Choking Under Pressure & How to Prevent It

Choking is everyone’s fear at one point or another. Athletes, business professionals, students, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, all are afraid of failing. We never want to be deemed inadequate, think we do not have what it takes, or fail the ones that are counting on us the most. Afraid that our identity will be bound to failure, we fail to realize this fear of inadequacy is what is keeping us from adequacy. 

University of Chicago psychologist and author of /Choke/, Sian Beilock, said, “Choking is not just poor performance. It is worse performance than you are capable of precisely because there is a lot on the line.”

Two behavioral economics studies looked at how reference points could influence performance in professional athletics. In one of these studies, millions of putts from professional golfers were examined and suggested the par score of a hole served as a reference point for players; with putts being less accurate when attempting shots below par (Pope and Schweitzer, 2011). The second study examined penalty kick shootouts in soccer games (Apesteguia and Palacios, 2010). It proposed the score of the shootout served as a player's reference point and leading or lagging in score had an influence on performance; with those lagging in score performing worse than those leading.  

This is unfortunate because we are afraid of choking most when the most is on the line. We usually have good reasons to fear choking: providing for the family, landing the big deal the company is banking on, winning the game you have trained for your whole life, producing income amidst financial strain, acing the exam that will put you into med school, or starting a new company… all these are great but we can’t expect success if we are holding onto failure. 

We all have choked and there will still be days that we do. However, we can make sure we are doing all we can do to limit these instances to as few as possible. One of the many ways we can accomplish this is through neurofeedback or neurotraining.

Neurofeedback aids focus and that is essential. As goes focus, so goes one’s performance. A mere millisecond of mental drift can undermine years of training and careful preparation.

In addition, neurofeedback can help subdue negative thinking. People are subject to slumps, not always because of what’s lacking in their bodies, but because of what has gotten into their brains. If their performance persistently declines, it is easy for individuals to get in a mindset of, “I’ll never be good again” or “I’ll never break this bad streak”. 

Streaks and slumps are the enemies of peak performance, but they are inevitable. You can’t be “on” every single day. Neurofeedback can help one dispense with a bad day or performance without internalizing or obsessing over it.

“The more we fear failure, the less we succeed” - Michael Schwalbe

Together we can hopefully reduce our fear of failure, “off” days, and choking in order to give ourselves the best ability to perform, provide, and succeed when it everything is on the line.  

For more on the science behind choking and the studies mentioned in the article please see the resources below: 

Apesteguia, Jose, and Ignacio Palacios-Huerta. 2010. "Psychological Pressure in Competitive Environments: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Experiment." American Economic Review, 100(5): 2548-64.

Chib, V. S., De Martino, B., Shimojo, S., & O'Doherty, J. P. (2012). Neural Mechanisms Underlying Paradoxical Performance for Monetary Incentives Are Driven by Loss Aversion. Neuron, 74(3), 582-594. 

Pope, Devin G., and Maurice E. Schweitzer. 2011. "Is Tiger Woods Loss Averse? Persistent Bias in the Face of Experience, Competition, and High Stakes." American Economic Review, 101(1): 129-57.

Tucker, A. (2012, July 01). The Science of Choking Under Pressure. From

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