One of the most humiliating things
that you can say about someone is “they choked.”
And boy, do I know that feeling.
Growing up, I was an avid athlete.
My main sport was soccer, and I was a goalkeeper,
which is both the best
and the worst position on the field.
You see, when you’re a goalie, you get this special uniform,
you get all the glory
for a great shot saved;
but you also get the grief
when you land a shot in the goal.
When you’re a goalie, all eyes are on you,
and with that comes the pressure.
I distinctly remember one game in high school.
I was playing for the California state team
which is part of the Olympic Development Program.
I was having a great game…
until I realized that the national coach was standing right behind me.
That’s when everything changed.
In a matter of seconds,
I went from playing at the top
to the bottom of my ability.
Just knowing that I was being evaluated
changed my performance,
and forever how I thought about the mental aspect
of how we perform.
All of a sudden,
the ball seemed to go in slow motion,
and I was fixated on my every move.
The next shot that came I bobbled,
but thankfully it didn’t land in the goal.
The shot after that, I wasn’t so lucky:
I tipped it right into the net.
My team lost; the national coach walked away.
I choked under the pressure of those evaluative eyes on me.
Just about everyone does it from time to time —
there are so many opportunities,
whether it’s taking a test,
giving a talk, pitching to a client
or that special form of torture
I like to call the job interview.
But the question is why.
Why do we sometimes fail to perform up to our potential under pressure?
It’s especially bewildering in the case of athletes
who spend so much time physically honing their craft.
But what about their minds?
Not as much.
This is true off the playing field as well.
Whether we’re taking a test or giving a talk,
it’s easy to feel like we’re ready — at the top of our game
— and then perform at our worst when it matters most.
It turns out that rarely do we practice
under the types of conditions we’re actually going to perform under,
and as a result, when all eyes are on us,
we sometimes flub our performance.
Of course, the question is, why is this the case?
当然 问题是 为何会这样呢？
And my experience on the playing field —
and in other important facets of my life —
really pushed me into the field of cognitive science.
I wanted to know how we could reach our limitless potential.
I wanted to understand how we could use our knowledge
of the mind and the brain
to come up with psychological tools
that would help us perform at our best.
So why does it happen?
Why do we sometimes fail to
perform up to what we’re capable of
when the pressure is on?
It may not be so surprising to hear
that in stressful situations, we worry.
We worry about the situation,
the consequences, what others will think of us.
But what is surprising is
that we often get in our own way
precisely because our worries prompt us to concentrate too much.
That’s right — we pay too much attention to what we’re doing.
When we’re concerned about performing our best,
we often try and control aspects of what we’re doing
that are best left on autopilot,
outside conscious awareness,
and as a result, we mess up.
Think about a situation where you’re shuffling down the stairs.
What would happen if I asked you to think
about what you’re doing with your knee
while you’re doing that?
There’s a good chance you’d fall on your face.
We as humans only have the ability to
pay attention to so much at once,
which is why, by the way,
it’s not a good idea to drive and talk on the cell phone.
And under pressure, when we’re concerned about performing at our best,
we can try and control aspects of what we’re doing
that should be left outside conscious control.
The end result is that we mess up.
My research team and I have studied this phenomenon of overattention,
and we call it paralysis by analysis.
In one study,
we asked college soccer players to dribble a soccer ball
and to pay attention to an aspect of their performance
that they would not otherwise attend to.
We asked them to pay attention to what side
of the foot was contacting the ball.
We showed that performance was slower and more error-prone
when we drew their attention to the step-by-step details
of what they were doing.
When the pressure is on,
we’re often concerned with performing at our best,
and as a result we try and control what we’re doing
to force the best performance.
The end result is that we actually screw up.
the term”unconscious” is used to describe a shooter who can’t miss.
And San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan has said,
“ When you have to stop and think,
that’s when you mess up.”
In dance, the great choreographer, George Balanchine,
used to urge his dancers,
“Don’t think, just do.”
When the pressure’s on,
when we want to put our best foot forward,
we often try and control what we’re doing
in a way that leads to worse performance.
So what do we do?
Knowing that we have this overactive attention,
how do we ensure that we perform at our best?
A lot of it comes down to the prefrontal cortex,
that front part of our brain that sits over our eyes
and usually helps us focus in positive ways.
It often gets hooked on the wrong things.
So how do we unhook it?
Something as simple as singing a song,
or paying attention to one’s pinky toe,
as pro golfer Jack Nicklaus was rumored to do,
can help us take our mind off those pesky details.
It’s also true that practicing under conditions
that we’re going to perform under —
closing the gap between training and competition
can help us get used to that feeling of all eyes on us.
This is true off the playing field as well.
Whether it’s getting ready for an exam or preparing for a big talk —
one that might have a little pressure associated with it —
getting used to the types
of situations you’re going to perform under
When you’re taking a test, close the book,
practice retrieving the answer from memory under timed situations,
and when you’re giving a talk, practice in front of others.
