part of being a professional is just having the ability to handle things from “out of left-field“. However I think everyone has a limit, when reached performance will degrade. Maybe not to a complete ‘choke’ but not their best.

How to be a Pro – mostly for athletics

Get genetically super lucky and have a body/mind/spirit that is just awesome. Next get super lucky and find the sport/endeavor that matches your body/mind/spirit’s super powers. Get crazy lucky and find a coach that can extract your super powers into the light. Get lucky your parents can afford it all with time and money and availability to training areas. If you want to be an ocean sailor, it would be tough to live in Regina. Get bizarrely lucky and have the mindset that allows you to endure training and competitions during your adolescent years. Also get unlucky that your parents are somewhat mean and make you go to practice hurt, tired, hungry, missing the school dance and the other million things you’ll miss to get to the pro level. The last lucky think I’ll mention, but there are several I did not, is when you get to the age/size/time to be pro there is a spot for you on the team.

You can be the very best but it’s always one injury away from being over. It’s just so crazy hard to be a professional athlete. But what about professional Acupuncturists. There is a long list as well to get good at it. Stay good at it, and practice when the patient is in pain, suffering, stressed out of their minds. Same with all jobs and many hobbies. That’s why knitting is so calming, until you see this.

Things to do pre and during the activity

A. Train, train, train.
B. Train under conditions as close to real or worse as possible. Take a pre-test and make it the same rules and set up as the real test.
C. When I ski raced I did a LOT of off season visualization. I was shocked how much better I was from doing that during the summer ‘off’ season.
C. Self talk. Pep-talks work. Construct your self talk before the race and practice it. Have different one’s depending on what’s going on that day.
D. Develop routines. Michael Phelps is well known for his pre-race routine, it worked pretty good for him.
E. Put it on auto-pilot. Choking boils down to going out of practiced routines. Run as much as you can on auto-pilot.
F. Reframing. Just because you ‘feel’ anxiety, are you sure it’s anxiety? Is it excitement, is it the energy you need, is it you performing at your best. Often what you think is true becomes true. Can you label it to help you preform, yes you can!

Things will go splat

The reality is no one bats a thousand all the time. An interesting thing is when someone ‘chokes’ they can often lose a lot of skill, it can set them back quite a bit. Why? It seems the actions are built around neural pathways and they can be scrambled by the negative choke. Now if the person did not see it as negative and merely the reality of operating at a high level, the affects may be less. Either way the person may need to rebuild some patterns to return to peak performance. Generally that is a lot faster then the initial run up to the high skill level.

It is important to know your brain/body can only perform at peak levels for so long. Generally when you are at a peak level, you are using specific parts of your body. They will fatigue, no matter how fit you are, they will fatigue. Having the ability to change states or said another way calm down fast. I remember reading Wayne Gretsky trained his heart rate to go from 170 to 40 during a commercial break. Which is likely 2 minutes and that’s amazing.

Most people whether it’s the Iron Cowboy doing 101 ironman triathlons in 101 days, Wayne Gretsky, Michael Phelps or your mom. Most normal people need longer breaks, more downtime and changes of activities than professionals. That’s why cramming for an exam can be tough. Your just not trained up to doing that much mental work in that much time. Hence, train early, train often, train more.

Other things from the Podcast

Sian has done a bunch of research on ‘math test anxiety’. I love here quote. “There is no such thing as a math person”. It’s just training, learning, repetition, comfort, usefulness and attention.

The best players don’t always make the best coaches, but the coach does need the experiences of going through the game.

To get better you need to surround yourself with people that can fill your blind spots. That’s likely to be challenging to the ego. Often blind spots are that way because of past experiences, but for sure we will lack experience in that “spot” otherwise it would not be “blind”. Either way we will need to grow and not always are we ready to grow. Hence the challenge. I love challenges!

When you enter a ‘new’ environment for you. A new job, a new level of sport, a new patient, a new country. It is unlikely you have all the information you need to successfully navigate that environment. Having a flexible way to show your knowledge and learn and acquire any blind spots of knowledge you may need in the new environment is a good skill to have. Said another way be open to input, have good questions and be a quick learner.

Consciously program yourself to like to be “uncomfortable”. It can be a mindset, when you go into a new role, or enter a tournament at a high level, or whatever is stretching and growing you. You can tell yourself that feeling/experience is the privilege of getting to do XYZ. There is a gym quote. “we do not have to exercise, we get to exercise and that’s a privilege million will never get. So start lifting!”

Being and leader and a follower are both needed skills and often you need both at the same time.

Imposter syndrome. Doubt is an emotion that indicates we may need more coaching and input. What do I still need to learn and achieve and how can I do that? Imposter’s can have something to prove, can you channel that energy towards completing the goal? I personally have imposter syndrome on a regular basis. I started studying it 20 years ago and I still have the feeling of imposter syndrome. But what I found out is so does every normal successful person and so does most unsuccessful people. Which side of that fence do you want to be on?

Worry Time: This is a new one for me. But you set a timer for say 10 minutes and in that time you can worry as MUCH as you like. But after that it’s over. You can set up a time for tomorrow or later but not 24 hours a day. Hang in there for a month or two and you’ll be amazed.

The joy of being wrong. Another new one. “No one enjoys being wrong,” Daniel Kahneman told Adam Grant, who recounted their conversation during a recent interview, “but I do enjoy having been wrong, because it means I am now less wrong than I was before.” Once you know you are wrong you can learn what you need, go learn that and move forward.

I remember going to an Olympic training event on coaching and the Olympic coach said his job was to tell the athlete the same correction until they learned it. He hinted they never really learned it, they never really listened. I found that shocking, he said the difference between gold and silver is so small in most sports. Finding that hundredth of a second comes down to incredible dedication to betterment. Most people have a limit. Interesting.

Pay attention to what actually happened. I have a post on debriefing which is a sure fire way to get better at anything. Doubt is a thief of accomplishment. But by debriefing you can see many times despite your doubts you succeeded. Then you can use the mental energy of doubt towards successes instead. “I did not think I could do this before, but I have become really successful, I can do it again now!”

Play your whole movie. Recency effect is were you put too much emphasis on what just happened. Like you fail a test, or have a bad serve and you can spiral down into the depths of despair. If you play your whole movie, you can remember that on average you do good on tests and this was a one time event. Or 80% of the time you serve it in and this was just one of the 20% times.

Great podcast/video of the whole talk. Here is a 15 minute talk she did on Choking and here is a short 5 min interview with 2 good points.

Adam Grant can be found here I generally like his podcasts.

For more information talk to me at the clinic.

Be Well,
Ward Willison R.Ac.
Kelowna Acupuncture & Other Natural Therapies

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