And if you can’t find anyone who will listen,
practice in front of a video camera or even a mirror.
The ability to get used to
what it will feel like can make the difference
in whether we choke or thrive.
We’ve also figured out some ways
to get rid of those pesky worries
and self-doubts that tend to creep up in the stressful situations.
Researchers have shown that simply jotting down your thoughts and worries
before a stressful event can help to download them from mind —
make them less likely to pop up in the moment.
It’s kind of like when you wake up in the middle of the night
and you’re really worried
about what you have to do the next day,
you’re trying to think about everything you have to accomplish,
and you write it down and then you can go back to sleep.
Journaling, or getting those thoughts down on paper,
makes it less likely they’ll pop up and distract you in the moment.
The end result is that you can perform your best when it matters most.
So up until now,
I’ve talked about what happens when we put limits on ourselves
and some tips we can use to help perform up to our potential.
But it’s important to remember that
it’s not just our own individual being
that can put limits and that can perform poorly;
our environment has an effect on whether we choke or thrive.
Our parents, our teachers, our coaches, our bosses all influence
我们的父母 老师 教练 老板都会影响
whether or not we can put our best foot forward when it matters most.
Take math as an example.
That’s right, I said it: math.
没错 我说的就是 数学
Lots of people profess to choke
or are anxious about doing math,
whether it’s taking a test or
even calculating the tip on a dinner bill
as our smart friends look on.
And it’s quite socially acceptable
to talk about chocking or performing poorly in math.
You don’t hear highly educated people walking
around talking about the fact
or bragging about the fact that they’re not good readers,
but you hear people all the time bragging about how they’re not math people.
And unfortunately, in the US,
this tends to be more so among girls and women
than boys and men.
My research team and I have tried to understand
where this fear of math comes from,
and we’ve actually peered inside the brains
using functional magnetic resonance imaging,
of people who are worried about math.
We’ve shown that math phobia correlates with a concrete visceral sensation
such as pain, of which we have every right to feel anxious.
In fact, when people who are worried about math
are just getting ready to take a math test —
they’re not even taking it, they’re just getting ready —
areas of the brain known the be involved
in our neural pain response are active.
When we say math is painful,
there’s some truth to it for some people.
But where does this math anxiety come from?
It turns out that math anxiety is contagious.
When adults are worried about math,
the children around them start worrying, too.
As young as first grade,
when kids are in classrooms
w ith teachers who are anxious about their own math ability,
these kids learn less across the school year.
And it turns out that this is more prevalent in girls than boys.
At this young age,
kids tend to mimic same-sex adults,
and at least in the US,
over 90 percent of our elementary school teachers are women.
Of course, it’s not just what happens in the classroom.
Social media plays a big role here, too.
It wasn’t so long
ago that you could purchase a Teen Talk Barbie
that when the cord was pulled, it would say things like,
“Will we ever have enough clothes?”
and”Math class is tough.”
And just a few years ago,
major retailers were marketing T-shirts at our young girls
that read things like,”I’m too pretty to do math,”
or,”I’m too pretty to do my homework
so my brother does it for me.
And let’s not forget about the parents.
It turns out that when parents are worried about their own math ability
and they help their kids a lot with math homework,
their kids learn less math across the school year.
As one parent put it,
“I judge my first grader’s math homework
by whether it’s a one-glass assignment or a three-glass night.”
When adults are anxious about their own math ability,
it rubs off on their kids
and it effects whether they chock or thrive.
But just as we can put limits on others,
we can take them off.
My research team and I have shown
that when we help parents do fun math activities with their kids —
rather than, say, just doing bedtime stories or bedtime reading,
they do bedtime math,
which are fun story problems to do with your kids at night,
not only do children’s attitudes about math improve,
but their math performance across the school year improves as well.
Our environment matters.
From the classroom to parents to media,
and it can really make a difference in terms
of whether we choke or thrive.
Fast-forward from my high school soccer game
to my freshman year in college.
I was in the chemistry sequence for science majors,
and boy did I not belong.
Even though I studied for my first midterm exam —
I thought I was ready to go —
I bombed it.
I literally got the worst grade in a class of 400 students.
I was convinced I wasn’t going to be a science major,
that maybe I was dropping out of college altogether.
But then I changed how I studied.
Instead of studying alone,
I started studying with a group of friends
who at the end of the study session would close their book
and compete for the right answer.
We learned to practice under stress.
If you could’ve looked inside my brain
during that first midterm exam,
you likely would’ve seen a neural pain response
a lot like the math-anxious individuals I study.
It was probably there during the stressful study situation as well.
But when I walked into the final,
my mind was quiet,
and I actually got one of the highest grades in the entire class.
It wasn’t just about learning the material;
it was about learning how to overcome my limits when it mattered most.
What happens in our heads really matters,
and knowing this,
we can learn how to prepare ourselves and others for success,
not just on the playing field but in the boardroom
and in the classroom as well.
One of the most humiliating things